A friend of mine once pastored a dying church that was passionate about literature distribution, satellite evangelism, prayer, and health seminars. The only problem is that their passion ended at programming and ended at people. Not only did the members avoid relationships in the community, but they avoided ones among themselves as well. In an attempt to build some connections, the pastor suggested the dwindling membership get together for a midweek meal. The response was tepid, with one leader asking, “If I attend, can the board reimburse my gas?”
Evangelism in the 21stcentury, particular in the West, has a host of challenges. Competing political ideologies, too busy schedules, secularism, theological fights, disillusionment with leadership, and a sense of “been there done that” when it comes to matters of faith. Often when Christians sense themselves losing cultural influence and power, there is a tendency to cloister amongst ourselves and get louder, or flashier, or more aggressive toward those who disagree with us. Not a helpful strategy for developing community. People are bombarded with messages all day long and usually aren’t looking for someone else to yell at them or advertise one more thing for them to attend.
After Peter’s dynamic preaching event at Pentecost, the book of Acts paints a picture of a thriving community.
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:44-47, NIV).
The rhythm of the early church was fellowship and hospitality; but many members in the modern church have been convinced their rhythm should be program-centered instead of people-centered. James K.A. Smith observes, “When Christians engage in the practices of hospitality and Sabbath keeping, singing and of forgiveness, simplicity and fasting, they are engaging in a way of life that is formative and constitutive of Christian discipleship.”
The problem for many modern churches is that in their world there is no shortage of programming—there is, however, a shortage of people who know how to welcome others personally. Jesus tells us that the ones blessed by the Father will be those who fed, welcomed, and visited others, particularly strangers (see Matthew 25:34-36). 1 Peter 4:9 says, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. Within our Seventh-Day Adventist context, Ellen White notes, “If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tenderhearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one.”A combination of kindness in the form of hospitality not only strengthens our relationships but draws others outside of our community to us.
At this point the frugal and the introverted usually begin to panic. Hospitality is thought to be the realm of bubbly personalities, gourmet chefs, and homes with kitchen islands the size of an aircraft carrier. Thankfully, no one has to extrovert or break their bank in order to begin the discipline of kindness through hospitality. While there are countless ways of practicing kindness and hospitality, the following practical steps will help your church get started:
1. Think of Hospitality as a Kingdom Investment: Okay, I know I said you don’t have to go bankrupt to practice kindness or be a good host; however, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t cost anything. Jesus calls on us to tangibly take care of people personally. Matthew 25 indicates that those who don’t practice caring for people may find themselves in a hot spot (not the one with WIFI). Kindness is an investment, not an expense. It is performing acts motivated by the love of Jesus and a GENUINE desire to see others sense the love of God in a real way—not a desire to have better church attendance. If your kindness is a bait and switch solely aimed at dunking people in a baptistry, it will fail. This concept should be promoted for a couple months in sermons and church media to help create awareness among members.
2. Feed People: The gospel has been described as “Jesus eating good food with bad people.” How many meals did Jesus share with a people with diverse backgrounds? How many meetings in scripture can you think of that involved a good meal? Whether it’s at a restraint, your home, or someone else’s home, sharing good food is an excellent way to communicate love. Ellen notes, “There is more religion in good cooking than you have any idea of.”Bring on the good cooking.
3. Co-Host: Jesus sent disciples out in pairs, so don’t try to perform great feats (or simple feats for that matter) of hospitality by yourself if you feel overwhelmed. Ministering alongside someone is not only a great way to reduce the workload and diversify skills/personality, but it often strengthens the relationships of those hosting together.
4. Acquaintances: Whether it’s Sabbath lunch, random acts of kindness inviting people out to eat, or dropping food off at someone’s house, start with people you somewhat know. They shouldn’t be complete strangers, but they shouldn’t be your BFF’s either. As you build your network of new friends, invite them to invite their friends to a meal. Try to keep groups between 7-10 people, and if it grows beyond that, encourage others to host.
5. Ask Good Questions: Yes or no questions, or questions that begin with “Why” tend to kill conversation. Ask open ended questions related to your guest’s interests—even if their interests are different than yours. Your job is not to convert people (that’s the Holy Spirit’s job). Instead, focus on listening, understanding, and serving people.
6. “Wow Factors”: I recently saw a friend post a picture of a female clergy appreciation banquet she attended. Her post was positive and the experience was meaningful; but I noticed a small detail that, if changed, would have made a greater impact. The banquet tables had Hershey’s kisses scattered on them. Being married to a chocolate connoisseur, I can tell you that Hershey’s is a fine choice for elementary school kids and trick-or-treaters, not for a banquet appreciating professionals. If the organizers had invested just a fraction more and purchased Ghirardelli, Godiva, or even Dove, the experience would have been enhanced exponentially. “Wow factor” is an old term, but its principle stands. What small unexpected upgrade could you make to how you welcome people—even at the door at church—to help them sense the value God places on them.
Our polarized world is increasingly unwelcoming, unsafe, and unkind. Voices of the faithful love to complain about “worldliness” in the church; often without realizing their critical cold spirit is equally as “worldly” as any perceived watering down of the gospel or entertainment-based programming. Programs are fine, but not as a substitute for relationships with people. Jesus tells us that whatever we do to “the least” in our spheres of influence, we do it to Him. With what measure of kindness will you and your church welcome Jesus in the form of the others around us in our church and our community?
Seth Pierce writes from Lincoln, Nebraska.
James K.A. Smith. Desiring the Kingdom (MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 212.
Ellen G. White. Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 9, (CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1905), 189.
Ellen G. White, Testimonies, Vol. 2 (CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association), 373.© 2017 - 2020 Church Support Services. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.