You want to grow your church?
Practice hospitality. (And that means more than serving awesome fried chicken)
I’ve read about 50 articles today that begin a similar way. They promise us church growth and then give us a few steps to implement hospitality. Tips like making sure that the word of life doesn’t come with the breath of death—in other words tell your greeters to try some breath mints.
Now don’t get me wrong. These articles have been really helpful. And I really do believe that healthy churches are also hospitable churches. But when I read these articles something in my stomach starts to churn.
What’s the Problem?
Hospitality is not a means to grow your church. It is fundamental to a churches identity. It is who you are. If we’ve botched hospitality it is because in some way we have botched the gospel.
Consider the story of Simon the Pharisee. This dude was a terrible host. There are certain things that a host does for his guest. Or at least he has a servant or somebody do them. But not Simon. Simon’s hospitality stinks. And Jesus tells us why, “…he who is forgiven little, loves little”. Our hospitality reflects our grasp of the gospel.
Furthermore, hospitality is a reminder of our alien status. Show me a church that does not practice hospitality and I will show you a church that is comfortably living the American dream. They’ve started thinking that they are home and so they’ve lost their sojourner impulse.
Throughout the narrative of Scripture God’s people are portrayed as sojourners. They are slaves in Egypt. Exiles in Babylon and Assyria. This doesn’t change in the New Testament. Our Master didn’t have a place to lay his head. We are strangers. Aliens. Sojourners.
When we embrace this it isn’t hard for us to associate with the bewildered single mom trying to get her three scraggly-headed kids through the door. The fact that she’s a stranger here on a Sunday morning is obvious to all. And so the alien in us begins to emerge. We remember what it was like when the Lord picked us up out of a pit so we greet her with warmth instead of apathy.
Yes, we need to train our greeters. Breath mints are helpful. But before we get into the 10 steps for greeting somebody with a smile, we should first remind them what it was like to be a foreigner brought into the family of God.
How to Read this as a Mr. Leader-Man
Some of my readers are leaders. You get stuff done. Your kind of a big deal. You know that your fundamental task in the church as a leader is to help other people use their gifts. You build up the body this way. (I’m not disparaging that. It’s true. That is often how you serve).
And you hear something like this and you start thinking about ways that you can train people to have a theological basis for hospitality. You think of all the people that you need to teach to be hospitable.
And do that.
But be careful…
Be careful that while everyone else is getting their hands dirty you aren’t sitting down eating some of that pie that you delegated to be made. Don’t forget that when Abraham entertained angels in Genesis 18 that it wasn’t his servants that showed hospitality. It was Father Abraham getting his hands dirty.
You’ve read in all your leadership training books that there are some things that simply cannot be delegated. Maybe hospitality and service is one of them. (See 1 Timothy 3:1-3 and note that “be hospitable” is as important to your elder qualification as “don’t be a drunkard" is).