A WARM AND WELCOMING CHURCH
A series of revival meetings held in the South Valley Church received great support from the congregation. A guest evangelist from another area was brought in. The attendance was excellent, and the congregation rejoiced when after three-months 30 people were added to the church. New vitality and enthusiasm flowed through the older members from the addition of the new ones.
The enthusiasm was short-lived, however, and soon the South Valley Church returned to its normal activities and status quo. At a board meeting about a year later someone asked where everyone was who had joined the church the during the revival meetings. After checking the records it was found that only 10 of the original 30 were still attending. What happened to the other 20?
New believers often find themselves losing one set of friends and searching for new ones. Since it takes time to establish friendships, this leaves them dangling without a solid support system.
Within a few months new members often become discouraged. The joy in their newfound faith wears thin as they find little tolerance among more established members during their transition period. Criticism of “mistakes” further destroys their confidence in their new faith.
New members will not survive if left alone. Unless they receive adequate attention and begin to bond with established members, they are at a high risk for dropout. The transitions they are called upon to make during this critical period are difficult. It is now that they desperately need friendship and a warm and welcoming church.
Every congregation must give immediate personal attention to newcomers in order to help them establish friendships. They should be personally invited to all church social functions. But this needs to be taken a step further. Newcomers need invitations into our homes, to have extended to them personal friendship and hospitality.
If established church members would offer friendship and hospitality to new members, we could cut the drop out rate to near zero. When you get together with your friends, open your circle to include one or two newcomers. Perhaps you have a group you really click with. It can be threatening to ask others to join you. Maybe these newcomers could take your friends away, disrupt a good thing, or in other ways sabotage your friendships. But unless we do this, unless we begin to make friends with newcomers, we will continue to have staggering dropout rates.
Established Members Need Friendship Too!
The following letter pretty well sums up the lack of warmth and friendship in some churches.
“I have attended the city church for five years, and to this date no one ever spoke to me or, heaven forbid, ever asked my husband and me to their homes or gatherings. On several occasions I tried to initiate conversations with people, but I was ignored as if I was thin air. I have been a member of two other churches in my life. These churches were responsive and warm, and I held many church offices, including social director and hospitality coordinator, and I never had this problem.
“I am a professional in the city, and since November of last year have not attended church because of the nonhappening I found so evident. I find it a real burden to sit in a cold tomb week after week. Now I have built a wall of hard cement so as not to feel the intense pain that has resulted. I am a friendly and intelligent person who will survive without my church, since I have friendships outside the church.
What Can Be Done About the Problem?
We need friendship! In my church and yours we need never lose another member because we failed to be friendly. By being friendly, I am not talking about a handshake at the door. As important as it is, I don’t mean a hospitable smile or courteous greeting in the foyer by the best of greeters. Nor am I referring to a “friendship time” during the worship service when we stand and shake the hands of those around us. Such things are an excellent starting point, but they will not take the place of personal friendship!
I don’t need someone to be friendly to me at church nearly as much as I need friendship outside the church service. It is during the week when I am struggling with everyday trials that I most need friendship. It is then that I long for a friend whom I can call and ask to pray for me. I need friendship on Saturday night when I know that others are getting together. Nothing hurts me more than to overhear a group talking about their plans for the evening and not be included! I desperately want to belong to a group of friends who like and care about me.
The concept I am trying to get across to each churchgoing family is that we could transform the church—your church and mine—simply by changing how we relate to others. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own cliques, or with our own family, that we have no time or need to include anyone else. But there are people out there who need you—not someone else, but you.
The goal is to begin practicing the delightful art of hospitality, to use your home for someone besides yourself and your family, to experience warmth and caring.
It is in your home, as you engage in casual and relaxed conversation that you will really get to know their hearts and respond to what they feel are their needs. Only here will you be able to minister to their social needs through warm, loving fellowship. The deep personal relationships developed over your dining room table can do a lot to prevent apostasy among new believers and encourage established members.
My prayer is that the word “entertaining” would take on a new meaning, one with spiritual significance and soul-winning potential. Whether you call it “having company,” “entertaining, “practicing hospitality,” or “throwing a party,” matters little. What important is that you feel an urgency to get involved in this indispensable ministry.
Hospitality is so much more than it appears on the surface. And it isn’t an option for Christians, something we can elect to do if we feel like it. From a scriptural point of view, to neglect being hospitable is actual disobedience. Paul is forthright in his command to “Practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13 NIV) Neither did Peter mince words when he said, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9 NIV)
Through the gift of hospitality we can make friends and thus keep ourselves emotionally and socially healthy. We can also become a vital link in witnessing and proclaiming the gospel. But we can also, by extending hospitality to others, make the world a better place—a warmer and friendlier and infinitely more interesting place. Take your talents and carry on!