Thinking About Hospitality in the Church Service

I want to be very clear about what my goal is through this particular leadership series. This series is meant to evaluate certain practices in the local church gathering in light of biblical principles. I am not condemning any practice, nor am I elevating one practice over another. I am under the understanding that in everything we do we either proclaim the Gospel or we do something else entirely. So, our methodology matters. I am also of the understanding that form follows function. A church service that is bent toward practicality will look and feel different than one bent toward beauty. A church service that is more people-centered will look and feel different than a church service that is more Christ-centered.

In most local churches, there is a time reserved for welcoming people and sharing a few key announcements. Not surprisingly, there are no instructions about these components of the church meeting in the Scriptures. Being part of a local church that desires to operate biblically, we search the text for biblical principles regarding the church welcome time or the time reserved for key announcements.

Since we don’t see these times explicitly described in the text, we consider the intention of having a welcome time or of making announcements. The intention is that people will be informed about church-wide activities and that we might practice hospitality. So, we observe what Scripture has to say about the hospitality of God’s people. The best explicit instruction is in Leviticus 19:33-34. Of course, hospitality is a principle described and mentioned explicitly often through both the Old and New Testaments.

Leviticus 19:33-34

“When a foreigner lives with you in your land, you must not oppress him. You must regard the foreigner who lives with you as the native-born among you. You are to love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt; I am Yahweh your God.”

This is the biblical principle. We love our visitors like ourselves. The point of biblical hospitality is not to make ourselves feel welcomed, but to consider the outsider. We resolve not to oppress anyone. We are to regard those who visit as already a part of our family. Why? Because this is what God has done with us even though we did not deserve to be delivered from exile. He made His people His children despite their insufficiencies and unrighteousness. This is the high calling of our hospitality because we are the image of God. We also remember the purpose of the church in Hebrews 10:24-25- to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.

So, if there is something like a time for welcome and announcements, it must be a practice of hospitality and it must contribute to the fulfilling of the local church’s purpose.

The meet and greet

Though there is no explicit biblical example, we can make some inferences from these principles. The “meet and greet” time in many local church meetings is a time when the congregation will be asked to stand and greet one another and the guests. Not surprisingly, this practice is the number one reason many visitors will not return. It’s awkward. Granted, this is a bad reason not to return to a local church, but if we are to practice hospitality, it makes sense that we would love people enough not to distract from the Gospel by having parts of our meeting that are awkward to guests. If guests are distracted from the Gospel, not only do we fail to be an expository church but we also take away from the local church’s accomplishing of its purpose.

We want our visitors to feel welcomed, not singled out. According to the principle of biblical hospitality, we want our visitors to feel like part of the family, not overwhelmed with sudden social anxiety. This is for the purpose of glorifying God and not distracting from the Gospel. If we feel like we need a “meet and greet” time, it may be the case that we haven’t made it a priority to greet one another and guests already (which means we haven’t practiced hospitality).

Making announcements

In every place I have been, announcements take up so much time and people don’t listen to them anyway. When there is an announcement time, it seems like everyone wants to get in his or her say. Everyone wants their personal events announced along with every committee meeting and the Sunday School attendance numbers and the budget and birthdays and anniversaries and how many flowers were purchased for the nursing home.

Now, for a moment, imagine that you are a guest walking into a church meeting. Before everything else, there are announcements. Most of those announcements don’t have anything to do with you. You will get bored before the service even really begins. All of the input from members of the congregation trying to be heard just creates a level of chaos that you are very uncomfortable with. Announcements in the worship service often become more of a hindrance than a help to the purpose of the local church. Usually, they do more to glorify people than God.

The verbal welcome

The same principles are going to apply, here. Guests are not served well by being singled out. If there is a welcome, it should be short and sweet and not people-centered, but Christ-centered.

If visitors are treated like family, they should be greeted personally before they sit down. They can be handed a visitor card personally by those who have the responsibility to hand them out (be sure they know what to do with it after filling it out). A “meet and greet” seems more like an artificial attempt to make a church seem friendly. As we talk with one another, we also talk with guests before and after the worship service. We invite them to sit with us, or wherever they like.

There needs to be a place where people can find all of the information they want. Whether a public calendar, a bulletin with announcements, a rotating presentation before and after the service, the church website, or even social media, people can access all of the information they want to access. The only announcements that need to be shared are usually the overarching announcements related specifically to the purpose and vision of the church or church-wide events that people need to be ready for the next week.

If there is a welcome time, say, “Welcome, we are glad you are here,” and move on. It is probably best to avoid singling people out or spending much time making small talk from a stage or podium.

Genuine hospitality

I think what happens is that we are quick to exchange godly hospitality for a programmatic approach to ministry. Hospitality is something that we can’t program. It is a matter of the heart and of our character. It is why the ‘hospitality’ components of any worship service just seem out of place and counter-productive regarding the work of the Gospel. The good news is that God is the one doing His work anyway. So, when we think about practicing genuine, sincere hospitality, we are participating with God as God builds His own church.

These specific applications may change with time, and they have. The principle remains. The components of our church services cannot be geared only toward those who have been coming for a while. Hospitality is outward-focused, intent on God’s glory, and as inviting and considerate as possible to potential guests. The components of our worship services leave an impression. First impressions matter. All of the outreach and evangelism we do is significant and God is always accomplishing His work, but we may not see the fruit in our midst if we are not hospitable. We want our first impression to be the best that it possibly can be for the work of the Gospel through us. Let’s make our meetings feel more like home.

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