Dictionary.com defines hospitality as “the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.”
Our God is most gracious and hospitable. He created a world that would meet, not just our physical and spiritual needs, but provide us with enjoyment for all of our all our senses. Since he made us all unique and special, he has provided sufficient diversity in the world to satisfy every taste. Wow, this is a good place to stop and give Him some praise!
When you are in the initial stages of your diversity development, your goal is to see the fullness of ethnic diversity found in your town or campus in your congregation. In order to do this, you must transform your perspective from “meeting the needs of those currently attending” to creating a place of welcome and comfort where guests and strangers can be received in a warm, friendly, and generous way. In this context, hospitality becomes a strategy for helping you reach the goal of diversity.
In another sense however, hospitality is not a strategy at all, but a goal. God created the world, I believe, partly as a revelation of his heart of hospitality. In the same way, one of the reasons all local congregations are called to reach every nation, tribe, people, and language around them is that the church’s mission is to manifest God’s heart to the world, and this includes his heart of hospitality. When we only serve/reach part of our community, while ignoring those it would take “extra effort” to reach and serve, we are not being hospitable. Thus, we are not accurately representing God to those around us.
So we first begin with the motivation to manifest or “incarnate” God’s hospitable heart to the world. We realize this means, “all peoples” around us, not just the ones like us. We then think about how we can practically express hospitality through what we do. Here are some suggestions:
1. Think through the messages you are giving outsiders about who belongs and is welcome in your congregation through what they see, hear, and experience. Are the pictures that tell your story of diverse people? Are the people on your platform representative of those you want in your seats? What about the activities you sponsor? Do they appeal to a variety of people? Consider the language you use and the music you play.
2. Think through the culture of your congregation. Is it accessible and understandable for guests and strangers? Is there a bunch of “inside information or ways of doing things” that everyone who regularly attends knows about that is never explained. More than once I have attended a church where only one of the many entry doors are unlocked during service times. Everyone who goes there knows which door to use. Imagine how I felt when I tried a door to find it locked. The message to me was very clear; “if you were one of us, you would know which door to use.” This is not hospitality!
3. Realize hospitality comes with a cost. In the same way David refused to give God an offering that cost him nothing, hospitality that costs us nothing, isn’t hospitality at all. There may be true financial cost of redoing your publications or website, changing the look of your gathering place, and purchasing foods that appeal to a wider variety of people. Still, these are the easy ones. The greater cost comes in inconveniencing our congregants and ourselves as we make changes to appeal to the stranger. Leaders often fear this cost and decide instead to leave things as they are. But it does not have to be this way. Instead of avoiding the issue, deal with it head on. Take advantage of the opportunity to teach and share about God’s love for all people and how Jesus left his home to come into our world so we could know the Father. Challenge your people with the gospel that demands that we pick up our cross and die to ourselves. These are wonderful opportunities for real discipleship that it would be foolish for us to miss.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13).
Once, you, a stranger, were brought near to the Father and now you have become part of his family. God had been working all of your life to draw you to Himself with warm, friendly, and generous hospitality. Now, it’s your turn.