You were a first-time church visitor.
Though you may be actively involved as a volunteer in your current church, you were a first-time visitor there.
Do you remember your experience?
Do you remember the emotions you felt? You were in a new space for the first time surrounded by dozens, if not hundreds, of people you did not know.
Before getting into the practical steps on giving welcome to church visitors I want to share a few more devotional thoughts about church visitors and Christian hospitality.
The Command to Welcome Strangers
Leviticus 19:33-34 commands Israel to welcome strangers because of their experience in Egypt.
‘When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.’
They were not to oppress the alien because they knew how it felt when they were in Egypt (Exodus 23:9)
This gives us a great starting point in recalling your experience of being the stranger.
Remember How It Felt To Be The Stranger
Do you remember what it was like on your first day in that new church?
There could have been a million different reasons why you chose to visit that church for the very first time. Maybe it was a felt need. Maybe you were new in town. Maybe there was a massive life change and you needed hope. You had a felt need and somehow, you found your way to that church.
You were the “alien,” the stranger, the first-time church visitor.
What emotions do you recall?
Do you recall the disorientation of not knowing where things are? Maybe you recall wondering if you’d fit in? What other emotions are there?
If you can’t remember these things about your first-time visit to your church, think about other first time in a new place experience. That could be your child’s first day of first grade, the first day of school in a new neighborhood, your first day at university, or the first time you visit a familiar department store in a different part of the country.
Take a moment and dwell on that.
Your first-time church visitors are possibly experiencing the same thing.
Don’t Forget Those Feelings – Use Them.
Israel was commanded to honor the stranger because they were once strangers themselves.
Now that you have established yourself in your community of faith and other people are coming to your church for the first time, remember your own first-time experience feelings.
Use them to think through ways to improve your church’s hospitality
- How can you treat visitors as one of your own?
- How can you “Love them as yourself, for you were aliens . . . ?”
- What can I do to calm those nervous feelings or the sense of being disoriented?
Jesus welcomed people
Notice what Jesus did with visitors in Luke 9:11 (Feeding the Five Thousand)
The crowds . . . . followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.
In fact Jesus welcomed so many people into his presence, that he was accused of welcoming sinners (Luke 15:1-2)
Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Acts 28:30 points to Paul’s practice of welcoming people
For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him.
Gary McIntosh makes the point that several different Greek words are used for “welcome.”
together, they suggest the meaning of gladly welcoming someone to one’s home as a guest . . . [Welcoming newcomers] is a theological demonstration of God’s grace. . . .when we welcome newcomers to church, we are demonstrating the gracious love and care of God (p. 12)
Let me ask you this?
- How does your church welcome visitors?
- How do you personally welcome visitors?
- Do you see your welcome as reflecting God’s grace?
Improve Your Church Hospitality
Do you want more first-time church visitors to come back a second time? Taking care of your hospitality systems can help you keep more of your visitors. I’ve put an ebook together to help you review your hospitality systems.