Making Room in Your Life

I took the spiritual gift inventory and “hospitality” was NOT one of my gifts!  But there were people in my church who were off the charts in hospitality!  You know who they are – the ones who are always preparing table decorations for the next church dinner.  They are the ones who love to cook, bake, decorate, and entertain – the Martha Stewarts of your church.  Now, I love being with people; and I actually love to host parties at my house.  But, for me, hospitality amounts to the following: “There’s the refrigeration, and there’s the pantry; when you’re hungry, help yourself.”

Most recently I’ve been reading that hospitality is a key to successful church growth.  The experts make a distinction between merely being a “friendly church” and a church that shows “real hospitality.”  We’ve all heard of the jokes about the frozen chosen.  Perhaps you’ve even visited a church one Sunday and had no one say a word to you the whole time you were there.  Even churches that consider themselves “friendly” are warm and open to each other, but relatively cold to the stranger.  You know that a sanctuary that is only 60% occupied on a Sunday morning, can still feel “full” and closed to an outsider.

To our credit, most of our churches have become much better at appearing friendly.  We have greeters are placed strategically at the door to meet visitors with a smile.  Information desks and Welcome Centers are geared especially for newcomers who are seeking information on the church.  We wear nametags so we can greet each other by name.  More and more, there are genuine smiles and welcomes come from people in the pews, and sometimes even invitations to join new groups in the church.  But real hospitality, radical hospitality, is even more than that … and it doesn’t have much to do with table decorations either.  Radical hospitality has to do with making room in your life for someone.  To be a growing church, we need to make room not only in the church, but in our lives, for new people.

For centuries (even millenniums) hospitality has been a moral mandate.  It involved welcoming the stranger.  Not just smiling at them and saying how happy you are to meet them, but really welcoming them into our homes and offering them food, shelter, and protection.[1]  Remember the condemnation God had for the city of Sodom when they were not hospitable to the strangers in their midst.  As Christians, too, we are called to welcome the strangers into our homes.

Growing churches don’t only give a gift to first time visitors and an invitation to come back next week.  They get to know them, care for them, and follow-up with an invitation to dinner or to a bible study in their home.  They find out what kinds of needs the newcomer may have, and they do what they are able to help meet those needs, with prayer, with an invitation to help them move into their new home, with an offer to drive the kids to music lessons, whatever they can do to show radical hospitality.  In short, they make room for them in their lives.

Hospitality is the key to growing, faithful, Christian community.  You don’t have to have the “Martha Stewart” touch in order to show hospitality.  But, you do have to open yourself up to the stranger, make a new friend, care for them, love them, and make room in your life for them.