Below is an excerpt from an article at ChurchCentral discussing the importance of preparing for guests, especially during Easter. But the practice of preparing for guests must be done EVERY Sunday.
Traveling teaches you a lot about hospitality. Being a stranger teaches you about friendliness. How do you see strangers? Most Christians think of themselves as friendly.
How does your church see them? Most people think their churches are welcoming— even when they are not.
According to Gary McIntosh, Christian ministry and leadership professor at Talbot School of Theology and church consultant, the friendliness most church members say they feel may be a result of having the people they already know around them.
"People who attend a church regularly look at the issue of friendliness from the inside out," McIntosh writes in his book, "Beyond the First Visit: The Complete Guide to Connecting Guests to Your Church," . It is a matter of perception.
According to McIntosh, the best way to welcome visitors is by modeling the welcome of God, who instructed the Israelites to welcome strangers. And, His Son, Jesus, who welcomed sinners. "When we welcome newcomers to church," McIntosh writes, "we are demonstrating the gracious love and care of God himself."
This task gains even more weight in the view of church leadership trainer, Nelson Searcy, who founded The Journey Church of the City in New York shortly after September 11th, 2001. Since then, it has grown to more than 1,000 members. Searcy says churches should view visitors as gifts from God. "God isn't sending a single person through our doors haphazardly, so we have a responsibility to treat each guest in a way that will make him want to come back again and again," he told Church Central. Once a right perspective of visitors is in place, McIntosh and Searcy offer practical steps churches can take to prepare for newcomers.
Company is coming — plan for it
McIntosh writes that churches should prepare their facilities as though they were preparing their house for company. For churches he says this involves "preparing an attractive worship service, organizing teams of greeters, cleaning the church facility, offering refreshing snacks, and, most important, creating a welcoming environment."
Searcy also advises churches to prepare for guests by thinking through the experience they will have upon arriving at your church. When it comes to guests, he says the biggest mistake churches make is failing to plan to properly welcome and follow up with them.
Searcy's new book, "Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully Engaged Members of Your Church", delineates a complete system that any church can use to help move each new attender along the continuum to becoming a fully-engaged member and a fully-developing follower of Christ.
Then the process of welcoming guests begins all over again as new church members are educated in welcoming. This is an important aspect of discipleship and evangelism, according to Searcy, who says preachers would do well to prepare sermons on how to be a welcoming church.
"By spending a little time preaching on the importance of biblical hospitality, you can ensure that your people exude a warm and welcoming spirit when your guests arrive," Searcy says.
I appreciate Searcy's thoughts about how to transfer the vision and habit to new members in welcoming. Becoming a welcoming church won't JUST happen. You have to be intentional. You have to teach toward it, you have to put in place processes toward it, and you have to train toward it.