Hospitality isn’t merely a command. It is also one of the ways that God invites his children to flourish as we share his provisions in anticipation of the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9). “In biblical hospitality, the gospel of Christ becomes visual, concrete, and practical to the stranger” and to the host. Here are several ways you can show hospitality at church and at home.
How to Practice Hospitality at Church
1. Invite friends to church.
One of the best ways to show unchurched friends, family members, and neighbors, that you love them is to tell them that they are wanted at your church. It isn’t a club designed to keep outsiders away but a universal family of God.
2. Commit to engaging church guests.
Don’t assume others will do it. In fact, assume they won’t. Discipline yourself to approach new people at church, meaningfully entering into their lives. Offer to sit next to visitors to help them participate in worship or show them around the facilities.
3. Learn names.
People tell me I’m good at names. I don’t think I am. But I do care, so I use tricks. I try to pay attention when I introduce myself so I won't miss the person's name when they share it. I might pause for a brief moment, pondering the name. I then try to use it in the initial conversation (sparingly; it can be creepy if a new acquaintance inordinately uses your name). After the conversation, I try to jot down the name on a post-it note on the inside cover of my Bible. I also try not to be afraid to ask for a reminder if necessary. If you pray for guests throughout the week their names will become more meaningful to you. You will also be able to tell them later, “I’ve been praying for you.”
4. Invite church guests to your home or out to coffee.
Without extended fellowship with new people, it is difficult to move from friendly to friend. Extended fellowship provides a new shared experience, it introduces more meaningful themes and creates greater comfort even with someone you’ve only known a brief time. “Narthex friendships” are rarely deeply meaningful.
5. Help other members who struggle with hospitality.
Those gifted with hospitality can help bring others into conversations with new people. Not only does this help protect hospitable people from relational overload, but it also mentors those who are less confident. After you meet a new guest you might tell her, “Cheryl, there are a few ladies I’d like you to meet. This is Erika. This is Becky. They would love to get to know you!” Do the same at home. Identify a few families or individuals who could become friends and help them meet.
6. Help guests integrate quickly into your community.
We must not blur the line between membership and non-membership. But we do want guests to get to know members immediately. We want nonmembers to feel like they have a place with us. We should want to involve guests in small groups and other fellowship gatherings as soon as possible. We should genuinely want people to belong to our community even before they fully embrace our beliefs.
How to Practice Hospitality at Home
1. Reject the false dilemma of family versus hospitality.
Hospitality can compromise family fellowship. But it doesn't have to. My wife and I frequently invite people over for some “adult time” after our kids are in bed. Otherwise, we try to include our children in our fellowship. They are learning to appreciate the beauty and challenges of hospitality at a much younger age than I did.
2. Be a good neighbor.
Here’s a shockingly simple question: When Jesus said “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 2:39), “What if he meant that we should love our actual neighbors? You know, the people who live right next door.” Christians should know and love their neighbors, even those who reject our beliefs. We affirm the image of God in our neighbors through engagement and kindness. Engagement might well lead to worldview clashes. That’s why “practicing hospitality in our post-Christian world means that you develop thick skin” and that we welcome thoughtful discourse and even disagreement. To be good neighbors in this post-Christian age we will need to learn to distinguish between acceptance and approval. We can accept our neighbors without approving of their lifestyle. My wife and I have loved getting to know our neighbors through annual block parties and taking opportunities to stop and talk with neighbors we meet on regular walks.
3. Develop habits and strategies that help overcome your hurdles.
Why do you shy away from hosting? Do you worry you won’t know what to say or that the evening will be awkward? Consider playing a game or using conversation-starting cards. Do you feel overwhelmed at the thought of getting to know the many people under your care? Why not invite groups from several households over to your house at once? Are you concerned about how your guests will respond to your faith? If you have family worship after meals, explain your custom to your guests and ask if they wouldn’t mind participating. Your familiar devotional habit might just open a door for sharing your hope in Jesus.
This article is adapted from William Boekestein’s chapter “Elders and Deacons as Hospitality Leaders” in Faithful and Fruitful: Essays for Elders and Deacons (Reformed Fellowship Inc., 2019) edited by William Boekestein and Steven Swets.