Hospitality is one of the things that we find most challenging as a society. It’s somehow really ingrained in us to leave others alone unless they ask to be approached. And in church, that means that we are content to sit in the same area as the same people for many years without ever knowing their names, without ever introducing ourselves, thinking that “well, if they want to make friends, they’ll come over and say hi” and all the while they are thinking the exact same thing of us. And it means that when we see someone new in church, we think “oh let’s not overwhelm this new person, he’ll fill out the welcome card if he wants to be spoken to”… and as a newcomer to church myself in the past, both in ORPC and in PSPC where I spent one year on field education, I absolutely hated having to raise my hand and have all eyes on me, and it felt like a momentous decision to fill out that welcome card. And it means that we find it hard to invite people to our homes, even people we’ve known for many years in church, preferring to hold our meetings (whether business or fellowship) in church, a sort of neutral ground, instead of inviting people into our homes. Inviting people into our homes feels like the last bastion of privacy has been breached, and all the messy details of our lives are now open for the whole world to see.
The thing is, hospitality is hard. But that is also precisely why it is important for the church. Because hospitality is countercultural, it’s not natural to us in today’s society, and that means that this is one way in which the church’s love for each other and for the community around them is highlighted and displayed. We were once all strangers in the church, even if we were born to parents in the church – but we now belong because people have welcomed us and made us at home, because people have loved us as they have loved themselves (Mark 12:31, Matt 22:39). And I can’t think of any better way to show love to others than by opening our lives, our hearts, and our homes to them. By serving others, we serve Christ (Matt 22:40), and Christ commanded us to love each other (John 13:34-35) and to practice hospitality (Rom 12:13, 1 Pet 4:9).
But as with any new habit, we start with baby steps. And baby steps in this case means just looking out for one new face every month (not necessarily new to the church, just new to you!) and making it a point to say hi, to introduce yourself, to get the other person’s name, and to intentionally look out for the other person over the next few weeks, maybe even going out for coffee after service if you can. This is within everyone’s ability. Do this with a friend, then you won’t have to carry the conversation alone. And keep doing it. It’s fine if you get rejected, it’s fine if people run away from you, it’s fine if you can’t find the person the next few weeks. What matters is that you try, what matters is that you practice the habit of hospitality.
Shall we try it together? We start with “hello, my name is…”