April 18, 2023

Welcoming the Strange Visitors

The sentiment included is well known but bears repeating. In my travels over the last few months, I have visited a few churches in different countries and can again reiterate that hospitality and welcoming the strange visitors is the greatest evangelism asset that a congregation can possess. The size of the congregation, the clergy, the choir, the worship experiences all pale in comparison to the simple act of welcoming and providing hospitality to someone as they enter your church. The experiences varied across the churches. Some greeted with smiles and handshakes while others did not acknowledge until introduced by the clergy. Some did not offer a glass of water, while others provided food in abundance from the little they had.

Perhaps it’s a carryover from our western culture where because we are more isolated, fewer people visit each other, except family, and therefore we may have lost the art of hosting and being hospitable to others. As an example, at a recent meeting of Anglicans worldwide, many of the delegates from other countries brought gifts anticipating that they would meet new people, strangers, with whom they would present these gifts. For us westerners the thought did not cross our mind, or the gifts were deficient in comparison.

Are we always anticipating visitors in our congregations, if yes, what would we do differently? If in our home we would ensure that our décor is tasteful, that our environment is clean and clutter-free, and that we familiarize our visitors with their surroundings. Unfortunately, in many of our churches the images suggest that there is no diversity, and in some cases may be offensive. Other churches may not be as tidy, perhaps due to the long-held expectation that someone else, like a sexton, would clean up, but now due to financial constraints we have not figured out how to make cleaning an ongoing ministry of church volunteers. Most importantly, assigning someone to ensure familiarity with our liturgy and to chaperone our visitors is key, whether it’s during the service or coffee-hour.

“Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Matthew 10:40