Here’s a multiple choice question to get us thinking about visitors in church: When you see a visitor on Sunday, what do you usually do?
A) I try not to stare.
B) Visitors? I never notice visitors.
C) Nothing. I’m afraid to talk to new people.
D) I try to at least say hello and welcome them.
What did you answer? Which do you think is the correct answer?
In this post, I’m speaking to the congregation about welcoming visitors. Local Christian churches should have a welcoming atmosphere. Christian pastors should lead the way in welcoming visitors. And all Christians are called to love their neighbor and be kind to others – including those who visit our worship services. These are things we discussed in the previous posts. To be sure, it’s not a numbers game. The people who visit are not notches in our belts or projects for us to work on. They’re people made in the image of God, people we are called to love and serve as we follow Christ and seek to make him known.
In the previous posts, I’ve given various Scripture references that talk about love, kindness, Christian speech, and so on. The Bible is clear: each Christian must love his neighbor as himself, seek the good of other people, and be kind to others. Whether someone is an out-of-town visitor who is just passing through, or whether someone is a visitor from down the street, we follow Scripture when we welcome them with love.
There are a few other biblical principles to think about in welcoming visitors. To highlight love once again, 1 Corinthians 13 comes to mind. Yes, this description of love has to do with individual Christians. But by extension, we might think of it this way: if a local church does not have love, isn’t it like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal? Love is kind. It is greater than faith and hope. Local churches must aim to have loving fellowship and even pray for more and more love. It puts a spotlight on the gospel when a visitor experiences loving Christian fellowship. A warm, kind welcome is one evidence of Christ-like love in action.
Another biblical principle to think about is hospitality. Yes, elders and pastors should be hospitable, but all Christians are called to show hospitality (Rom. 12:13; 1 Pet. 4:9). It won’t do for us to think, “Well, I’m not a people person so I don’t have to show hospitality.” One way all Christians can show hospitality is by welcoming visitors to our worship services and church events. Hebrews 13:2 also comes to mind: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it (NASB). Whoever these “angels” might be, this is a verse we can think of when we see visitors in church.
A Welcome to God’s House
Perhaps an analogy will help. When we invite someone to our house, typically we clean up a bit, get some food ready, make sure the bathrooms are supplied, and so on. When the company arrives, we serve them by showing them a comfortable seat, by getting them a glass of water, and by being a good host. We don’t look down on them if they dress differently than us, nor do we avoid them if they seem to be different than we are. Instead, we kindly welcome and serve them.
Similarly, when visitors come to church on Sunday, we might think of them as guests coming to God’s house, and we want to be loving hosts by serving them in God’s name. We don’t look down on them if they dress differently, and we don’t avoid them if they seem different. Instead, we do what we can to be good hosts, welcoming them and seeing how we can serve them in hospitality. We think like hosts who love our guests! We might even think about church fellowship as being a haven and home where people can come to find help, hope, and refuge. (As a side, James takes it for granted that we will welcome people into the assembly even to the point of helping them find a seat – without showing favoritism! See James 2:14-18.)
A Missionary Bent
As we think about the “missionary bent” or church plant mentality of welcoming visitors, perhaps a different analogy would help. Suppose your local church building and congregation were picked up and moved to a different culture that was predominantly non-Christian. What would you do? I’d suggest you quickly get a missionary mindset! You think: how can we reach this culture with the gospel? How can we adjust our worship services and fellowship to accommodate this different culture (while thinking of the Regulative principle and other Biblical and Reformed truths)?
Welcoming Is Part of Evangelism
Here’s yet one more angle to think about: not all of us have the gift of being an evangelist. However, one way we can support evangelists and their work is by showing love and kindness to others, specifically those who come to church to hear the gospel. When evangelistic people share the gospel, they should also invite them to church. If that person comes to church you can support the work of evangelism by loving that person and giving him or her a kind welcome. Does that make sense? The evangelist shares the love of Christ by explaining the gospel to a person. When you lovingly welcome that person to worship he can now see the love of Jesus in action. In this way, the person who welcomes visitors is someone who supports evangelism!
Next Up: Practical Ways to Be Welcoming