Foundations of a Welcoming Church
Foundations of a Welcoming Church
We all like to feel welcome, don’t we? Whether it’s at home, school, work, church, with friends, or on the athletic field, it’s an encouragement to be warmly welcomed by others. Alternatively, it is a real discouragement to be overlooked, ignored, or shunned–– especially at church.
Many of us have had the experience of visiting an unwelcoming church. I distinctly remember visiting a small Reformed congregation a few years ago while on vacation when my family was neither greeted nor welcomed. It felt cold and awkward. There was no effort to extend a warm hand of fellowship. This, of course, can happen in large churches as well. Visitors (and members) can easily fall through the cracks due to the sheer size of some congregations. Whether large or small, every congregation must strive to be a warm and welcoming church–– not only for visitors but for fellow church members as well.
Beloved Christ Church, being a welcoming church is a biblical non-negotiable that is informed by the Word of God, motivated by the grace of God, and done for the glory of God. Towards the end of his magisterial letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul writes:
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Paul’s words are both an exhortation and a prayer, “an eloquent way of doing two things at the same time” (Murray, Romans, 200). As a man who knows his Bible, Paul understands that exhortations will not be heeded apart from the sovereign grace and power of God. The early Christians in Rome are exhorted to cultivate Christ-centered unity in the church, thus enabling them to glorify God “with one voice” in public worship. In order to foster genuine unity and fellowship within the congregation believers must sincerely “welcome one another,” even as “Christ has welcomed [them].”
Jesus Christ shed his very own blood so that we, guilty and miserable sinners, would be redeemed and welcomed into his blessed family. And one day when Christ returns he will welcome all his people to the glorious and long anticipated Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-10). We will be warmly welcomed into the new heavens and the new earth (2 Pet. 3:13) where we will dwell with God, the angels, and the full number of God’s elect for eternity (Rev. 7:9-12). This is the theological foundation of Paul’s exhortation to “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you” (Rom. 15:7).
Therefore, in light of the blood-purchased “welcome” that we have received in Christ, ought we not to be a warm and welcoming people? Ought we not to love and welcome others even as we have been loved and welcomed in Christ? While the context specifically speaks to how fellow church members ought to welcome and receive one another in the bonds of Christian fellowship, a wider application may be applied regarding how we receive visitors as well. A welcoming congregation is full of believers who are profoundly grateful for Christ’s “welcome.” They are motivated to extend that loving welcome to others in order to encourage and build up those around them and bring glory to God (Rom. 15:7). God’s saving grace in Christ is our foundation and motivation for being a warm and welcoming church! The following are a couple of very practical ways to be a welcoming church.
Welcome Fellow Church Members Into Your Life
We are all busy–– all of us. But if our busyness does not include welcoming our Christian brothers and sisters into our lives, and intentionally seeking to build them up, then we are either too busy or not busy enough. Paul’s exhortation/prayer is that the Roman Christians –– both Jews and Gentiles –– would “welcome one another” into their lives, even with all of their many cultural differences. Only this kind of intentional “receiving” of one another will foster true unity and love within the body. Christians are never meant to be isolationists. We need one another. We need each other’s spiritual gifts (c.f. Rom. 12:3-8). We are one body. Doesn’t the Lord’s Supper underscore this spiritual reality (I Cor. 10:17)?
What are some practical ways to “welcome” fellow church members into our lives? Since the greeting and fellowship times before and after worship are fairly brief and limited, we can be intentional about getting together with others during the week. It warms my heart to hear about members of Christ Church getting together for fellowship over a meal or coffee. Other opportunities for this sort of fellowship are our weekly and monthly Bible studies, fellowship meals, and occasional activities. Perhaps the best way to get to know and encourage one another is through hospitality, that is, welcoming one another into our homes. Personally, some of the sweetest and most memorable times of fellowship have been around the dinner table on the Lord’s Day. There is something special about table fellowship. After 15 years of ordained ministry, I am convinced that when a church family opens its homes to one another for table fellowship, they will enjoy profound measures of unity, joy, mutual support, and love. Perhaps this is one reason why hospitality is emphasized throughout Scripture (c.f. Romans 12:3; I Peter 4:9; I Tim. 3:2).
Perhaps, for a start, if you are able, you could commit to showing loving hospitality at least once every six weeks. In doing so, keep your eyes out for those families who have been visiting our congregation for a few weeks and may be perfect candidates for a warm welcome in the Lord. Let’s be proactive in our hospitality, not letting a less than perfectly clean house curb our plans, and extending the hand of Christian fellowship to one another in a meaningful way.
Warmly Welcome Visitors
When a family or student or single walks through the doors of Christ Church for the first or second time, it should not be long before they are warmly and graciously welcomed. It should be plain and evident to everyone that visits that we are a joyful and thankful people who overflow with the love of Christ–– that we want to welcome others even as we have been welcomed in Christ. Therefore, let us intentionally move beyond our comfort zones and demonstrate the love and welcome of Christ.
Christ Church, it is always a blessing to hear from visitors that we are a warm and friendly congregation. I see and experience that every Lord’s Day, and I thank God for it. Even so, Christ Church, let us, by the grace of God, excel still more! Let us recognize the precious theological foundation that our welcome flows from, namely, the welcome we’ve received from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. May the saving grace of Christ motivate us to be a welcoming people–– reaching out to one another, showing hospitality, and doing it all “for the glory of God” (Rom 15:7).
- Pastor Jon