What does it take to build a welcoming church? Most Christians would say they desire to be a part of a church that welcomes guests and new members. But just saying we want to be welcoming and actually getting it done are separated by faithful vision casting and hard work. Here are some spiritual values and practical tips I hope to build into our church so that we continue to pursue this goal of welcoming newcomers into our midst.
1) Preach the gospel of God’s welcome in Christ. This is first on the list because it’s first in importance. Exhortations hold little permanent sway over hearts that are not amazed by grace.
2) Set an example. Leaders in the church must be willing to welcome newcomers into their homes and into their hearts. This doesn’t mean that everyone becomes everyone else’s closest friend (actually an impossible goal). It does mean that the pursuit of new friendships should be a consistent part of my life.
3) Don’t give in to laziness with new friendships. Old friends often take less work since we already know of common interests and we have become familiar with our quirks and weaknesses. New friends require lots of questions, the occasional awkward conversation, the “getting used to each other” phase, and the willingness to learn to love in spite of the discovery of new weaknesses. We must never, ever become lazy and unwilling to do this work of building new friendships.
4) Be appropriately transparent. This is not a call to share everything with everyone. Certainly our deepest struggles and fears should be reserved for a couple well-selected and trusted brothers and sisters in Christ. However, acting like we “have it all together”, that we live in perpetual exhilaration without suffering or struggle, does not invite others into the reality of our lives. Humility will always communicate welcome and commonality, making it easier for others to feel that they don’t have to be perfect to be our friends.
5) Learn to celebrate mercy and forgiveness. Building friendships means intentionally being around people that will sin against us. At some point these new friends will be rude or crude or forgetful or critical or…something else that seems like a betrayal of our friendship. To be truly welcoming means that we welcome sinners, knowing in advance that we will need to forgive them just as they will need to forgive us. Forgiveness of others must become a joyful act of worship if our church is to be a consistently welcoming family.
May God make us a welcoming church. May he give us grace to persevere with old and new friends and cause us to reflect his welcome of us by the power of his Spirit.