By Shannon Youell
Several weeks ago, I challenged us to look through our Sunday spaces and gatherings through the lens of the unexpected, unchurched or marginally churched person to observe and recognize what barriers we may have that keep folk from feeling they are in a safe place to explore their spiritual curiosity.
In our church, we have a long way to go in this, but here are a few of the practices we have been doing and are leaning into doing more.
- From the start, we explain everything. From what’s going to happen, to the room layout, to our “amenities”—which include fresh bread to take, coffee bar, children’s activities—to facilitated and explained open communion and prayer throughout the service, we walk people through our gathering every time.
- We offer connect cards for folk to put name, prayer requests, and if they would like to be contacted.
- We’ve scheduled a ten minute coffee break mid-point to move and meet people around you, Our folk are strongly encouraged to connect with guests and begin to move them from stranger to friend.
- We facilitate a question/thought-sharing time after the sermon, where we encourage people to ask us to explain something they didn’t understand or always wondered about, followed up with a mid-week Dialogue Circle where anything is open for discussion, though we start off around what was talked about the past Sunday.
- We strongly encourage folk to invite someone to have lunch with them after church. This summer we are taking it one step further and have several people hosting planned after church picnics at their homes or parks. These events are easy on the hosts, because everyone brings their picnic lunch with a little extra for unexpected guests (or those who just forgot to pack a lunch!).
These are but a few things and I hope you will all post here things you do to honor and welcome and include the unexpected guest.
We have had several lately. One new couple came because they were invited by their waiter in a downtown restaurant, only to show up and the waiter had been unexpectedly called into work that morning and wasn’t even there! I can imagine how uncomfortable it must have been to show up and their host was not there! But they stayed and then came back the next week. Why? They knew it was okay to ask questions of the pastor if you didn’t understand what was being said. They were greeted and spoken to by several people and felt very welcomed and included, and most revealing, the fellow’s brother is a pastor and they have never been invited to church by him and when they had questions he would just tell them how they should believe but didn’t give them the space to discover why.
Friends, these are the people God has called you and I to welcome with radical hospitality, to wash their feet, to honour. The alien, the stranger, the left-out-of-the-secret handshake folk. We should be places of refuge, of shalom where folk are welcomed because they are there. Not because of how they look, or believe or even don’t believe, but because they are seeking to see Jesus revealed around them in ways that are demonstrated by welcome, by grace, by mercy, by healing and by acceptance.
The hospitality Jesus demonstrated was pre-dominantly other focused. Is ours?