Practicing hospitality

There was a time when churches were excited when a young married couple with 1.5 kids walked through the doors of the church building.  The conventional wisdom was, “These are the kind of people we need to grow a church.”

In some ways, these people were the “low hanging fruit” on the tree who were easiest to assimilate into the life of the congregation.  Practicing hospitality with new people like these was not difficult.  As long as your church had acceptable worship and preaching and adequate programs for children and youth, you could count on them to stay around and be involved barring divorce or relocation because of work.

Such an approach is no longer valid.  Both the culture and demographics have changed.  More often we find that those who “try out” our churches are singles, single mothers, couples living together without benefit of marriage vows, blended families, and grandparents raising grandchildren.  This change reflects the reality of our society.  The expectations and needs are more diverse and practicing hospitality is a more difficult task.

As we look at the ministry of Jesus, we recognize that he did not limit his ministry to a narrowly defined social or economic group.  Certainly his primary ministry was to the Jews but his teaching attracted both the wealthy and those on the margins of society (with a higher rate of acceptance by the latter than the former).

The Apostle Paul also exercised a great deal of flexibility in reaching out to the unchurched and wrote, “I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people” (1 Corinthians 9:22, The Message).

The challenge for the church today is to widen the doorway and to practice a more inclusive hospitality.  We build the church on the practice of hospitality, welcoming all who recognize their need and who come seeking genuine faith and caring community.  If these seekers do not fit our preferred demographic, perhaps it is time for us to change rather than asking them to do so.  After all, the church’s mission is not only to serve those within its walls but those outside as well.

Who will cross the threshold of your church this week?

Ircel Harrison

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Ircel Harrison is Coaching Coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is Associate Professor of Ministry Praxis at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He blogs at His Twitter feed is @ircel.

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