Hospitality: The Heart of an Effective Missional Church Culture

Church Support Australia

When Jesus described the Kingdom of God he likened it to a growing organism (seed, leaven, a net full of fish, and a tree sheltering birds – see Matthew 13). Most of Jesus’ metaphors refer to either growth or hospitality. As the church is meant to be the sign, foretaste and instrument of God’s Kingdom the church then also is called to be a community growing in numbers, growing in love and service to others, and growing in hospitality to newcomers and strangers.

When all that happens as Paul writes, “… speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:16)

In this article I will be addressing the critical role of hospitality to the outsider for being an evangelising community of love. Hospitality is a key motif in both Old and New Testaments. Jesus’ image of the Kingdom of God being like a mustard seed growing into a tree big enough for birds to nest in (Matthew 13:32) is a powerful image of hospitality.

There are two general ways churches can best create hospitable spaces that can become bridges for sharing life and faith in Jesus.

The first is through relational evangelism (see my four part Stories series also on this site). This is where church members are intentionally equipped and encouraged by their pastors and other leaders to listen to those in their relational networks and be ready for God-given opportunities to share their experiences of God’s grace in Christ with their non-Christian friends. In this article I won’t be addressing this particular pathway as I’ve covered it extensively in my Faith Stories series.

The second is where the church creates community and conversational spaces within and through their church building and community ministries. This can take place in three ways:

  1. Church Ministries
    These are ministry programs aimed at particular groups of people eg. Youth and Children, Young Adults, Young Families, Seniors as well as Home Cell Groups or Life Groups. Through conversations and relationships with believers, often together with specific teaching input, not yet Christians deepen their interest in the Faith and some intentionally commit themselves to Jesus.
  2. After Worship Fellowship Time
    This is a traditional opportunity for connecting with newcomers but from my experience one rarely used effectively by most churches. Very few church members take the time to personally engage in conversation with new people and instead mainly talk with their church friends. My wife and I recently visited All Saints Church of England on Hooke Rd, Chester, England. We attended the 9am traditional service and stayed afterwards for morning tea. We were truly encouraged by the number of people who went out of their way to chat with us – one gentleman sat down with us and the three of us easily shared life together. Then the vicar came over to greet us. Such a rare event from our experience and one that could far more fruitfully be used by all churches that have visitors.
  3. Restructure the Church Building
    This is where the church worship centre is reconfigured to include a welcoming community space that is accessible to the wider community during the week. The best example of this I’ve seen also was in the UK. All Saints Hereford Church of England has created a café operating inside the actual worship centre. Several churches have a café on the complex but not in the sanctuary itself. Although initially this is a passive strategy nevertheless it has creative potential. As people from the outside community spend time with friends inside the church worship centre (nave) it helps people feel comfortable to attend special worship experiences and events. In other words café customers begin to feel familiar with the symbols and signs of Christian worship. If church members with gifts of hospitality serve as staff in the café relationships with faith sharing potential are more likely to be developed thus providing a natural connection for relational evangelism. (As we visited mid-week I had no real opportunity to find out whether this was how the café was being used.)

Conclusion
However none of this is likely to happen without trained and committed pastoral leadership. Certainly this has been my lived experience in the three parishes that I have pastored plus my more than 20 years’ experience as a church consultant and leadership coach. Rather, instead of equipping and supporting their people for ministry and mission many pastors are focused on:
• Drawing a crowd rather than developing a missional movement
• Placating their current members instead of intentionally equipping them for ministry and mission
• Undertaking studies in subjects unrelated to church leadership and development
• Prioritising administration over ministering to people

And don’t think preaching alone will do it. It won’t! In our western, multicultural and complex society Gospel centred preaching that connects with people needs to be backed up with:
• Personal one-on-one coaching and mentoring by trained and pastorally supported leaders;
• An effective small group system that grows organically (via cell division and multiplication) that welcomes and includes new people;
• A leadership farm system for the recruitment and training of new leaders plus the on-going support and development of established leaders.

And all this needs to be modelled and overseen by the Senior Pastor. Otherwise it just won’t happen.

Author

  • Graham Beattie

    Graham is a retired pastor with 50+ years’ ministry experience. While pastoring two growing churches Graham completed a Doctor of Ministry degree through Fuller Theological Seminary, majoring in church consulting and church growth. Following graduation he was appointed as a denominational church consultant in Victoria (7 years) and Queensland (9 years) before accepting a position as State Chaplain with UnitingCare Community. There Graham was a member of the executive team, pioneered a leadership coaching accreditation training program, coached several managers and professionals as well as providing traditional chaplaincy services. Since retirement, Graham developed his own coaching and consulting practice (https://Facebook.com/GBCoachingandConsulting). In addition to coaching managers in the business and not-for-profit sectors he has been consulting with churches and coaching pastors from Baptist, Churches of Christ, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Uniting and Anglican denominations. Living in Brisbane, he is married to Beth - they have 3 adult children and 4 grandchildren. Graham enjoys tennis, vintage detective stories and, of course, time with his grandkids.

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