I was the pastor of a good church but, honestly, it didn’t honor God like it should when it came to new people.  We were very friendly to each other, however, guests didn’t seem to find us hospitable.

Sadly, the vast majority of churches are like that.  What about yours?  What is the friendliness status of your church?

It may seem daunting, and it likely requires a miracle of God, but your church can have a culture that honors the loving God who treasures the stranger.  Here’s how my church came to be more of what God wants.

We tried many things through the years.  Each one was helpful, but ultimately became a faint memory.  And we went back to what we were.  Again, we were a “good” church by contemporary standards.  We had a great choir with strong worship.  We did what most seem to think a church is supposed to be.  However, visitors didn’t return.

Finally, I had exhausted everything I could on my own.  So we contracted with 21st Century Strategies to figure out what I was missing.

It wasn’t really that I was missing anything, though.  We knew what we needed.  We understood where we were missing the mark.  We just couldn’t find sustainable change.  It wasn’t what we didn’t know.  It was what we didn’t have.  We needed:

  • Coaching – This gave me a sounding board and accountability to what I believed we were called to do.
  • Objectivity – Recommendations from the outside took on power that no pastor has alone.
  • A Hospitality Plan – Our friendliness needed to be trained and practiced.
  • A Discipleship Plan – We grounded ourselves in the mission of God.
  • An Outreach Plan – We focused on God’s preference for the stranger.

Our goal was to become the friendliest church in town.  Not because we thought so, but because our visitors indicated it was true.  Virtually every guest now comments on how friendly we are (how we express Biblical hospitality).  Our pillars of the church who used to talk only among themselves, now speak up that the foremost conversations on Sunday morning need to be with those you don’t know.  This is now our culture.  It defines us.  This is our personality.

One of our newest people just voiced these words to me.  “I have attended churches with amazing programs, but I was told in both that I was sitting in other people’s seats.  That’s why I love worshiping here.  This church has its priorities straight.  I think church members should wait to find a seat until the guests are seated.”

We preach about this.  We write articles about this.  We talk about this.  I heard that a vision is lost if not referenced something like every 27 days.  And since people don’t go to church every Sunday these days, you had better find a way to make this your vision and speak to this vision every chance you get.  If you do these things, God will show up and do the seemingly impossible.  Your church can and should be the friendliest one in town.  Your culture can change.  And it likely needs to do so.

The point is to get one thing through our collective awareness.  The most important person for worship is the one who is not yet there.  And we honor those people when they show up.  It’s not about me.  It’s not about you.  It’s not even about us.  It’s about them.

What have you found to be helpful in developing a church culture of caring for the stranger?  Leave comments below.

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