Are we a welcoming church? Is the church set out in such a way to make it easy for every new person to quickly feel at home? Do we sensitively talk to new people or do we stick with the group of people we know? The Bible is full of teaching about how we welcome people. From the book of Deuteronomy ‘You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’ (Deuteronomy 10: 19); to the words of Jesus recorded by St Matthew; ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Matthew 25: 35); and at the end of the letter to the Hebrews . ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.’ (Hebrews 13: 2) There are many others as well.
During recent weeks I have come across an approach to ministry that has greatly excited me and made me look again at how I welcome people and think about the type of welcome people receive when they come to church. These fresh ideas have come through Richard Schnase, a bishop in the American Methodist Church, who published his ideas in 2007. He calls this approach "The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations”. The five practices are: Radical Hospitality; Passionate Worship; Intentional Faith Development; Risk-Taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity. I understand from talking with Andrew Lunn, our Chair of District, that Richard Schnase has been in the United Kingdom working with people on how these things could be developed in church life here.
Each of the practices asks very searching questions on how we are a church family and how we seek to encourage new people to join us. I have been exploring a booklet on the first practice, Radical Hospitality. In this booklet Schnase makes these comments about how fruitful congregations welcome people. “They are outward looking, they are focusing on people who are not yet at church, people yet to be invited and welcomed”. Radical means “arising from the source” and here means practices that are rooted in Christ and which spread out to others. It also means something drastically different from the norm. For Christians that means exceeding expectations or ‘going the extra mile’. Richard Schnase says of radical hospitality that newcomers should sense
these people really care about me here,
they really want the best for me
I am not just a number or an outsider here
I am being invited with them into the body of Christ
In church life it is very easy to focus on what we expect from church, rather than what the church expects from us, just as it is easy to expect God to do for us what God created us to do for God.
I know at Uppermill Methodist Church it is important that we are a welcoming church. However, like any good football team, there is always room for learning more. The word disciple means learner, as a pupil or apprentice learns from their teacher. As learners of Jesus’ way we are constantly learning more about how to follow him. As a disciple of Jesus I look forward to learning more with you on how we are called to welcome others in the best way we can.
With best wishes