Since we moved to Henderson last September, we have seen guests and visitors worshipping with us in the past months. (Guests are those invited by their colleagues or friends. Visitors are those who show up uninvited.) We have also seen old friends and members who are in the sub-list returning to join us. We thank God for them; we know that it is the Lord who has brought them to us. We hope that they will return to worship with us.
Writer Gary L McIntosh, in his book “Beyond the First Visit”, made this remark: There is a 16 percent chance a first-time guest will return, but an 85 percent chance they will return after a second visit. In essence, whether our visitors and guests return depends very much on the experiences they had on their first and second visits. On researching further for this editorial on why visitors or guests don’t return, several articles named similar reasons, one of which is that the church is inwardly friendly. In other words, the church appears to them like a “members only” club.
To quote a paragraph from an article by Doug Powe, “I have visited my share of congregations over the years and all of them claim to be the friendliest church. Yet, what I observe and what I am sure others experience is that people in these churches are friendly — but they are friendly to each other. Often, during the passing of the peace or congregational greeting time, parishioners greet one another warmly, but guests are left feeling like outsiders. It is not that people are not speaking to them, but that people are brushing past them quickly, so they can connect with those they know in the congregation. When this happens over and over again, it makes a visitor feel like an intruder and not a guest.”
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we should be the most hospitable, loving people on earth. Scripture reminds us, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). When asked by a Pharisee which was the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:35-40). These verses hinge on the key word “love”. Love compels us to do something for someone, not just in words, but in actions and deeds. And this act of love is not the result of just being dutiful or being obedient. Rather, it is the result of being more like God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Showing hospitality is an act of love and gives us the opportunity to live out the Gospel. In John 3:16, we read, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God not only said that He loved us, but expressed and demonstrated His love by sending His Son to die for us while we were still sinners. Similarly, as His children, we cam be like Him by being the initiator, making the first move to greet our visitors and guests to make them feel welcome. Our motivation should be thankfulness and gratitude that God has made us His household and now we can live out the Gospel by being a conduit of the same love to others who are with us.
Showing hospitality is also an act of faith. It requires sacrifices and our time. It could create some inconveniences for us such as diminishing our time with our families and friends. Let’s remember what our Lord Jesus has done for us. We recall the words in Philippians 2:4-7, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself….” While we were still sinners, Jesus left the glory of Heaven and gave up His dignity to become a man for our sakes. Obviously, He thought we were worth it. May we also have the same mind as Christ, considering everyone God brings through our doors worth our time and effort to reach out to.
Let us spur one another on to show hospitality to all who come through our doors, and make an effort to reach out to visitors and guests, so that they may find a reason to visit us again. May God help us. Amen.
- Eld Sim Chow Meng
Reference: Doug Powe. (2018). 4 Reasons Visitors Do Not Return. https://www.churchleadership.com/leading-ideas/4-reasons-visitors-do-not-return/