Perhaps the most descriptive welcome in the bible is the homecoming welcome found in the story of the prodigal son. This story might as easily have been called the parable of the welcoming father. After the son has squandered his wealth and returned home, surprisingly the father does not shun him but instead gives him an extravagant welcome. Because of the father’s love the son receives a welcome he does not deserve.
Another indication of the importance of being welcoming is found in God’s invitation “Come”. God is invitational and his gospel is invitational. In Isaiah we read, “‘Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” (Isaiah 55:1–2) This is God’s invitation to join in a satisfying spiritual feast. This is offered freely to all, without cost. Because God himself has paid the price, we can enjoy the richest food. At the end of the bible in Revelation there is an invitation, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17) Remember as you read this, the church, we, are the bride who joins with the Spirit of God in extending the invitation to come.
We also find Jesus' invitation, follow me. There is a rich warmth and welcome in Jesus invitation to these first disciples to join him (John 1:35–39). Jesus says, “‘Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me’” (Luke 9:47–48) When we welcome others, even a little child, in the name of Jesus, we welcome Jesus, and we welcome our heavenly Father. We should keep this in mind when we consider the importance each of us might give to being welcoming.
As a welcoming community we seek to be hospitable, preparing events and occasions to help others. We offer a variety of avenues for people to join us. Groups such as mainly music, playgroup, ZED, Move and the BBQ church are portals where people enter and get to know us in a caring environment, no strings attached. When people come to a Sunday service we seek to be hospitable, creating a friendly atmosphere in which people can connect with each other.
Helping people find their way into church is one thing, actually welcoming them when they arrive is another. To welcome others you first need to turn up early and then stick around. Simply being friendly is a great start. When people attend church it often arises from a need, a yearning or a searching for God. They come to church because they hope to meet with God in some way. If a person steps out of their comfort zone to join us on Sunday, shouldn’t we be encouraged by that and play our part by giving a genuine welcome? Engage in polite conversation. Small talk is important. It shows interest without prying. It allows us to engage in conversation in a non-threatening way. It allows us to connect with people we don’t know too well and to build up conversational trust with people we have just met. Treat visitors as you would treat a guest you have invited to your home and help them feel at home.
One of my favourite verse is “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” (Psalm 84:10) I love to stand at the church door and welcome people into his house. A welcome might not make a lot of difference to those who are already part of the Greyfriars family, but can make a big difference to those who have come for the first time, or come back for a second or third. Let the warmth of our welcome demonstrate to all who come to Greyfriars the warmth of God’s welcome to us.
- What do you do at home to help a guest feel welcome?
- What could we learn from that to help guests feel welcome at church?
- Why is being welcoming more than just politeness?
Rev John Malcolm