by JR Woodward
(Editor’s note: This is the 7th of a 9-post series on non-negotiables for authentically leading a church towards being more evangelistic.)
One of the ways to help your congregation grow in a lifestyle of evangelism is helping them to create a welcoming environment. Cultivating a welcoming environment means helping the community practice hospitality as a way of life. We have all felt the pain of exclusion, of feeling unloved, unwelcomed or unappreciated. We can all recall wounds we have received. And we have all felt the longing to be a part of some exclusive group.
While the narrative of our world encourages us to be exclusive, the narrative of God encourages something quite different. Our God is a welcoming God. From the call of Abraham — where God said he would bless him and all the nations of the earth through him — to John’s vision of people from every tongue, tribe, and nation gathered around the throne of Christ, we see that God is welcoming. Jesus exemplified this, consistently extending the table to those who were marginalized by the people of God and society. Jesus constantly crossed boundaries to demonstrate that God welcomes all, and as Christ’s disciples we should seek to do the same.
When I was planting a church in Hollywood, a number of women in our church took turns assisting a local ministry that helps women who are in transition. They provide housing and often help these women find jobs. Some of these women started to get involved with our congregation in Hollywood.
A number of years ago, one lady by the name of Latifah came up to me, and as she was introducing herself, she said, “And by the way, I am a Muslim.” Latifah was welcomed into our congregation, and later she told me, “You know JR, I have visited a number of churches, and most of the time when I tell them that I am a Muslim, people start to exclude me. It’s like a wall goes up. But as I have come here to Kairos, people have welcomed me. I wanted to thank you for that.”
Latifah continued to come to our weekly gathering, Sunday after Sunday. I started a seven-week series on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and she came faithfully each week to listen. By the time we finished the last talk, Latifah, who happened to be sitting in the center of the room, jumped out of her seat, put her hands in the air and shouted, “Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Lord!” She then fell down to her knees, bowed her head, and cried. Latifah felt welcomed and accepted. As a result, she desired to hear more about Jesus and ultimately recognized him as her Lord.
If you want to help lead your congregation into a lifestyle of evangelism, cultivating a welcoming environment is a non-negotiable.
QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU DISCERN HOW WELCOMING YOU ARE
Here are some questions to discern how welcoming your church is:
- How many people genuinely welcome others into their tight community?
- How well does the group reflect the diversity of the neighborhood?
- How willing are people to sacrifice their own cultural comfort to meet people where they are?
- How many people are living into connecting with people of peace and their oikos (primary people connections)?
- How many people willing initiate with people who are different than them?
Cultivating a welcoming environment, where we practice hospitality as a lifestyle, helps the congregation to incarnate the good news. It goes beyond how the church receives people. It means we take the initiative to live out our mission incarnationally, but this comes at a price. The price is that the church must always be willing to die to its own cultural comfort in order to live where God intends it to be.
We must cultivate a community of faith for them, among them, and with them, under the spirit of God. We need to have a listening and learning posture as we live with them. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives” (John 12:24). If we are willing to die to our comfort and personal preferences and faithfully plant ourselves incarnationally among the people groups and neighborhoods God sends us to, fruit will abound. Living incarnationally is entering their world. Taking it as seriously as they do and helping them find Christ there.
JR Woodward (@Dreamawakener) is a church planter, activist, missiologist, and author of Creating a Missional Culture. He co-founded Kairos Los Angeles, theEcclesia Network, the Solis Foundation, and Missio Alliance. He currently serves national director for the V3 Church Planting Movement. He serves locally at the District Church in Washington DC and is pursuing a PhD at the University of Manchester (U.K.). He loves to surf, travel, read, skateboard and meet new people. He enjoys photography and film and tries to attend the Sundance Festival whenever he can.