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Imagine a congregation-wide focus on these practices that includes a five week sermon series, five weeks with every household reading daily devotions and sharing prayers on these practices, five weeks of leadership teams and small groups stimulated to take new initiatives, five weeks of conversation and commitment focused on the mission of the church. These ...
Imagine a congregation-wide focus on these practices that includes a five week sermon series, five weeks with every household reading daily devotions and sharing prayers on these practices, five weeks of leadership teams and small groups stimulated to take new initiatives, five weeks of conversation and commitment focused on the mission of the church. These are the practices that lead to excellence and fruitfulness, and they can change your church. Imagine!
Five Practices - Radical Hospitality is a planning workbook for use in group study. It helps lead the group to develop a plan to implement Radical Hospitality in your congregation.
FREE TEACHING GUIDE! Click here to download the free Teaching Guide for "Radical Hospitality."
What Does the Bible Say?
Jesus said, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me." (Matthew 25:35)
Hospitality is a mark of Christian discipleship, a quality of Christian community, a concrete expression of commitment to grow in Christ-likeness by seeing ourselves as part of the community of faith, "not to be served but to serve" (Matthew 20:28). By practicing hospitality, we become part of God's invitation to new life, showing people that God in Christ values them and loves them.
Hospitality streams through Scripture. In Deuteronomy, God reminds the people of Israel to welcome the stranger, the sojourner, the wanderer. Why? "For you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 10:19). We, too, were once strangers to the faith, residing outside the community where we now find rich resources of meaning, grace, hope, friendship, and service. We belong to the body of Christ because of someone's hospitality. Someone invited us, encouraged us, received us, and helped us feel welcome—a parent, a spouse, a friend, a pastor, or even a stranger. If we had not felt welcomed and supported in some measure, we would not have stayed.
Jesus says, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me" (Matthew 25:35). "Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40). We would change our behaviors toward strangers if we lived as if we really believed this! Taking Jesus seriously changes congregational behavior.
At every turn, the disciples seem ready to draw boundaries and distinctions that keep people at a distance from
"For you were strangers in the land of Egypt." (Deuteronomy 10:19)
Jesus. They have a thousand reasons to ignore, avoid, and sometimes thwart the approach of people, reminding Jesus that some of these people are too young, too sick, too sinful, too old, too Roman, too blind, or too Gentile to deserve his attention.
But Jesus teaches, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me" (Matthew 18:5). Hospitality has us seeing people as Jesus sees them and seeing Jesus in the people God brings before us. But Jesus' hospitality extends beyond the cordial welcome we offer when someone appears at the threshold of the church and then feel good that we've completed our obligations.
"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me." (Matthew 18:5)
Jesus tells a parable about himself, saying, "Then [the king] said to his slaves ... 'Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet'" (Matthew 22:8-9).
Paul implores the followers of Christ to practice an active hospitality. "Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God" (Romans 15:7). The grace received in Christ places upon Christians the joyful gift and challenging task of offering others the same welcome they themselves have received. The letter of Hebrews cautions, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it" (Hebrews 13:2).
"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2)
God intends for people to live their lives interlaced by the grace of God with others, to know the gift and task of community from birth to death, to have the interpretive structures of faith to sustain them through times of joy and periods of desperate agony, to have the perspective of eternity, and to "take hold of the life that really is life" (1 Timothy 6:19).
The early Methodists practiced hospitality in ways so radical in their day that many traditional church leaders found their activities offensive. Founder of Methodism, John Wesley preached to thousands on roadsides and in open fields in order to reach coal miners, field laborers, factory workers, the underclass, and the poorest of the poor. He invited them into community and nurtured in them a strong sense of belonging as he organized societies and classes for mutual accountability, support, and care.
According to Wesley, before people ever consciously come to faith, they have inner desires for relationship to God that are stifled, forgotten, neglected, ignored, or denied. By God's grace, people may be more ready than we realize to accept the invitation and initiative of Christ that comes through gracious hospitality. Through the practice of Radical Hospitality, the early Methodists as well as the church today express the gracious welcome of God in Christ. God seeks relationship to people. Just as God's grace triggers in people the interest and eagerness for relationship, God's grace shapes the invitational posture of congregations to reach out in love.CHAPTER 2
What Is Radical Hospitality?
"Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God."
Radical means "arising from the source" and describes practices that are rooted in the life of Christ and that radiate into the lives of others. Radical means "drastically different from ordinary practice, outside the norm"; and so it provokes practices that exceed expectations, that go the second mile, that take welcoming the stranger to the max. By radical, don't think wild-eyed, out of control, or in your face. Instead, imagine people offering the absolute utmost of themselves, their creativity, their abilities, and their energy to offer the gracious invitation and reception of Christ to others.
Churches characterized by Radical Hospitality are not just friendly and courteous, passively receiving visitors warmly. Instead, they exhibit a restlessness because they realize so many people do not have a relationship to a faith community. They desire to learn about inviting and welcoming more people and younger people and more diverse people into their congregation.
Churches practicing Radical Hospitality offer a surprising and unexpected quality of depth and authenticity in their caring for the stranger.
In these churches, newcomers intuitively sense that:
These people really care about me here.
They really want the best for me.
I'm not just a number, a customer, or an outsider here.
I'm being invited with them into the body of Christ.
The word radical intensifies expectations and magnifies the central importance of this invitational element of our life together in Christ. Radical Hospitality goes to the extremes; and we do it joyfully, not superficially, because we know our invitation is the invitation of Christ.
Aspiring to Radical Hospitality, following Jesus' example of gathering people into the body of Christ, inviting them to the banquet of God's gracious love requires intentional focus on those outside the community of faith. Jesus' example of hospitality demands an unceasingly invitational posture that we carry with us into our world of work and leisure and into our practice of neighborliness and community service. It involves seeing ourselves as sent out by Christ and going out of our way, even at the risk of a sense of awkwardness and inconvenience, to invite people into some aspect of the church's ministry.
In the book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, from which this study is based, Robert Schnase recalls when he was serving a particular congregation. This congregation wanted to deepen its understanding of hospitality, growing beyond the practical steps recommended by books on evangelism, assimilation, and visitor follow-up. They had the techniques right—helpful signage, accessible parking, trained greeters, and a system of visitor follow-up; but they wanted to extend this hospitality further. In evaluating their posture of hospitality, they talked honestly about the greatest gifts they had received through the church from their relationship with Christ and considered honestly, without boasting or any negative spirit of pride, what had been the greatest contribution each of them had ever made to building the body of Christ.
After all had shared their experiences, Schnase suggested that they think about another contribution that they may have made or should seek to make, the greatest contribution we can make to the body of Christ—that is, inviting someone else or helping a newcomer feel genuinely welcome so that she or he receives what we have received.
Sometimes members forget that churches offer something people need.
"Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words."
— attributed to St. Francis of Assisi
What do people need that congregations offer?
People need to know God loves them, that they are of supreme value, and that their life has significance.
People need to know that they are not alone; that when they face life's difficulties, they are surrounded by a community of grace; and that they do not have to figure out entirely for themselves how to cope with family tensions, self-doubts, periods of despair, economic reversal, and the temptations that hurt themselves or others.
People need to know the peace that runs deeper than an absence of conflict, the hope that sustains them even through the most painful periods of grief, the sense of belonging that blesses them and stretches them and lifts them out of their own preoccupations.
People need to learn how to offer and accept forgiveness and how to serve and be served. As a school for love, the church becomes a congregation where people learn from one another how to love.
People need to know that life is not having something to live on but something to live for, that life comes not from taking for oneself but by giving of oneself.
People need a sustaining sense of purpose.
Having said that, the last thing people want is to be told by someone else what they need! Inviting people into Christ does not involve pounding people with "oughts" and "shoulds." Some people recognize their needs, and they search for meaning, for others, and for God. But most people discover their need for God's grace and for the love of Christ through the experience of receiving it.
* * *
Edwards Deming, the genius of organizational systems, observed that "a system produces what it is designed to produce." In this intentionally redundant statement, he reminds us that a system is aligned to get the results it is getting, and it will not get any other kind of results unless something changes.
How is your church doing? Is worship attendance increasing or decreasing? Is membership trending older each year or getting younger with the addition of new members? Is the number of classes, studies, services, and missions increasing or decreasing? If yours is like most congregations in mainline denominations, it is declining in numbers, increasing in expenses, and aging in membership at an accelerating rate with each passing year. Congregational systems are perfectly aligned to get the results they are getting, and that means uninterrupted decline for most churches.
Something must change. People getting mad and leaving is not the cause of our decline. Members simply grow old and die, and no one takes their places. The church has a "front door" problem rather than a "back door" problem. People are not entering into the life of the church at a rate that matches or exceeds the number maturing and dying.
To become a vibrant, fruitful, growing congregation requires a change of attitudes, practices, and values. Good intentions are not enough. Too many churches want:
more young people as long as they act like old people,
more newcomers as long as they act like old-timers,
more children as long as they are as quiet as adults,
more ethnic families as long as they act like the majority in the congregation.
We can do better. It takes practicing Radical Hospitality—and all the redirecting of energy and resources and volunteer time that comes with this. Church leaders can't keep doing things the way they have always done them. Little changes have big effects.
Small churches have painted their nurseries, trained their nursery staff, replaced the playground equipment, and within weeks word-of mouth carried the message of their special care for children to others; and attendance grew from forty-five members to fifty-five. And it all started with a simple paint job!
If every ministry changed a little toward welcoming younger people, the cumulative effect might change the direction of the church. From safe and easily supportable new initiatives, such as Parents' Night Out programs for young families or Brown Bag Bible Studies in workplace cafeterias, to more edgy ministries, such as alternative services in strip center malls for the "tattoos and piercings" crowd, churches can let the Radical Hospitality they see in Christ lead them in creative directions.
"The point is to do something, however small, and show you care through your actions."
—Mother Teresa from A Simple Path (Ballantine, 1995)
"We reach out to people with small children with what we call 'The First Quarter.' During the high school football season, we invite parents with children ages 0-4 to bring them to the church to be cared for while the parents go to the football game. This is a way of saying that the church cares about you and your family, and have a fun night without having to worry about your kids. It is a very simple idea that can touch lives with the love of Jesus for some children that might otherwise never come through the doors of the church."
—Rev. Barron Willer, First UMC (Braymer, MO)
Churches marked by this quality work hard to figure out how best to anticipate others' needs and to make them feel at home in their ministries. All churches offer some form of hospitality, but Radical Hospitality describes churches that strive without ceasing to exceed expectations to accommodate and include others. A congregation marked by such hospitality adopts an invitational posture that changes everything it does. Members work with a heightened awareness of the person who is not present, the neighbors, friends, and co-workers who have no church home. With every ministry, they consider how to reach those who do not yet know Christ.CHAPTER 3
What Can We Do?
"Then [the king] said to his slaves ... 'Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.'"
The willingness to risk something new creates a buzz and a stir in the community that strengthens participation in all other ministries of the church. In ways no one understands, when the contemporary service begins to welcome new people in a manner that exceeds expectations, often the traditional Sunday school class for older members grows as well. Word-of-mouth is still the most important form of human communication, and when people talk about congregations as places that make people feel welcome and loved, then the church thrives.
A woman was going through a rough time in her personal and professional life; and in her search for connections, hope, and direction, she began to visit a few churches. After her first two worship experiences to which she came alone, sat alone, and left alone without anyone speaking to her or greeting her, her prayer for her next visit to another church service was simply, "I only pray that someone speaks to me today."
Wow! What an indictment. Could that really happen to visitors in our congregations? How many of us have had that experience? Have you ever arrived at a church, entered the hallways and despite your obvious "lostness" and active searching for signs and directions, passed by forty or fifty people without anyone even nodding at you or offering to help you find your way? And we've all experienced the ushers or greeters who offer perfunctory handshakes without even looking us in the eye, who hand us a bulletin and push us along without any personal engagement or warmth. We can do better.
Bishop Sally Dyck once said that for the visitor or the person who is searching for spiritual help, "This Sunday is the only Sunday that counts." In the same way stores sometimes employ agencies to provide "secret shoppers" to test the responsiveness of their salespersons and employees, perhaps churches should consider working with a few conscientious members of another congregation, asking them to show up for worship and provide a "secret visitor" analysis.
Churches aspiring to Radical Hospitality must regularly ask:
How are we doing at inviting guests and at teaching people to invite others?
How are we doing at genuinely and authentically welcoming people?
How are we doing at helping people find their way into our congregation?
What are we doing to help people who are unfamiliar with us to feel at home?
How can we offer the Radical Hospitality we see in the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Christ?
How are we doing as a congregation, as a Sunday school class, in our worship services and mission projects and youth programs?
How can we do better?
Excerpted from Five Practices by Robert Schnase. Copyright © 2008 Robert Schnase. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted October 17, 2011
While this is not a terribly written book, it is a definite rip-off of an older, well-sold book "Radical Hospitality" by Collins-Pratt and Homan. It is sad, but predictable, that no one within a religious organization has called the Bishop out on using the success of another's work for self-profit. At worst, it lacks imagination and is not nearly as well written as the original.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.