3 John 5, 6, 8 says, "Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. 6 They have told the church about your love 8 We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth."
And you thought you were just saying hello; think again! Welcoming newcomers well and showing hospitality is a non-negotiable in the Bible.
One of my favourite scriptures is from 3 John 5,6 & 8 where John, commends Gaius, a leader in the early church, for his faithfulness in charity and hospitality, which was expressing itself in the acceptance and love shown to Christian strangers (newcomers). What was even more impressive is that we see John has learned of this from the testimony of the strangers themselves. Faithfulness expressed in love shown to strangers, either Christian or not, is commended and the purpose is the advancement of the gospel, working together for the truth. Awesome!
Most weeks at church we average between 5 and 10 visitors; each one seeking a friendly face, ‘one who would welcome a stranger’ like Gaius. Each visitor with their own ‘story’ but looking to make a connection. Some weeks in the Welcome Corner it is hard to search out a newcomer, and with numbers increasing it is easy to miss someone. Launching a second meeting in September will certainly give us all added opportunity to notice someone we haven’t met before. So, what is it like to be ‘in their shoes?’
Although I have been at CCBS for 23 years, I remember my first visit to the church as if it were yesterday. With a ‘babe in arms’ I struggled with the baby bag, buggy and my eldest son from the car to the church door, with feelings of trepidation and a thousand questions running through my mind; ‘Will I recognise anyone?’ ‘Are they friendly here?’ ‘What if I get something wrong?’ ‘Will I fit in?’ It was all I could do not to run back into the car!!
As I opened the church door (large and creaking!) my heart was in my mouth. Jostling to make my entrance, I heard a soft voice ‘Hi, I’m Jean, would you like to sit next to me?’ as I looked up my relief was palpable and in that instant my fears fled. Jean took me under her wing and after a time invited me to her home group. She was my spiritual mother for many years, and it all started with a simple ‘hello’. Each new face on a Sunday is, like me, worrying about the logistics of the morning, but seeking an answer to a much deeper question - ‘Do I belong here?’
As we greet newcomers, genuinely focusing on their circumstances and wellbeing, connecting on a deeper level, we convey the love of Christ in a very powerful way. Pushing through the barriers that the world constructs of age, social standing, lack of time and interest, to convey honour, acceptance, value and love, a deeply spiritual encounter - and you thought you were just saying hello, think again!