Surprised by Hospitality

Summer is upon us and with summer comes a swarm of tourists to Jackson Hole. We also see an influx of visitors at church on Sunday mornings. With this in mind, I would like to remind us of the importance of Christian hospitality. It is easy to become comfortable attending church week after week and forget to welcome the visitor.

Statistics show that if a person comes back to a church a second time, there is an 85% chance that they will make that church their church home. Therefore, our goal is to welcome first-time guests in such a way that they will want to come back to PCJH a second time.

Did you know that we almost always have first-time guests at PCJH every Sunday? Some are just traveling through, but many live in the area and are looking for a church home. There are countless others who have made PCJH their church home but may be new to you. Regardless of their situation we are called to show hospitality to the first-time guest and the regular attender.

I remember the first time I attended PCJH back in January of 2001. A nice couple greeted me and asked me simple questions like, “What’s your name? Where are you from? What do you do in town?” They made a point to greet me again the next week and then invited me to their home for dinner. I’m not sure I would have made PCJH my church home without their generous hospitality. After all, I had already visited another local church the week before and no one said hello to me. I went in and out of that church with no one acknowledging me being there. I never stepped foot in that church again on a Sunday morning.

Did you know that has been some people’s experience at PCJH? It’s true. People come to worship on a Sunday morning at PCJH, sometimes even a second or third or fourth time, and no one engages them in conversation. This makes me sad. I wonder how our church might reach more people and grow if we all took it upon ourselves to practice the ministry of hospitality on Sunday mornings.

The New Testament book of Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” (NIV)

Do not forget.
It’s easy to forget to show hospitality to strangers on Sunday mornings. We get so focused on our friends or finding our seat, or getting a cup of coffee or snack, that we walk right by people without even acknowledging them with a smile or a hello. Do not forget to show hospitality. When you walk into church remember that people are showing up in need of love and community. We can be agents of welcome and hospitality as a witness to Christ’s love.
The Greek word translated “to entertain” in the first part of Hebrews 13:2 is the word “philoxenia.” A better translation into English would be “to show hospitality.” You don’t need to entertain them with a song and dance. You are asked to simply show hospitality. To engage the guest in conversation. To ask them about themselves, who they are, where they are from, what they enjoy doing, etc. Give them information that would be helpful for them to know about Jackson or the church. When you are finished talking with them, take the next step and introduce them to someone else in the congregation. This is SO important. Our guests will feel Christ’s love and hospitality if we do this well.

In the second part of Hebrews 13:2 (NIV), the Greek word translated “entertained” is a different word then above. It is the Greek word “xenizo.” This word is accurately translated into English as “entertain.” However, there is a nuance to this word. Within this Greek word is an element of surprise and wonder; to be startled, bewildered, or astonished by the person you just met. We never know who we might be talking to, how their story may impact our lives, and what gifts they may bring to our community of faith. These people may be angels in our midst.
The word “xenizo” also means “to receive as a guest to stay.” Note the use of the word “guest” instead of “visitor.” Perhaps if there is a personal connection with the first-time guest you met at church (and if it is a safe situation) you could invite them to lunch immediately after church or invite them to your home for coffee or tea or a meal. One member of our church did this just a few weeks ago. They met some first-time guests on Sunday morning and then spent the rest of the afternoon with them by inviting them to their home. What a difference it made in the host’s life and the guest’s life. Surprisingly, they are now good friends.

This is my charge to you: Do not forget to show hospitality to our guests on Sunday mornings. You may well be welcoming someone who will change your life or the life of our church in ways that will surprise us with delight.

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