There is a great deal of concern today about our nation’s sudden shift away from being welcoming of strangers. Jesus says that at the end of the world he will divide the nations according to how they treated the lowest and most marginalized among us. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” will be his greeting of those nations that show hospitality (Matthew 25:35). But, I have been wondering lately if our culture’s shift away from Christian hospitality didn’t begin in the church.
My friend, Ed Kail, developed a useful tool for discussing your church’s attitude towards the outside world. By attitude, we are talking about the mid-point of the congregation or its collective DNA. Congregations fall into one of three categories. They can be a Hospice, a spiritual Hospital for their members, or intentional providers of Hospitality in a world that often rejects strangers. The question is not whether your pastor or some key members are trying to reach new people, it is, “how does the congregation, as a whole, see their work?” An outsider coming into your church might say: “They act as if the church is getting ready to close,” (Hospice) or “They are good at caring for their own,” (Hospital) or “They really want to reach out to others” (Hospitality).
The three words provide a helpful discussion starter for church councils, planning retreats, or visioning sessions. They can be presented this way:
- Chapel Road Church is a wonderful and comfortable place. They maintain their building and show real Christian love for each other. But, old members die off or move away and the young don’t join or come very faithfully. Statistically, they are in decline, even though they are doing everything they can to grow.
- St Luke’s Church concentrates on helping its members become better people. They have programs for the whole family, as well as, a pastoral staff focused on caring for those who have made this church their home.
- Church on the Road are mission-oriented people. When new people move into the community, this is the church that welcomes them and asks, “Is there anything we can help you with?” They care more about loving the stranger than church growth.
Chapel/Hospice, B) St. Luke’s/Hospital, or C) On the Road/Hospitality, which church is the most like yours? What makes you say that? Have you noticed a change, over the years? That is, were you at one time mostly C) and now are more B) or A)?
There is a real hierarchy to Ed’s three H’s. High Hospitality aligns the closest to how Jesus did ministry. These congregations tend to be proactive, seeking new opportunities for service. Churches that fall into the middle ground, and become Hospital-like, may be doing OK or slowly declining. The question they need to consider is, how to we shift our focus to become more outwardly oriented? As long as the congregation is focused inward, it will be reactive. That is, open to conflict and responding to change in a knee-jerk fashion.
The Hospice church or chapel is in the most difficult place. Congregations that focus on caring for their current members and buildings, are digging their own graves. They will in time die. I feel that these congregations need to engage in a discernment process to see if it is God’s will that they remain as they are or if they should attempt to be reborn. These congregations tend to be passive. The value of declaring them to be ‘in hospice,’ is that they can shift towards leaving a legacy and dying with dignity.