I can remember visiting congregations where family members of mine went. It was on the larger side, with lots of people. Speaking of people, it was almost overwhelming  – in a good way – how nice people were when I visited these congregations.  When I had trouble finding a classroom, a member walked me there herself. When I was new to a class, the teacher introduced himself and was very gracious and welcoming. And when I worshipped with other members, it felt like we were all awe-inspired by the Lord we were praising.

It’s amazing to consider that an unfamiliar building can instantly become familiar because of the people inside. It’s actually similar to when you go over to a friend’s house that you’ve never been to before. You may be in another state, or you may be in another country, but once you meet with fellow Christians with whom you share a common faith, common interests, and anything else in between, the place becomes like another home away from home.

But let’s turn the tables for a second. Say you’re attending your home congregation, just like any other Sunday or Wednesday. You notice an unfamiliar face in the crowd, and notice as they’re trying to locate a seat in the auditorium or looking for a classroom number. Maybe it’s a young family, or maybe it’s a young person, or maybe it’s someone older. How do you respond? Do you stand by and wait for someone else more qualified to answer the visitor’s questions? Or do you help?

The end goal should be to welcome all of our guests, plain and simple.

But how do we do so? The answer to the goal is as simple as its premise: treat them like we would treat a guest in our own homes. We aren’t entertaining them; we’re not putting on a display of our fine building and fine dress. Rather, we’re showing hospitality to them by making them feel right at home amongst our congregation. We introduce ourselves, regardless of if we’ve never seen them before or if we may have seen them, but can’t remember if we spoke to them before or not. We show them to the Bible class that they’re interested in, or the class that meets their age range, or the class we happen to be going to. We show them to the auditorium, to the fellowship hall, to the restrooms, to anywhere else they need. We introduce them to class teachers, fellow members. We encourage them and look forward to when they return.

This applies to all visitors; not the ones who are dressed nice, or the ones who are the nicest to us in particular. This kind of hospitality should be no respecter of persons, and we should be excited that this person or these people are even considering becoming members with us, because of the fact that they may or may not even be Christians to start with. If we all have this mindset, the visitors we have will start to look at us as family, and not just a group of people who attend a certain church…because the church is the people who attend it. And when we’re nice to strangers, we’re treating Him with kindness in return (Matthew 25:31-40).

All this being said, this kind of welcome does not stop after our visitors become members.

In fact, it’s all just beginning. When the visitors who’ve been attending your congregation decide to officially place membership, now is your chance to fully immerse them in your church’s activities and service. Invite them into your home for dinner, or invite them out with other families to enjoy dinner at a restaurant, or get your kids together to meet up and play. And when they’re struggling, let them know that you’re there for them. We may all be cogs in the wheel, members of a body, but we all are members together as a church. “So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5).

What this all boils down to is that we need to fulfill the second greatest command: loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). If we fulfill the first of the greatest commands – loving God will all our heart, soul, and strength – fulfillment of the second command will follow suit (Matthew 22:36-38). And when we love our neighbors as ourselves, we have the chance to get to know even more brothers and sisters in Christ – even possibly adding more to His church in the process.

Think of that next time you’re presented with the opportunity to welcome a visitor in your congregation.

By Savannah Cottrell