We were living in the DC area during the winter of two back-to-back, record breaking snow storms that closed down the government for three days. But Snowmageddon or not, my husband was determined to worship on the Sunday between the storms. So, in defiance of all the closed churches around us, we trekked two hours through slush, snow and ice to a church that we knew had good preaching, loud singing and fervent prayers. Check, check, check.
Just one problem. The only person who said hi to us, and that took all of twenty seconds, was the designated greeter. As we blew in through the doors into the foyer, picked up a bulletin, found a seat in the sanctuary, and sojourned in the nursery, not a member there gave us more than a smile and curious look (what on earth are visitors doing here on a morning like this?).
Were people there not talking with each other? No. Was it a false church? No. Were people sad, angry, and deliberately nasty? No. They were merely complacent; too busy with each other, too shy, too preoccupied, too comfortable where they were to come over and meet some strangers who came to worship God with them that morning. How do I know? Because I’ve done it to other people before. We all have.
Neglecting to greet visitors is not just a good way to kill their interest in the congregation. It is sin. Matthew 25:35 has some very strong words for people who failed to welcome the stranger: “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” The apostle urges Christians again in Hebrews 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” Certainly welcoming visitors to the church is just the beginning of biblical hospitality.
To not welcome the stranger – especially the Christian stranger in the household of God – is a sin because it ignores the fact that we were strangers to God, welcomed into the family by Christ (Eph. 2:19). Failing to welcome others is an obvious lack of Christ-likeness in us. The Matthew 25 passage reminds us that when we do welcome strangers, Christ counts it as though we had welcomed Him! But the opposite is also true: not welcoming strangers is akin to rejecting Christ. Failing to welcome people in our churches shows that, at best, we forget that in this world we are all strangers, preserved only by the Lord (Ps.146:9). In fact, “stranger” is a common biblical description of a believer in this world (Acts 13:17, I Peter 1:1 & 2:11, III John 5).
We need to welcome brothers and sisters as well as unbelievers into our churches because of God’s promise to us that after we are finished our sojourn here, He will welcome us all into an eternity of worship with everyone from this world who names the name of Christ. Let’s not miss out on the blessings of fellowship here on this earth because we are too preoccupied to welcome believers and those who need the gospel into the household of faith.