How well do we welcome others in our meetings?

(Photo: Unsplash/Sixteen Miles Out)

As her local church has seen an influx of visitors from its food shop ministry, Claire Musters reflects on what sort of welcome they have had – and challenges us all to do the same.

I looked around the church and saw quite a few new faces, so turned to my husband (our pastor) and asked if he recognised any of them. He pointed out one after the other, saying he recognised them from the community food shop our local churches run together. I have heard some great stories and testimonies coming from there – people being greeted with such warmth and many being open to prayer... and obviously invitations to church too!

It made me consider what sort of a welcome I give to strangers. I'm shy by nature, but also walking through a difficult season, which means I can feel quite broken, simply needing to fall at Jesus' feet in worship on the Sundays I am not serving in any capacity. But does that make me seem aloof to those who don't know me?

How about you? Your church may be involved in a vibrant mercy ministry such as a food bank, street pastors, pregnancy crisis centre or school pastors and be really seeing God move as people are open and desperate to see his mercy in their own lives – but what happens when those you meet come to your church for the first time? Do they experience the same mercy they have in that focused ministry? Or do they find shiny, happy people all looking like they have perfect lives – but who don't bother to speak to them? Those who are so involved in their own little groups of like-minded, similar people that they either don't notice new people – or avoid them if they seem different to them.

Micah 6:8 says: 'What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.' And Luke 6:36 says 'Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.' A few verses before that, it says: 'If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them' (v32).

It is so important that we consider how God's mercy affects our meetings when we come together as church family. Are we extending hospitality within our meetings as well as outside of them? And are we openly showing how we are receiving God's mercy on a daily basis ourselves? Talking about our struggles, and how God meets us in them is so important.

This isn't a comfortable thing at all, but I don't think it is meant to be. I have been in many a meeting when God has nudged me to go and share about something I'm in the middle of struggling with – not to put the focus on me but because it opens up a sense of safe community – people feel able to share about their own struggles when someone from the front mentions their own.

It is actually an act of mercy to be open and vulnerable, because we all face difficulties so we need to stop pretending that we don't. Jesus himself said: 'In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world' (John 16:33). Obviously we need to be wise about how we do this, but actually God may well call us to be much more open than perhaps we might naturally want to be. Let's follow his lead rather than our desire to make a good impression.

We also need to consider how we respond when someone worships in a way that is different to what we are used to. Think of the woman in Luke 7:36-50, who entered Simon's house, wet Jesus' feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, then extravagantly poured perfume on them.

If someone entered our church meeting and did something to show how much they understand God's grace and mercy but made us uncomfortable, what would we do? I have a feeling we may be as indignant as those in the Simon's house were. Verse 39 says: 'When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner."'

But in Simon's home, Jesus' feet had been left dirty, which meant he had overlooked his duty as host, and Jesus went on to rebuke him and forgive the woman's sins. What do you think Jesus would have to say about how welcoming your church is – how welcoming you are – to new people?

Claire has created a short video on this subject for social action charity Jubilee+.

Claire Musters is a writer, speaker and editor who blogs at Her most recent books are Every Day Insights: Disappointment and Loss and Grace-Filled Marriage. The latter was written with her husband, and they have provided a series of free videos to accompany the book, which can be accessed on the Big Church Read website. Claire also writes and edits for Premier Woman Alive and Christianity magazines and is the host of the Woman Alive Book Club.