FROM THE WORD
Let’s Meet, Greet, Welcome and Love Everyone
Is your congregation cold or welcoming? A spiritual stumbling block or a warm place to grow? You can make a difference!
by Don Hooser
Every one of us in the Church of God can be a one-person welcoming committee at church services and activities—a goodwill ambassador for the Church and for Jesus Christ. Everyone enjoys and benefits from receiving friendly greetings, but it is especially important that some—like visitors, new people, shy people, depressed people, lonely people—receive lots of friendly greetings plus real love.
The Bible places great emphasis on fellowshipping and giving to others, both of which require spending time with others. Much of this can be done merely by arriving early for services or staying a while afterwards or, preferably, both.
How important is all this? Very! It’s a labor of love—part of the give way of life. Over the years, I have heard countless comments about how friendly or unfriendly a congregation is. And often the comment is based on only one visit! The judgment is often based on how many people come up to talk with the visitor.
Admittedly, sometimes the combination of circumstances gives the wrong impression. For example, a visitor may come to a generally friendly congregation, but on that particular Sabbath, hardly anyone talks to the visitor. It makes one think that Satan sometimes influences circumstances so that everyone is busy at something else when a visitor shows up. So let’s pray about it and do our best not to let anyone “fall through the cracks!”
Certainly, there are many conditions which can restrict one’s fellowshipping. One may have time-consuming congregational duties, health problems, small children to care for, transportation problems or a spouse pressuring the member to return home quickly. God certainly knows these things—just do the best you can.
We’re Glad to Have You Here
If you are new to the congregation yourself, don’t let that hold you back. Meeting and trying to get to know others is a way you can serve from the very start. If you are shy, I certainly sympathize with those feelings. But pray for help and step out on faith. It means a great deal to have someone say something simple like, “Hi. My name is ________. What is yours? We’re glad to have you here.” Meeting people will get easier, and you will experience the joy of giving of yourself.
It often is difficult to pull ourselves away from our best friends to get around to others. It’s important to nurture our close relationships. But please take time to greet and get to know others, some of whom don’t yet have close friends in the congregation. In fact, you can say to your good friend, “Let’s go say hello to that person.” And then the two or three of you can go together to speak to the newer person. Remember what Jesus said, “And if you greet your brethren [“friends” in margin] only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?” (Matthew 5:47).
Besides His disciples whom He was training, with whom did Jesus spend most of His time? With those who needed His help. And we can be Christlike servants without neglecting our friends.
“Greet Every Saint”
Many scriptures relate to this subject, especially scriptures about love for neighbor. The Greek word aspazomai is translated 14 times in the KJV of the New Testament as “greet” and 32 times as “salute.” In the NKJV, virtually all 46 places are translated “greet.” In most of those places, the writer is exhorting the saints to greet one another. In Philippians 4:21, Paul says, “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.”
Paul and Peter admonished, “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14). For us, these verses mean greet one another in a manner appropriate to our culture, to your relationship and in a manner that is warm and friendly. A verbal greeting with a smile and eye contact is the main thing. In the Church today, we commonly shake hands, and sometimes a hug or a kiss on the cheek is appropriate. Just remember that 46 times we are told to greet one another!
In 3 John 14, John writes, “Greet the friends by name.” People really appreciate it when we try to remember and use their names.
Leaders need friends and friendliness too! “Greet all those who lead you, and all the saints” (Hebrews 13:24, margin).
We are exhorted in the New Testament to be hospitable—in fact to be “given to hospitality” (Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 3:2). This doesn’t just refer to having people into our homes. Every week we can all be a “reception committee” to make everyone feel welcome, respected and loved. We can help new people and visitors feel “at home” in our church halls and activities and “part of the family.”
Hospitality: Love of Strangers
In the New Testament, the Greek word for hospitality is philoxenia, which literally means “love of strangers” (“strangers” can refer to foreigners but also to visitors and new attendees). Now consider the importance of how we treat “strangers”: “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom…for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in'” (Matthew 25:34-35).
Let’s focus for a moment on, “I was hungry and you gave Me food.” Part of hospitality is offering food and drink to guests, and people who come to our church services are our “guests.” A congregation that is able to serve snacks and has occasional potluck meals not only is considered hospitable, but the food goes a long way in promoting and enhancing conviviality and fellowship. There are lots of examples in the Bible about believers “breaking bread” together, and gathering for meals and feasting.
It’s extremely important for parents to teach these principles to their children, and to teach their children to be not only respectful but friendly to people of all ages!
Our congregations and we as individuals will be judged by God as to how we care for the “little ones” that God has been calling and working with for a long time to bring them to the point of attending church services. “Whoever receives one little child [literal child or child in the faith] like this in My name receives Me. But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin [literally “stumble”], it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:5-6).
Cold Congregation—Spiritual Stumbling Block
The impression—right or wrong—that a congregation is cold has often been a spiritual stumbling block to people.
Consider the following: Some who attend our services have no strong commitment to one particular congregation or even to the United Church of God. Sometimes a UCG member will switch to another UCG congregation nearby because he feels it is friendlier. More serious for UCG is when someone turns to another church organization because its congregation is friendlier.
Even more serious is when someone decides churches are not the warm, loving places that they are supposed to be and decides to stay home every Sabbath. Worse still is when someone decides Christians are no more loving than anyone else and decides to reject Christianity and the Bible altogether. All of these things happen. I’ve heard many examples.
We can fault some of the people in the examples above for being too quick to judge or being weak spiritually. But aren’t they correct in looking for a group that has deep love for everyone in the group? Didn’t Jesus say, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you for one another” (John 13:35)?
“Bestow Greater Honor”
Consider 1 Corinthians 12, a beautiful chapter that compares the Body of Christ with a human body. A major lesson is that every single member of the Body of Christ (and those being called by God to be a part of the Body) is important to God and should be important to all of us.
How do we apply verses 23 and 24, which say, “And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it.” Following are some examples.
If a person is new or is visiting, he needs extra attention to get over his nervousness and to feel welcome and at home. He must not feel like he is being treated as an “outsider” in a congregation full of cliques. In fact, it is vital that he soon feel needed.
If a person is sick or having some other major trial, that person needs extra prayers by the brethren. He also needs the comfort and encouragement of cards, calls, E-mails and sometimes assistance.
If a person is having a temporary financial trial, prayers and encouragement are needed, and sometimes financial or physical gifts or loans. If a person is shy, he or she needs extra attention to draw him out. If a person is lonely, he needs people who want to be true friends. If a person doesn’t feel he or she is attractive in looks or personality, make that person feel respected, liked and loved. If a person needs help—help.
Hospitality and love should extend beyond the services. For many people, especially single people, Saturday evenings are often the loneliest times when no one has invited them to go anywhere with them. The uplift of a church service is often partly spoiled when it is followed by a lonely and depressing Saturday evening. We all, and especially our single people, have a wonderful opportunity and responsibility for initiating social plans and then inviting everyone! (I don’t mean inviting everyone in one evening necessarily.)
All of the above are examples of how “there should be no schism [“division” in the margin] in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another” (1 Corinthians 12:25). It’s wonderful to be in the Body of Christ—to love and be loved.
The next chapter is the Love Chapter, which says, “[If I] have not love, I am nothing.”
Pray every week that God will fully use you to reach out to, love and edify others. Let’s meet, greet, welcome and love everyone. Let’s work at being a loving spiritual brother or sister to everyone within our congregation. And then our Father will be pleased.
“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14).
“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). UN