To make the Great Commission an achievable goal for the General Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day), God has placed in the heart of our leadership a desire to focus on four distinct areas of engagement: personal evangelism, small group studies, welcoming churches, and Sabbath school classes.
While each of these is of equal importance and needed in our local congregations, and while each will present its own challenges and rewards, we must raise the awareness of being a welcoming church.
As I write this, I am sitting in a local coffee shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The pandemic has afforded me ample opportunity to work remotely, and this shop has become a favorite of mine to enjoy a cup of coffee as I work on daily deliverables. I keep coming here because of an experience I had the very first time I came to this establishment.
It was a normal day before the pandemic, and I had some writing to complete. I decided to try this place, expecting nothing more than a coffee, a pastry, and a place to type away the afternoon. What I received instead was something that brings back warm feelings when I remember the day.
Several workers were tending the counter and register. I waited my turn as I contemplated the hard decisions between tea or coffee, muffin or scone. When it was my turn, I had not made up my mind. I was greeted, as I have been in many coffee shops across the country. I smiled and replied in kind. Then I leveled with the barista behind the counter. “I need to type for a few hours, and I can’t decide what from your menu pairs well with that task.”
His name was Sebastian, and he seemed energized by the challenge. Sebastian engaged with a smile and genuine suggestions of his favorites and reasons for them. Then he excused himself for a few seconds and came back with joy in his eyes. “I just confirmed that the cook has fresh blueberry muffins coming out of the oven in two minutes. That would go great with a chai latte.”
I could not resist. Of course I wanted the fresh-out-of-the-oven muffin with a latte. As the barista started to commit this decision to the register, he continued to tell me about the process of making the chai latte. He then asked if I would like some butter on the side for my muffin.
I had not considered the possibility of butter melting on my fresh muffin, but this was now my number one culinary desire. Then he offered me some ice water and suggested a place to sit where the Wi-Fi connection was strongest and traffic was minimal.
Wow, what just happened?
Comparing customer service to church hospitality might be a useful tool to paint the illustration in the congregation’s mind. In customer service, the store owner expects to treat guests a certain way — like Sabastian did with blueberry muffins. There is a reward to carrying out the company standard in guest interactions, and a payoff from the customer when they decide to return to the place of business.
Looking at it from that 10,000-foot level, we might find a dotted line to what biblical treatment of church guests should embody. As the church that carries the name of Christ as an identifying banner, it behooves us to understand that we, too, have an expectation, reward, and payoff should we treat our guests the way the Scriptures encourage us to do.
Borrowing from Hebrews, we find two statements in chapter 13. The first: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (v. 2). The second is in verse 16: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (ESV).
In these two passages, we see the biblical expectation (show hospitality, do good, and share); the reward (potentially entertaining angels); and the payoff (pleasing God).
I dare not compare our call to become a welcoming church directly to customer service. That would bring many uneasy connection points and less-than-comparable comparisons. However, we can boil down the necessity of our churches to grow into welcoming churches to one concept: hospitality. Genuine hospitality is not only appreciated but also routine-altering, and it leaves a lasting impression that could lead to an interest in the gospel.
Heartfelt hospitality is scarce in today’s society. If it were to be found in our interactions with guests who walk into our churches, we could create the impactful interaction that provides the opportunity for salvation. Peter writes, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:9, 10).
Rules vs. authenticity
As we wait for the Welcoming Church manual to be finalized and distributed (written by my brother, Pete Capetillo, and me), we keep coming to a recurring theme. The welcoming church principle cannot be a set of rules that we follow and expect visitors to feel welcomed. Too many other establishments, churches, and places of commerce do that. People have become desensitized to greeters at the large food store and the bank. The pre-recorded automated voice tells us that our call is important to them. Meanwhile, we wait on hold, seemingly opposing the message now playing for the twenty-seventh time.
We have all been customers at some point. We have been in the hospital with a loved one and noticed the endearing nurse, or at the retail store where someone takes the time to walk with us to find an item. Not only that, but we understand what it feels like to have a true connection with a person when we are in desperate need of it. Our prayers should focus on needing to accept the inverse role.
Now we have the opportunity to be the welcoming party, the people who can make a connection with the guest walking in with trepidation. Pray that every church member will answer the call to be like Sebastian so that the name of God may be glorified (Hebrews 13:16). We can shed our uncertainty, remove our timidity, and embrace the opportunity to be a testimony-impacting church focused on salvation of the next person who walks into our local church.
That is what the welcoming church effort will invite us to be — to recognize that God is honored when we stop merely attending church services and become a contributing member, to fall in love with being the person who makes the next guest visit a unique experience. We want to be the reason they come back for a second cup of coffee, continue the conversation, and listen to the second sermon in the series that God placed on the heart of the speaker that day.
Embracing the Great Commission
I’m certain that we can be a church full of God-honoring, people-connecting, testimony-impacting servants as we embrace the Great Commission in our local churches in our time. God designed us for His glory (Isaiah 43:7), and our Savior directed us to join in His mission (Matthew 28:19).
Paul sums it up well:
Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God (Romans 15:5-7, KJV)
We are designed and directed to be a church full of Sebastians who offer “blueberry muffins” to others. May God help us do our best to serve them.