On Sunday May 20th Vaughan and myself, like many of you, participated in Fellowship Lunch. We gathered around our table with 7 others, and over food we got to know each other a little better. One of the couples who joined us for lunch were relatively new to Lilydale Baptist, and I thought it was quite timely that on only their second visit to church, they were being welcomed into our home. As we continued to chat, something they said struck me, and has stayed with me since: in their search for a new church, they don’t want merely a place to attend once a week on a Sunday, they want to be part of a community (my words, not theirs). They want to build genuine relationships, and to develop a deep sense of belonging to their church family.
How do we be a community who welcomes people in genuine and significant ways? A community who loves our newcomers in a way that allows them to experience being part of a church family, and not merely attending church for an hour on a Sunday morning? The Bible speaks quite loudly and strongly on this. 1 John 4:11 declares, “dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.” In how we welcome, we are to love each other in a way that imitates God’s love for us. Paul fleshes this idea out further, in how he considers the Christian community at Thessalonica. He writes: “we loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). For Paul, being part of a Christian community was personal; loving others meant sharing not only words, but his own life, with them.
Friends, if we want to be a community that takes passages like 1 Thessalonians 2:8 and 1 John 4:11 seriously, we need to walk into church on a Sunday morning prepared to imitate God in our love for others who walk through our doors, and to be like Paul in how we care for our community, no matter how new someone might be. This might mean (but is not limited to) chatting with people whom we don’t know that well, asking genuine questions and listening attentively to the answers, remembering the name/s of the people we have just met, looking out for who else we can introduce them to in order to immediately broaden their experience of our community, being ready to invite someone back to our house for lunch after church, or following up conversations with phone calls or coffee dates during the week to see how they’re going. This list could go on!
Can I encourage us to see Sunday mornings as an opportunity to enjoy our church family, and for this to include warmly welcoming newcomers with genuine love and sincerity? For then we will be striving to imitate God’s love for us in how we embrace our community and help each other develop a deep sense of belonging to it.