Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:5)
It is easier to create a culture of hospitality in a building that itself communicates welcome. When Ann Mowery began her pastorate in a small, rural congregation in Missouri, attendance ran about 100 with a mix of ages, most of them older adults. After seven years, the attendance now regularly reaches 150 or more, and the congregation has built a new dining area and has renovated the youth room. The secret has been an active hospitality that has become contagious throughout the congregation.
For instance, when a visiting mom felt self-conscious whenever her baby started to fuss during worship, Ann met with congregational leaders and they decided that they valued having young people so highly that they had to do something to ease the discomfort. To show support for the young mom, they bought a comfortable, well-padded rocking chair and placed it just behind the last pew of the small sanctuary. Word spread to other young families, and soon they had to have two more rocking chairs to accommodate the moms who found this congregation to be the friendliest around! Rocking chairs for moms, a cool-looking youth room for young people, a new extension that makes the building handicapped accessible—the pastor and the congregation use these to help communicate the priority they place on welcoming more and younger people.
To become a vibrant, fruitful, growing congregation requires a change of attitudes, practices, and values. Good intentions are not enough. Too many churches want more young people as long as they act like old people, more newcomers as long as they act like old-timers. It takes practicing Radical Hospitality, and all the redirecting of energy and resources that comes with this. Churches can’t keep doing things the way they have always done them. Little changes have big effects.
How willing are you to change your own attitudes and expectations so that your worship services and ministries could attract younger people?
Strengthen me, Lord, for the hard work of hospitality
With excellence and passion.
Challenge: Think of one simple idea to help your congregation make young people feel more welcome.
Excerpted from Cultivating Fruitfulness, ©Abingdon Press, 2008.