What does it mean to welcome someone? When we talk about creating a multi-ethnic Christian community we often talk about being a welcoming place, about welcoming everyone. But how does welcoming really work?
Stores often have welcome signs on their doors. It means they are open, ready for business, and want you to come in. Is that what we mean as well when we tell someone they are welcome to come to our service or discipleship small group? Are we saying, “no one is going to keep you out,” “we really want you here,” or is there even more to it than that?
I sometimes have the privilege of traveling to campus groups and churches to share the vision of kingdom diversity. During these visits I am often hosted for meals or even put up in a kind person’s home for several days. In some ways, I am a professional guest. While I try to be a good guest, I am not a trouble free one. Because I suffer from food and environmental allergies, hosting me is not hassle free. Cleaning chemicals, perfumes, and scented candles can trigger a migraine. I can’t eat pizza, sandwiches, or pasta due to a wheat allergy. Do you know how common these foods are? Even some pets can cause me problems. In other words, you don’t want to invite me to your house!
And yet, I am frequently overwhelmed with the amount of time and forethought my hosts take to prepare for my arrival. They air out their houses. They buy special foods. They exile their pets to other rooms. You know how this makes me feel? It makes me feel welcome! Funny, how being a troublesome guest can teach you so much about what real welcome is. It is so much more than opening the door or being happy someone is there. It is really all about preparation.
I think about how our Father prepared the world for us, to make us feel at home in it. It is first act of hospitality. In the same way, if we want to create a kingdom community on our campus or in our church, one that represents our Lord and makes our Father happy, we need to prepare. For my hosts, preparation starts with information. We’ve actually put together a “Hosting Belkis Guide” for this purpose. For you, it may start with asking students from different ethnic groups you are reaching out to, “Hey, what can we do to make you feel at home?”
Sure, I can probably answer that question for you; you might even be able to find the information on the Internet (probably even here on this site). But just asking the question let’s people know you care. It does not even have to be a member of your congregation. You can ask anyone you have a relationship with. Something like, “We really want to be a church/group that represents God’s kingdom in every way. We are trying to be more diverse but don’t know how to make different ethnic groups feel at home and welcome at our service. Can you help me?” It is a humble question that expresses your vision and you desires.