I was in a local fast food establishment the other day to pick up a quick bite to eat, and as I was leaving I realized the person who waited on me forgot the all-important sauce for my nuggets. Nuggets without sauce? How barbaric! As I was rustling through the bad, I happened to catch the eye of the manager, who was wiping down some tables.
“Is there something you need?” he asked.
“Yeah, I need some dipping sauce.”
Stopping what he was doing, he went behind the counter and said, “How many would you like?”
“I’ll take two,” I responded. Now, pause a moment. What are the manager’s possible responses? He could have grabbed two sauces, which I was expecting, handed them to me, and wish me a good day. Or he could have said, “I’m sorry, I can only give one sauce per customer” and handed me half of what I asked for. Instead, he chose a different route.
“How about I give you three?” I felt like I had won the chicken-nugget-sauce lottery! How often do you go to a restaurant – especially a popular one in the middle of their lunch-hour rush – and actually get more than what you ask for? Usually, we get what we expect, and that’s only if we’re lucky.
What do people expect when they visit a church? A few smiles or a handshake from the people there, instructions on when to stand and when to sit, a sermon that keeps them awake, music that is vaguely familiar, someone to at least act like they’re glad the guests came. That’s probably what people are expecting when they visit church on Sunday morning.
How often does the church give guests more than what they ask for? How would our approach to guests change if we anticipated what they needed or expected and then strove to give them more than that? It’s one thing for a church to meet the minimum requirements of friendliness and worshipful engagement; it’s quite another for a church to go out of its way to make guests feel welcome.
There’s a biblical precedent here. Hospitality was a key component of Jewish culture, and failure to show it was a serious breach of the social contract. So when guests showed up, like the three visitors to Abraham and Sarah, the hosts went all-out to make sure the guests feel welcome. Hospitality was not so much something you do as was something you are, something to be lived out as a way of showing others they mattered.
Rather than operate out of that abundance of hospitality (we give because we have received so much already), the church too often practices scarcity. Rather than rolling out the red carpet, we tend to hunker in our pews, stick with the people we know, and treat guests like they are intruders. We rationalize it by saying, “They probably just want to be left alone,” when the whole reason they are there is because in every other place in life, they ARE alone. Or at least they feel that way. Church should be the one place where we can say out loud, “You are not alone. You are welcome here. You matter to us.” And I don’t mean just say it with our mouths, although that’s a good start.
What would that look like on Sunday morning? How can a church give guests more than they expect? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
I think we’ll start with three dipping sauces for the communion bread.