“Are you and Bryan okay?” asked a friend.
“I noticed you weren’t sitting together in church.”
I often hear this question. The answer hinges on the rising need for hospitality in church.
Gospel invitation has always been the call of Christ, but it’s all the more urgent as 21st-century American Christianity suffers from thin discipleship, and American culture no longer pushes people toward church. Every week, men and women wander into our gatherings for the first time, some invited, others of their own accord. Some have recently moved and are seeking community while others haven’t been to church in a while, or ever. Their experience will determine whether they ever come back.
For my husband and me, offering hospitality has meant breaking down a common church practice: sitting together as a family.
Here are five reasons why we often separate on Sunday mornings:
1. Outsiders shouldn’t be outsiders.
A year ago, I looked behind me during the early service and noticed a woman in her late 20s standing at the back of the church alone. She hovered, looking for a place to sit in a service mostly filled with families. Our church is majority white; she is black. Many of us have been here for years; she was new. When I beckoned to her, she looked confused. I felt embarrassed. Then I asked myself, “Would I rather be too friendly or risk her feeling like no one cared?” I walked over and said, “Please, come sit with me!”
After the service, we talked briefly. When she left, I wondered if I’d put her off. But later that week, our pastor emailed to let me know that a newcomer had reported being welcomed by a British woman with small children and how much it had meant to her.
Every Sunday, my husband and I walk into church and see someone new sitting alone. If possible, we go and sit with them. If there are two people, we divide. It’s often awkward and uncomfortable but nonetheless worth it. Why? Because the gospel is a story of juxtaposition in community: Jesus sat with a Samaritan woman and asked her for a drink. Phillip got into the chariot with an Ethiopian eunuch. The early church ate together.
Our Sunday mornings do not require “having it together,” but they do require being together. Newcomers need us and we need them.
2. Family is more than immediate family.
My younger daughter loves another couple in our church. She often sits with them, and people routinely think that my friend is her mom. When my friend has had a hard week, my daughter’s affection encourages her, which in turn gladdens my heart and reminds me of a simple but poignant truth—that we’re all family in the church.
The Bible insists on this: We are brothers and sisters in one body. As part of this body, my five-year-old does not need my undivided attention. She belongs to a much bigger story, a gospel story in which she is an active participant, not just a pre-Christian, training within the confines of the nuclear family for a future role that might one day be outward-looking. Liuan Huska’s recent article on attachment parenting makes the point that the Christian family is not a closed unit but rather part of a larger ecosystem. Community starts now.
Although being a healthy family sometimes requires drawing boundaries, we must be careful how we operate in community. If we close off in biological pods every Sunday, we leave out singles, newcomers, and others. If we open up, we experience a gospel gift—the body of Christ in all its fullness.
Click here to read more.
Source: Christianity Today