We have all seen the sign and experienced the reality. The sign outside the church says, “Everyone welcome here,” but we enter as a stranger and no one speaks or introduces themselves (unless the worship leader instructs everyone to “speak to those around you” or “pass the Peace of Christ”). The music may be inspiring and the sermon articulate, but there is little personal connection.
I don’t think that most churches want it to be this way, but they seem unable to engage the issue. To be generous, perhaps one of the challenges is a growing tension between hospitality and consumerism. Why should we adapt just to help others fit in? What do we give up in the process of being “accepting”?
There is a certain type of hospitality that may well be rooted in consumerism. When we place greeters in the parking lot, provide a “welcome center” in the narthex, and remove barriers in order for our guests to feel welcome, are we doing it for their sake or for ours? Is this a sales technique or true welcome?
I believe that it was theologian Darrel Guder who charged that the church in modern America had become “a purveyor of goods and services” rather than the people of God on mission. When does the practice of missional hospitality cross over into consumerism? How do we deal with tension between meeting the needs of people as creations of God and targeting them as prospective contributors to our faith community?
When do we make our worship, teaching, and participation so “user-friendly” that it no longer reflects our faith commitments? What are the essentials that make us the people of God rather than just a group with ingrained habits and meaningless rituals?
If we really are God’s people on mission, we should welcome everyone without expectation that they will come in and start doing nursery duty, working with children, or helping to subscribe the budget. Without sacrificing our integrity, we can work to be inclusive and be hospitable.
Perhaps the tension is not bad and makes us aware of the choices that must be made.