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Why Hospitality Is Vital to Church Planting

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Acts 29: Churches Planting Churches

Hospitality is so important that Paul lists it as a qualification for pastoral leadership (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8). But it is still neglected. Some pastors are so diligent to “not bring ministry home with them” that they avoid practicing hospitality altogether.

Gospel-centered leaders should set the example of hospitality. By opening up our hearts and homes to others in hospitality, we experience fellowship within the Christian community (Rom. 12:13; 1 Pet. 4:9), and we can do mercy ministry and evangelism toward those outside the Christian community (Luke 14:12). 

I often tell prospective church planters, “In many ways, church planting is about learning to practice hospitality well. It’s about meeting, welcoming, listening to, and loving people.”

In many ways, church planting is about learning to practice hospitality well. It’s about meeting, welcoming, listening to, and loving people.

A church planter in Detroit told me about efforts to build “visible currency” in the early days of planting a church. He simply grilled hotdogs outside his house every Friday night during the summer. He worked hard to develop relationships in a hard place, and one of his main forms of outreach has been hospitality.

Another friend planting in a poor part of Raleigh put up a basketball hoop outside his house and stocked his refrigerator with popsicles. It’s not uncommon for him have eight to ten boys from around the neighborhood at his house playing ball, drinking lemonade, or sitting on his couch watching football on a Sunday. His hospitality has opened many other doors for outreach in the area.

Gospel Motivation

Good hospitality is an outworking of the gospel. In the gospel, God is hospitable to us. In the beginning of the Bible, we find God caring for Adam and Eve in the garden.

Good hospitality is an outworking of the gospel.

As we trace the biblical narrative, we see God caring for his people in the wilderness. God’s people are to welcome the stranger, just as he welcomed them (Lev. 19:34). God sustains his people until he brings them to the “land flowing with milk and honey.” God welcomes, hosts, cares, provides, and blesses.

We see hospitality in the ministry of Jesus. He prioritized eating with people. Robert Karris says, “In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.” Jesus gets labeled “as a drunkard and a glutton, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34). He hangs out with people hated by society, like Levi and Zacchaeus (Luke 5:27–32; 19:1–10). After his resurrection, Jesus breaks bread with his disciples (Luke 24:30). And now, we remember his sacrifice and look forward to his return by way of a meal (Matt. 26:26–29; Mark 14:22–25; 1 Cor. 11:23–26).

The early church exhibited hospitality in numerous ways, expressed throughout the book of Acts and across the New Testament. The Bible ends with a glorious vision of the great wedding banquet (Rev. 19:7), and with God dwelling with his people (Rev. 22). There’s an invitation for the “thirsty to come” to God and be satisfied forever (Rev. 22:17). What a gracious, hospitable God!

6 Ways to Grow in Gospel-Fueled Hospitality

To practice hospitality well, we need to lay down our idols and consider our context.

1. Expand Your Guest List

Jesus rocked people’s world when he said:

When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:12-14)

Jesus had already rebuked the guests of the party (Luke 14:7–11); then he corrected the host. When you have a party—Christmas party, birthday party, or some other significant event—invite those who can’t repay you. Invite the marginalized. And you will be repaid “at the resurrection of the just.” Jesus fills up ordinary events with eternal significance.

Jesus fills up ordinary events with eternal significance.

2. Serve Others Rather Than Trying to Impress Them

Many confuse hospitality with “entertaining.” Entertaining is often about the host, not the guests. It’s about showing off, not serving. You can be thoughtful without being extravagant. You don’t have to wow people with expensive china and food. Aim for warm rather than wow.

Your goal isn’t to draw attention to yourself, but to Christ.

3. Reject the ‘My Home Is My Refuge’ Mentality

Jesus is your refuge. Anything else we make our “refuge” is idolatry. When it comes to our homes, we should think stewardship rather than ownership. A home is a place to welcome and love the broken. Hosting reflects the values of God’s kingdom, giving people a foretaste of what’s to come.

When it comes to our homes, we should think stewardship rather than ownership.

If you have a small house, consider other ways to welcome and host—especially newer residents. Show them around town. Give advice on places to eat, shop, and play in your area. Introduce them to your church family.

Be on the lookout for that lone person at your church. Invite them to go eat after the service, or hang out with them during the week.

4. Pay Attention to People’s Needs, Likes, and Concerns

Surprise guests with their favorite food or beverage. Supply them with material items they need. These little touches will leave a lasting impression on your guests. It doesn’t need to be anything pricey, just a thoughtful touch to show that you care.

These are great pathways into further conversations. Pay attention to the deeper heart issues: a person’s fears, dreams, hopes, and questions. Let’s learn how to “answer each person” (Col. 4:2) rather than giving rote presentations.

5. Don’t Feel the Need to Copy Others’ Practices

My wife currently hosts a monthly book club at our house. This is not a “Christian book club,” but a group of ladies from our neighborhood reading popular books together. They eat and talk about the monthly selection.

I coach baseball, and this has allowed me to hang out with many dads. Perhaps you can cook. Perhaps you need to learn!

Whatever you do, do it with gospel intentionality and cultural sensibility. Densely urban areas will differ from suburban areas. Dangerous areas will differ from safer ones. Do good, contextual hospitality.

6. Greet Warmly, Engage Sincerely, Say Goodbye Thoughtfully

The greetings and farewells in the New Testament have always struck me (Acts 20:36; 21:5–6; Rom. 16:16). They are filled with warmth, love, and meaning.

When someone comes into your home, greet them affectionately. Take their coat. Offer them a drink. Give them a place to sit. As you talk with people, ask about their life. Don’t turn everything back on yourself. Put your phone away. Draw attention to Jesus’s grace.

When they’re ready to leave, walk them to the door, or even to their car. Invite them back. All of these gestures convey value and love. And people remember them.

Be a Good Guest

You’ll learn to show good hospitality by learning to receive it. Be thankful for people’s generosity. Write the host a thank-you note or an email to express your gratitude. Hospitality flows out of a humble, grateful heart.

Hospitality flows out of a humble, grateful heart.

Be a student of hospitality when hosted. You will grow in hospitality as you seek to humbly learn from others.

Finally, meditate on the goodness of God. We were the orphan, but God adopted us into his family. We were the stranger without a country, but we have been brought into the kingdom. We were the widow, but Jesus has become our Groom. We were the poor, but we now have a glorious inheritance. We are pilgrims here on earth, but Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us. Marvel regularly at this grace, and remember that the proper response to God’s grace is grace—a lifetime of gratitude, generosity, and hospitality.

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