Gates, moats, and parapets are not ideal ambiance for hospitality. Most castles don’t have signs to the king’s chamber nor do they tell you where the gold and valuables are stored. In fact, many castles were designed to give the advantage to residents and put the newcomer ill at ease.
One of the tricks they used in building castles was to make the steps of varying heights throughout. Those familiar with the castle would go up the steps with ease, knowing by habit which steps were higher and which steps were lower. An enemy in the gates would have to judge each step one at a time giving the advantage to those who had lived in the castle for a great length of time.
Castles are designed to be easy to enter for those who familiar and who belong inside and quite difficult to get in for those who aren’t supposed to be there. When you see gates and a moat you realize that a castle by nature is hospitable for those who belong and menacing for those who do not and everyone knows which category they fit in.
Churches can be similar to fortresses in this regard. The one glaring difference is intent. We don’t typically have newcomers to church who are there to pillage and wreak havoc. And yet some of our churches feel like fortresses to the newcomer while the same facility feels like a hospitable home and place of belonging and familiarity to someone who has been there for some years. Those who make the decisions of how the facility looks are those who already feel at home there and by default aren’t seeing things the same way as a new person would. One way to involve a visitor is to ask them for help on this.
There are churches that are as hospitable as a fortress. Those facilities aren’t designed with a newcomer in mind. In fact, those facilities can be quite intimidating for a newcomer. You don’t know where to go, how to get in or which steps are significantly higher or lower than the others. Everyone else seems to know – the gap between them and everyone else is more than obvious. The likelihood of their return is greatly diminished.
If we are to practice true hospitality then we need to make sure we are ready to receive people who are unfamiliar with where the gates are and how high the steps are. We need to lower the high places and raise the low spots in order to eliminate unnecessary barriers to the gospel. Hospitality views things with new people in mind. Hospitality gives us an eye to anticipate the experience of the other person and make preparation in advance for their arrival. If our churches feel more like a fortress than a living room we have an issue. If we don’t anticipate new people arriving we have an issue. If we expect God to send people to us but we haven’t taken five minutes to consider how we are going to receive them and bless them when they arrive then we have a problem.
Let us practice hospitality, not just in our homes but in our church buildings by anticipating the experience of someone we have never met. The next time you drive up to your building pretend like it is your first time there and see if you don’t experience things in a new way. Pretend you don’t already know the answers and see if the questions you would have are easily answered. See if the website, facility, the signage, the greeters (or lack thereof) all point you the same way. Let us do our best to remove unnecessary stumbling blocks from the seekers path so they can experience genuine hospitality when they are in our company. Something tells me most churches could turn the whole thing around by taking a few lessons from Chic fil a!