5 Ways to Create a Culture of Biblical Hospitality in Your Church
By Joy Allmond
Rosaria Butterfield didn’t come to Christ through hearing a well-prepared gospel presentation. She came to faith because a Christian couple had her in their home for dinner.
“I thought I was interrogating Christians for the purpose of dismantling a Christian worldview,” she says. As a lesbian feminist activist, biblical Christianity felt threatening to her.
An article she wrote prompted a response that led to a meeting with pastor Ken Smith and his wife, Floy. These meetings became a two-year, weekly occurrence—over dinner, in the Smiths’ home.
During that time, she read the Bible seven times through, merely in an attempt to argue with the Smiths.
“I brought every argument I could to them, and I would listen to their arguments … and mock them,” she says. “They loved me anyway, and they never treated me as a ‘project.’”
Eventually, Butterfield came to faith in Christ. As with many new Christians, Butterfield didn’t instantly stop having the desires of her life before faith.
“And during all this time, the home of Ken and Floy Smith was this vital place of safety, food, friendship, leaning hard on the Bible, asking outrageous questions, getting even more outrageous answers,” says Butterfield, author of The Gospel Comes With a House Key.
Having seen the power of hospitatlity at work, she wanted to practice it herself. So early in her marriage, she and her husband began opening their doors to anyone who would come for food and fellowship.
“We learned this is the way the Christian home can work in a post-Christian world: strategically, as a gracious weapon of warfare,” she says. “And so, this is how we live. This is how my children have been raised.”“We think we are doing more for the Kingdom by waging war on Twitter than by chopping potatoes.” — Rosaria ButterfieldIn our hurried American culture, however, Butterfield says hospitality is a lost art. Many people, in large part, don’t even know their neighbors. One of the problems, she says is over-productivity.
“We think we have such ‘important’ things to do,” she says. “And part of why we’re deluded, I think, is because of the way social media has given us this platform of unearned self-righteousness and self-importance.
“We think we are doing more for the Kingdom by waging war on Twitter than by chopping potatoes.”
There are several ways, she says, church leaders can foster a culture of hospitality within their congregations. “You’ve got to have a culture within a church that does this,” Butterfield says. “Just one person doing this is really lonely.”
Emphasize church membership
She says our neighbors are more observant than we think. Even church outsiders, she says, can see the benefits of being part of a gospel-focused community that is the church.
Butterfield paints a word picture of this from when she lived in Syracuse, New York: “We would get around 160 inches of snow each winter. And every neighbor knew who had a good snow blower,” she says.
“Even if you didn’t know the person’s name, you knew where to go to borrow one. What if being a member of a church translated across boundaries that way? What if people who don’t agree with us could just say, ‘I think you’re bonkers, but being a member of a church means you’re never lonely.’”
Create margin in the life of the church
Christian living shouldn’t be programmatic, says Butterfield.
“Make sure everyone isn’t so overcommitted with events at the church or events away from their home that there is no time to practice hospitality,” she says.
She says many churches—particularly big churches—need to think this through.You’ve got to be willing to look at your boundaries and measure them against the blood of Christ—not against your comfort level.“Biblical hospitality seeks out the stranger to welcome them as neighbor, embraces them, and, by the power of God, minsters—and prays their heart is changed so the neighbor becomes part of the family of God,” says Butterfield.
“None of this can be programmed. You have to have time for disruptions. You’ve got to have some expectation God is not there to protect your boundaries around the small stuff. And you’ve got to be willing to look at your boundaries and measure them against the blood of Christ—not against your comfort level.”
Get Safe Family certified
An overlooked aspect of biblical hospitality, Butterfield says, is being prepared to help others in times if crisis.
One way a church can create a culture of hospitality, she says, is for several families in the congregation to get Safe Family certified. This involves a process of undergoing a home study and background checks in order to provide a refuge for children in crisis—and when possible, keep families together.
“The number one reason children end up in foster care when there’s not abuse or addiction is poverty and homelessness,” says Butterfield. “Instead of being scared of strangers, it helps to get home studied so you can have a system to assess risk when you see it.”
Butterfield tells the story of a family who walked into her Durham, North Carolina, church recently. It soon became known they were without a home. Two families in the church—one of them being the Butterfields—took in this family who had been displaced and living in their car for about six weeks.
“We missed a few swim team practices,” Butterfield says of the time she hosted the displaced family. “We missed haircuts. We doubled our water and our grocery bills. But it’s incalculable what we gained.”
Have open and regular invitations to gather in your home
“We live in a world where people are afflicted by violence and addiction,” explains Butterfield. “If you say to the Joneses, ‘We’d like to invite you over to our house at 6 p.m. on Tuesday,’ Mrs. Jones might not know if she’s going to be safe or sober during that time.”
The Butterfields have an open Bible study every Thursday. They call it “soup and prayer,” and there is an open invitation to all neighbors to join as they are able. She uses Nextdoor as her invitation tool.
“That is my personal evangelism secretary,” she says. “Every week, I’ll leave a message that says something like, ‘Remember: open house at the Butterfields this Thursday—soup and prayer, 6 p.m. Bring friends. RSVP if you want, but you don’t have to.’”
Dinner is around 6 p.m. Kent reads Scripture, and prayer requests are shared. The group will sing a song, then pray together.
“Some people leave, some people stay around a while longer to talk,” says Butterfield.
Pay special attention to singles in your congregation
Most nights, Butterfield has single people as dinner guests in her home.When you have the chance to put the hand of the stranger into the hand of the Savior—that’s the point of hospitality.“It’s been wonderful,” she says. “It’s a small thing we can do to say we’re a family of God. It’s a long, hard day in a dark, lonely world. Church leaders could start by helping households develop a sense of family defined by the blood of Christ—not by a last name.”
Butterfield issues a reminder that biblical hospitality isn’t about the dishes or the food.
“The point is when dishes get put in the sink, mugs, saucers, and Bibles get put in the hands of people. And it’s where you have the chance to put the hand of the stranger into the hand of the Savior. That’s point of hospitality.”
JOY ALLMOND (@joyallmond) is managing editor of Facts & Trends.