Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
By the grace of God, in December, people show up who don’t normally attend our churches. Are we ready to greet them with hope, faith and love?
Here are some best practices for welcoming visitors in Advent:
Explicitly acknowledge the gift of guests
In addition to a warm welcome by someone waiting at the door, consider saying a word of welcome at the beginning of worship to help put visitors at ease. Let people know that you’re glad they are there, that you hope they will experience God’s presence in worship, and that you will be there to guide them through the service.
Acknowledge that our liturgy assumes we all believe the same things and give people permission to decide how much they want to say along with the rest of the congregation
At the beginning of the service, you might say something that allows people the choice to participate as fully as they feel comfortable.
Be mindful how lonely the exchange of peace can be for visitors
The warmth and love of a prolonged exchange of peace feels wonderful for those who know one another. But it can be excruciatingly awkward for those watching us embrace one another while they stand apart. Be sure that no one is left alone, especially if your practice is a church-wide love fest.
Keep “insider” prayers and announcements to a minimum
When the lists of those for whom we pray go on and on, it’s hard for participants to offer their own prayers. Consider shortening the lists, or referring to them by category (“all those on our prayer list”) or asking people in the congregation to offer the names of persons for whom you pray so that it’s clear that other names are also welcome.
Most of what is announced is printed in the bulletin. Choose your verbal announcements strategically. In addition to welcoming all people to the table, take a moment to describe what happens during Communion. Before the Offertory Sentence, briefly explain why it is important for Christians to make a symbolic offering of money in worship. You might also say to your guests that when the offering plate is passed, they needn’t give anything, for their presence with you is gift enough.
Invite Your Guests to Return in January and Plan Ahead for Them
Plan now for something you can invite your guests on Christmas Eve to be part of in January–perhaps a small group gathering or a special offering focused on something you think would be of spiritual value for them. In that way, those who have a significant spiritual experience during Advent and Christmas have some place to talk about it, a next step to take in their spiritual journey.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and further suggestions on ways we can welcome those whom the Holy Spirit may bring to our churches in the coming weeks. The Spirit is surely at work in them for their sake, not ours. May they find among us a community of warmth, welcome, guidance for the journey of faith.