Strangers at Home: Are You a Host or a Guest on Sunday Morning?

Phil Shahbaz

Prior to our time at LBF church, my wife Amy and I use to attend a wonderful church in the Los Angeles area. We loved this church. The worship was inspiring, the teaching was challenging, and Sunday mornings were filled with energy and joy.

We attended for six years. In those six years, we never got involved. We simply attended on Sunday and went home. Amidst so many opportunities to be involved in the body of the church, we chose not to make an effort. Honestly, Amy was ready and eager; I was not.

Many of my excuses were typical: too busy, not enough time, stress from work, etc. Upon reflection, I cannot justify these excuses.

My excuses don’t hold up because everyone is busy…

We all have full plates and lives that are scrambled with responsibilities–professional, social, familial.

The truth is, I felt like I didn’t fit in. In six years, no one from the church ever invited us to an event, home group, or Bible study. In six years, no pastor, staff member, or church member ever reached out. In my mind, it was their responsibility to reach out to me. I was quite happy to remain the new guy for six years, and not say hello to someone first.

I was wrong. I had a selfish and entitled perspective.

My perspective has changed. As Pastor of Community Life at LBF Church, I am responsible for helping new folks get involved. Every Sunday, I see firsthand how intimidating it can be to attend a new church for the first time, and how easy it is to feel lost on a Sunday morning. 

I also meet new folks who are eager to experience all that LBF has to offer, and those that have a thick skin on; just like I once did.

As a pastoral staff, it is important for us to reach out to new folks. Every new person at LBF receives an email or a call (or both) from me, and the pastors, staff, and elders post ourselves with name tags on Sunday mornings in an effort to come in contact with as many first-time guests as we can.

We want to be welcoming, we try to be welcoming, and there are fewer joys on a Sunday morning beyond making a real connection with someone who is brand new to LBF.

Yet, as hard as we try as a staff, and as sincere as we are in our desire to be welcoming, we will never be able to do it as well as you.

If Sunday morning is filled with friends and family, if you know exactly where to park, if you know the perfect time to get the best selection of donuts, If you call Pastor Gary, “Gary”, if you call LBF your home church; a welcome from you to a first-time guest will mean a lot more than a welcome from me as a pastor.

You are simply a lot “cooler” than me, and you always will be.

It’s the difference between being accepted by a teacher in high-school or the other high-school students. It’s good and fine for the teachers to be nice–“they have to be nice.” But what you really want is to make friends and be accepted by your peers.

I promise this analogy isn’t intended to communicate my relationship to you as teacher-student one. It’s not. In my years at LBF, if anything is clear, it’s how much I am able to learn and grow from relationships I’ve made. My intention is to communicate that you as an LBF church member or attender, have more credibility with new folks because you don’t work for the church. Kindness from you will always mean more than kindness from me.

My hope is that each of us will dig a little deeper and keep an eye out for new folks at church.

Some are long-time Christians; some are brand new to the faith. Either way, reaching out to folks who look lost on our campus is real ministry; just as reaching out to people who don’t know Jesus on an overseas missions trip is. LBF is your home. Yet each Sunday, there are strangers that wander around your home, looking to be accepted.

As you look to attend church this Sunday, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Remember High School? For many of us, nothing was more important than being accepted and making friends in school. As adults, not much has changed. That feeling of intimidation is there with most of us when we are in a new environment. If someone looks new, they probably are. Don’t wait for them to approach you. Go say “hi.” Make the first move. And if they happen to be folks who’ve been at LBF for 5 years, no worries, you just made a new friend.
  2. Lost and Confused. If someone on our campus looks lost and confused, approach them and see if you can help. Often times, folks can’t find the Youth Service or don’t know where the closest restroom is. Either way, trying to be helpful to someone who clearly looks lost shows care and kindness. And who knows… it may lead to a conversation over a donut.
  3. This is Your Home. Because LBF is your home, that makes a new person your guest. If they are your guest, that means you are also their host. If you see yourself as a host, that means you will naturally want to show hospitality and generosity. Ask them to sit next to you, save them a seat, buy them a cup of coffee. Any kind gesture carries weight and shows warmth.

As we look to welcome those who are new to LBF, let’s remember that each person brings burdens, joys, past church experiences, and worldviews that we can never anticipate.

Although we can’t anticipate how someone will respond to us when we make an effort, we can be sure that a gesture of kindness along with a smile is difficult to reject.

That effort shows that we are going to try to reflect Jesus, and that gesture could be the first bit of Jesus that person has ever received.

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