Guest commentary by Peggy Hinds
Giving ourselves generously and hospitably to others is an essential expression of faith. It has to do with more than giving money. Of course, churches need money to maintain ministry. Financial stewardship is a vital part of living faithful and grateful lives. However, the ways we treat others says more about who a congregation is and who we worship than what we put in the offering plate does.
Sometimes the best we can give is our presence. Churches that appreciate presence over finances are better equipped to welcome and assimilate visitors, especially those who walk through the church doors with some skepticism. Consider the welcoming statement of Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky: “If you are a visitor, we consider your presence with us your offering and we are thankful for your presence.”
Members of this particular congregation are encouraged to support the mission and ministry financially, but visitors are not expected to contribute money. This way of welcoming guests makes a powerful statement to a world that often finds the church to be more concerned about money and members than mission and service. When the church’s focus is providing a safe place to engage the gospel with no strings attached, it relieves pressure to give that visitors often feel.
Visitors to Highland, an urban congregation, hear “Your presence is a gift to us.” Imagine what this could mean to a homeless person stopping in to worship or to escape the elements. The church also works closely with immigrant and refugee ministries. Refugees resettled from a homeland often do not have the financial means to give. By having this statement in their bulletin, the church welcomes those who are unable to put money in the plate. It shows that the congregation values their presence.
Statements like the one above calm skepticism and inspire further engagement. Of course, it takes more than a statement written on the website and in the bulletin. It also needs to be a part of the congregation’s culture. Ask yourself:
- Are members of your congregation proficient at expressing welcome and acceptance of all?
- What is the congregation’s plan for visitor follow-up?
- How does the congregation assimilate visitors and new members?
- In what other ways does the congregation invite and encourage people to visit?
- How do people in the broader community become aware of the church’s welcoming culture?
When I was a seminary student, a wise ruling elder gave me an important piece of advice: “People want to know how much you care before they will care how much you know.” Similarly, people want to know that a church wants them before they want to give their money. Creating a culture that says “we want you because we care about you” makes visitors feel valued and welcome.
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:7).
PEGGY HINDS is a professional coach helping individuals and congregations discern God’s will and achieve goals for their futures. She is a teaching elder member of Mid-Kentucky Presbytery and a certified church educator.