This past Summer, I browsed through quite a few books on evangelism. I didn't find many things that quite fit what I was looking for, but I did come to a clear conclusion about evangelism in North America: our biggest deficit in evangelism is our lack of hospitality.
In the New Testament, "hospitality" - xenophilia (love of the stranger) - is a requirement for eldership. I have to admit, in 12 years of ministry, I've never heard an elder or pastoral candidate asked about their practice in loving strangers. In the 21st century, where people are more influenced in their tribes by their intellects, hospitality absolutely must be recovered for the church to be an effective witness. Part of what I've seen in our RUF context is that many students convert to the community of RUF before they convert to the person of Jesus. That can't happen without hospitality.
When I speak to my student leaders about hospitality, I start by laying out different forms of hospitality. Although we may relegate hospitality to "having others over for dinner", I think it's important that we expand that definition to include all acts of xenophilia - love of the stranger. Nobody wants to come to our house, after all, if we haven't chatted with them on the street.
Here are the ways I've broken it down for our student leaders:
1. The Hospitality of Presence.
Hospitality begins by going where other people are, simple as that. We can't love the stranger from the safety and solitude of our own house and tribe. Having a hospitality of presence means that, like Jesus taking the form of a servant, we, too, go and make our tabernacle among others. When neighborhood events take place, we show up. We join the local book club. We go to the same barber, coffee-shop or restaurant. Love of the stranger begins by going to meet the stranger. This was, in part, the scandal of Jesus' ministry. While the Pharisees were content to invite proselytes into the synagogue. they were scandalized by Jesus' going to the space of sinners.
2. The Hospitality of Initiative.
Christians are called to be initiators. We are not called to be passive, but active, because Christ was not passive toward us. When we are in the spaces where other people are (the hospitality of presence), we are not to loaf around and wait for the Spirit to lead OTHERS to initiate. We have the Spirit that drove Christ into our midst, and planted him among us. When I teach my students how to intiate, I give them a simple (and silly) acronym: Smile, Make eye contact, Initiate, Listen, Encourage and Say their name. I'll say more about this next week.
3. The Hospitality of Listening.
To have a hospitable heart is to have a listening heart. Once we initiate with the stranger, we need to make room in our hearts for their story, their values and their loves. We need to show genuine interest in them, not only hearing their words but taking on the full weight of their lives in our hearts. That could happen before/after a meeting, over lunch, a water cooler or coffee. I tell my students that they don't need to be charismatic or rambunctious for people to be drawn toward them. They just need to be warm. That begins by listening. It may even include watching the films your new friends watches, or listening to their podcasts or reading a book they're interested in. You are learning their heart language.
4. The Hospitality of Community.
Before we invite someone to explore Christianity, they often need to have a few connection points to it. That could be by inviting someone to join us in an act of service to the community, at a game night or over dinner. The point is to offer our friend more connection points, so they can see the beauty of Christ's bride.
5. The Hospitality of Exploration
Now that your new friend has experienced the Christian community, they are likely ready to be more vulnerable about exploring new beliefs. Think how much easier it is to say, "Do you want to come to church with Billy, Susan and Jill?" than "Would you like to come to church?' This hospitality of exploration could be a church invite, a Bible study or a one-on-one lower-shelf Christian book.
So, in sum, hospitality in the 21st century looks like:
The Hospitality of Presence. We go where others are.
The Hospitality of Initiative. We make the first move.
The Hospitality of Listening. With listen with our whole heart to their whole heart.
The Hospitality of Community. We invite them to "come and see" what Christ has done in us.
The Hospitality of Exploration. We invite them to look at the conductor of the whole orchestra, the person of Christ.