Making strangers welcome
How do you make newcomers to church feel at home?
The experience of an unchurched non-Christian coming into church has been likened to that of a Christian going into a betting shop. Both are going into environments with which they are totally unfamiliar and therefore do not know how they should act.
Accordingly, it is a big challenge for Christians to know how to respond when strangers come into church so that they can make the strangers feel welcome.
Ruth was such an outsider when she came back to Judah with her mother-in-law, Naomi. She was a Moabitess, totally unfamiliar with how things operated in Judah. However, there was one person who went to great efforts in order to make her feel welcome. That man was Boaz. And from him we can learn lessons for ourselves regarding how we respond to strangers when they come into church.
Brought in by necessity
Necessity first brought Ruth into contact with Boaz. She and her mother-in-law had both returned form Moab without husbands (see Ruth 1). As a result, they had to find means for providing for themselves. Thus, Ruth, with Naomi’s permission, went to seek to glean grain from behind the reapers (see Ruth 2.2). And she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz (Ruth 2.3b). This is often what happens as regards people who come into church. Generally, necessity brings them to us. They are either Christians who are seeking a church to attend or they are non-Christians who are seeking peace and hope. So how did Boaz respond to this unexpected visitor?
The first thing we notice about Boaz is that he operated his business in a spiritual manner. We note this from the greeting he shared with his staff. ‘The LORD be with you!’ And they answered him, ‘The LORD bless you!’ (Ruth 2.4b). When people come into your church do they come into a spiritual place?
The spirituality of the place is determined by the people in that place. Is each of us, through our devotion to God, contributing to creating a godly atmosphere in the church?
Sad to say, so often in churches visitors are just ignored, but not so in Boaz’s field. Notice that he is aware that there is someone new around and it seems that this is Boaz’s first thought when he comes back to his field (see v.5). What about you? When you come into church do you make it a priority to welcome strangers or do your own friends come first?
Moreover, the question which Boaz asked indicated that he was immediately showing an interest in her. He asked his reapers, ‘Whose young woman is this?’ (v.5b). No doubt everyone is different, but everyone wants to be made to feel special. Without unnecessary prying, a gentle inquiry about where someone comes from or a little about their background can make people feel that someone is taking a genuine interest in them.
At home with us?
Having established who she was and why she had came to his field, Boaz was keen to go out of his way to make sure she was welcomed and received among the reapers. When strangers come into church, new people and new circumstances can feel very threatening. Ruth very probably felt threatened by the young men, but Boaz took action to counteract this and said to her, ‘Have I not commanded the young men not to touch you?’ (v.9b). Similarly, for newcomers in church, a little discreet help with finding hymn numbers or Bible passages may reduce their discomfort.
In all this Boaz was keen to make sure that Ruth felt at home. There were young women within his fold and he wanted her to feel secure with them (see v.8). As someone departs after a service, a simple ‘Hope to see you again’ can be very meaningful and an encouragement to someone to settle and find their spiritual food from the Word of God in our midst.
Having sought to make someone feel welcome, our failing sometimes comes at the next stage when we seek to consolidate our welcome. Good ‘follow-up’ comes when we seek, out of love and genuine interest, to find out more about our visitor so that we can be of specific help to them. Boaz shows us a good example here. It is recorded of him in v.11 that he said to Ruth: ‘It has been reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before’.
Boaz showed his love by obtaining further information about Ruth. She was not just a name on a list, but someone he cared about. Do we care about others enough to want to find out about them? Furthermore, he uses this information to make sure that Ruth’s needs are provided for. Accordingly, in vv.14-16, a strategy is put in place by Boaz to make sure Ruth’s needs are met. Let us endeavour to show our real love for visitors by providing practical help through hospitality or whatever is necessary.
Is yours a welcoming church? Let us take heed to the example of Boaz and make sure all visitors are made welcome and helped as they come among us. Who knows what great things may happen as a result. Remember that in due course Ruth is found in the genealogy of our Lord Jesus (see Matthew 1.5). It may be our welcome which leads to someone, in due course, being used mightily by God.