At church one day, the host (one of the church leaders, who was giving some announcements, and offering a few devotional thoughts) made a point to welcome those who were new to the service. This is a pretty regular element of the Sunday morning service in our congregation, and there is genuine, selfless joy when new people visit. It is a great privilege that we have (as regular congregants) to show what it means to follow Jesus, and to share in hearing God’s Word explained from the Bible. After all, we all need to learn more about Jesus, no matter what our background.
However, it also occurred to me that we are really blessed to have people in our congregation (and in the church around the world) who have been a faithful part of the family of God for many years. I’m not suggesting that they need a formal welcome each week, but I do think that they are worthy of being sought out on a frequent basis, and thanked for their participation.
If a congregation was made up of only those who were visitors, there wouldn’t be anyone to show them around the building (or house, room, or open-air location) where the believers meet. If only those new to the faith were present (which isn’t always the case with visitors, mind you), there wouldn’t be others to teach them, and to help them learn how to study the Bible and how to talk with God.
Faithfulness is commanded, and is a worthy pursuit:
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:23-25 NIV
This passage emphasizes the importance of meeting with other believers regularly. The life of an established, healthy congregation of believers is a great “on-ramp” for those wanting to learn more about Jesus, and for those interested in seeing examples (albeit not perfect!) of how He calls His followers to live. However, a worship service isn’t just about welcoming visitors, but also about encouraging others who have already decided to follow Jesus.
A congregation’s regular gathering is about even more than worship and encouragement. When meeting together, faithful followers of Jesus have an opportunity to make a place for visitors to see faith in action, and to pass the message along to those who have never heard it.
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
Deuteronomy 4:9 NIV
While I think that this passage from Deuteronomy is especially focused on parents (or others who are passing the history of God’s works from one generation to the next), the same principle would seem to apply to those in the family of God (“generations of faith”). Sermons and teaching are a great part of this, but – as we see in the passage above – I think that there is another element: Those who have walked with Jesus for some time can personally testify to how God has made a difference in their lives, and they can attest to what their own “eyes have seen”. In this case, we would do well to continue to welcome those who have lived the faith for a while (and continue to meet in fellowship with others), but we should also actively invite them to share their testimony. By listening to their recounting of personal experiences, God’s work is not forgotten, and He can receive the glory.
So, whether you’re new to church or have been attending for a long time, I hope that you feel welcome when you next have the chance to meet with other believers. All are welcome in the body of Christ.
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