On a recent Southwest Airlines flight, I watched the boarding process carefully. I was fortunate to have been in the first boarding group, and I chose my seat quickly and sat down, taking a window seat.
A man took the isle seat on my row, and proceeded to place his computer bag in the middle seat. One of the crew members made several announcements asking passengers not to do that (save a middle seat so that no one could sit there). The flight was 100% full, and every seat would be needed.
Well, the passenger on the isle didn’t follow the flight crew’s instructions, and his behavior was in stark contrast to others I observed. I watched another passenger, already seated, give up her seat to an elderly couple so they could sit together. That act of kindness is rarely seen. The older couple was having a hard time assimilating themselves onto the aircraft, but one passenger made it easier for them. Eventually the man on my row was forced to place his computer bag under his seat so that a person could sit between us, but how many people passed by our row, wishing to take that middle seat, but were uneasy about asking the fellow to move his bag? Quite a few, I bet, since we were on the fourth row of the plane! The man was inhospitable, and people knew it.
The goal in boarding the aircraft is to get everyone assimilated – place luggage in an overhead bin, place a personal bag under the seat, find a seat, buckle yourself in, and wha-la…you’re assimilated!
I’ll come back to this in just a bit.
During a dinner meeting last night, a friend told me of his recent experience visiting a church. His goal was to find a new church and a Bible study group to which he could belong.
This friend described how he’d visited a group, tried to fit in, filled out a guest information card, and had not been contacted by the leader of the group, nor anyone from the group. His adult daughter has also experienced this same thing on her quest to find a church home. And now we come to the connection between biblical hospitality and assimilation.
Biblical Hospitality Helps in the Assimilation Process
Assimilation is an art and a science. But it is also a way we express biblical hospitality to others. Biblical hospitality is a way for Kingdom people to welcome others into conversations and into the Kingdom by being friendly. Hospitality is about building relationships with others. However, based on stories I hear frequently from around the country, people everywhere have a hard time being welcomed into Bible study groups – and this is painful and disappointing to hear! Believers should be the most welcoming people on the planet. We’ve been welcomed into a relationship with Jesus, we’ve been welcomed into God’s family, and we’ve been welcomed into a new way of life.
Showing biblical hospitality to others means that we:
- Value all people as unique creations of God
- Treat friends and strangers the same way
- Welcome people into our homes, our churches, and our lives
Assimilation is more than just becoming a member of a group. In fact, a person may be a member but never be assimilated into the body. The goal is to help people feel they are wanted, that they belong, and that they are needed (10 Best Practices, p.155).
Almost 70% of people surveyed are open to the idea of attending your Bible study group. Another 6% are actively trying to assimilate themselves into a group of some kind. With these high percentages, your group and mine should be growing.
The lack of hospitality to guests is sending the wrong signal to people who are in need of biblical fellowship, relationships, Bible study, and opportunities to serve others.
5 Ways to Provide a Higher Level of Biblical Hospitality as you Assimilate People
- Enlist a greeter (or greeters). A greeter’s primary job is to watch for, speak to, and show hospitality to guests. The requirement for such a role? A smile, a firm handshake, and a strong desire to help people fit in.
- Introduce guests to others. Helping a guest meet new people is important in their assimilation into your Bible study group. As they meet new people, they’ll find others with similar interests and backgrounds.
- Invite guests to fellowship opportunities. Group members can and should offer to sit with the guest in the church’s worship service, ask them to have lunch after church, and encourage them to attend the next fun fellowship the group experiences together.
- Follow up with guests. This is a big reason why guests don’t return! If groups don’t follow up quickly with a guest, they send the signal that the person isn’t really that important to them, and that is no way to show biblical hospitality.
- Train your group to understand that assimilation and hospitality are everyone’s job. Even though your group may have a designated greeter or greeters, you must teach the group that showing hospitality and assimilating new people is everyone’s job. The entire group must take ownership of the process.
Don’t be like the “isle guy” I talked about earlier! He made it harder for people to assimilate onto our plane that day. Instead, be welcoming, be open, be friendly, and practice biblical hospitality with every guest who comes to your group.