3 Touchstones of Welcoming Newcomers Today


What was once perceived as welcoming may no longer resonate with the unchurched of today. How can congregations extend hospitality to the unchurched? Brett DeHart shares three touchstones of modern hospitality: safe place, people matter, and joyful energy.

Every church thinks they are welcoming. Today’s unchurched have different ideas though about what it means to be truly welcoming. I train our church to focus on three aims of modern hospitality:

1. Safe place

We want to be a judgment-free zone, a place of grace in Christian terms. A place where people feel comfortable to come as they are, no matter their social or economic status, their race, how they vote, or what college team they support (our church is in the South). A place where they are known, accepted, and loved even with messy, imperfect lives. A place where people can openly share their hopes and heartaches, their dreams and disappointments. A place where they can be their real selves.

As a place of grace, we don’t feel the need to be the sin police. Dinner Church guru Verlon Fosner points to The Parable of Weeds Among the Wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). If we are truly effective, we are going to get to know some people who have many troubling things going on in their lives. Water them with the Gospel stories, friendship, and grace. You may need to intentionally overlook major issues of sin in their lives for now to build a relationship.

We also want to respect the pace of grace (a concept I learned from Steven Barr of Cast Member Church). Different people participate with God’s prevenient grace at different paces. Walk alongside people as they encounter Jesus at their own pace. Let God work. We want to be a place where people can come to wrestle with doubts and questions in the hopes of finding an authentic faith. So, people can belong before they believe.

We don’t need to be the theology police, especially in our first-timer welcoming environments. Relationship-building is our number one goal. In the early days of getting to know people, telling them they are wrong or shutting down any deepening conversation is not helpful or overly kind. We want to build long-term solid relationships and trust the Holy Spirit to work through those.

21st century evangelism is much more crockpot than microwave. We must have a long-term perspective. The goal is to keep moving people closer and closer to Jesus. Focus more on the direction than the destination. Respect the pace of grace.

Being a safe place also includes respecting sensitivities of personal space and physical touch. As people come to us from different places, experiences, and cultures, this is more important than ever before. Give guests some space as you interact and let them take the lead on touch (handshake, hand on shoulder, back, or arm). This also applies to babies and children. Many people do not want you touching their children. Eye contact and a smile are welcoming and show connection without crossing possible personal boundaries.

We learned this firsthand from guests at our church. They were not accustomed to some of our Southern ways and told us they were not comfortable with lingering hands-on shoulders (adult to adult) and touching their baby. Thankfully they shared their preferences with us instead of just leaving and finding another church.

2. People matter.

Each and every person is of sacred worth. Many people are walking the earth feeling they matter to no one. We ask our church members to connect with our guests personally and to let them know that (1) they matter to them and that (2) they matter to God.

People don’t join institutions these days (sorry church). They make friends and spend time in community with those friends. It’s all about relationships and personal connection.

3. Joyful energy

When people walk into our church, we want them to immediately feel that this church is alive; that this is a fun place to be. We desire to let people experience the joy that comes from abundant life in Christ.

1 Peter 1:8-9 (NRSV) declares, Although you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

We desire to let people experience the glorious joy that comes from abundant life in Christ. In some ways our joy is indescribable. Not everyone is good putting it into words, but we people with Christ in us should all be able to embody this indescribable and glorious joy. Smile, walk around with a spring in your step, be delightful.

Company's Coming book coverAdapted from Company’s Coming Is Your Church Ready?: Creating Transforming Experiences for Today’s Unchurched (2024) by Brett DeHart. The book is available at Amazon.

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About Author

Brett DeHart

Brett DeHart has pastored United Methodist churches for over 20 years. Churches he has pastored have successfully launched and sustained Messy Church, Recovery Church, Dinner Church, and other Fresh Expressions. He earned a Master of Divinity degree from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. Free resources of his are available at brettdehart.com.

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