Review: The Welcoming Congregation

October 8th, 2012

Henry Brinton is a pastor. He writes for pastors and for the church. He writes out of his own experience and draws on the wisdom of others. The Welcoming Congregation: Roots and Fruits of Christian Hospitality is a welcome addition to the library of books on welcoming and hospitality, in that it distills the best of what is already available while pressing the issues into both greater depth and increased accessibility. Each chapter contains a “Best Practices” window, Discussion Questions, an Action Plan, and Preaching Suggestions. In this way, it is a readily adaptable guide for pastors and church leaders.

“Welcoming” is all too often discussed in terms of church growth techniques or gimmicks. It is understood from the perspective of “us,” those already in the church, with the hope that “they,” those on the outside, will come to acknowledge what “we” offer and come to avail themselves of those resources. It remains more about “us” than “them.”

Brinton is clear that “we” must be transformed in order to be truly welcoming of whichever “them” we are seeking to welcome. Still, he probes deeper. He grasps that welcoming has as much to do with “us” as with “them.” He knows that those already inside the church must themselves first be transformed by a new vision of God’s wide mercies and boundless love in order to welcome others in a Christ-like spirit. As a pastor, he sees that welcoming is not only about giving to others, but also entails receiving from others, so that those who welcome are themselves transformed by the new relationships that grow.

As Bishop Will Willimon says in his Introduction, this book can help turn your church “inside out.” Especially pertinent as national discussions continue about immigration and the church furthers its own internal discussions around the inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians, Brinton pushes the church to reexamine the biblical witness in light of the prophet Isaiah’s vision of the God’s house as a house of prayer for all people.

How do we reach across differences? How and what do we learn from the example of Jesus? What are the best practices of hospitality in the church today and what can each congregation learn from them for its own unique context?

Are your facilities welcoming? Is your website welcoming? Are your ushers welcoming? Is your worship service welcoming? Is your heart welcoming? Exploring all these questions in ways that lead into very helpful reflection on the state and practices of each congregation, Brinton presses on into a discussion of the fruits of hospitality. What are new possibilities for the future, where is new life for the church to be found in the fruits of hospitality—reconciliation, outreach, and perceptions of those we had grown accustomed to relating to as “other?” What happens when our world opens up? What does God’s house become when open to all God’s people? Who do we become as new creations in Christ?

For Brinton, the journey is ecclesiological, practical, Scriptural, theological, psychological, pastoral—and redemptive. It’s about God’s welcome, and about hospitality as a way of life in Christ.

If you read just one book on welcoming this year, if you choose but one book as the basis for study, reflection, and renewal in your congregation, if you seek a resource to guide you in relating to the new people in your neighborhood, or the people still beyond your doors, or the interfaith possibilities in your setting, let it be Brinton’s The Welcoming Congregation. You will be richly rewarded.

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