Hospitality and Church Revitalization Dr. Craig Kraft
/ Tuesday, February 1, 2022
Months before we plunged into a socially isolating global pandemic, I completed a research project on the impact of hospitality in Canadian Churches. I studied a number of Canadian congregations engaged in the resettlement of Syrian Refugees, and the results were clear: churches experienced spiritual revitalization through the practice of biblical hospitality.
I define biblical hospitality as the expression of loving compassion and relationship with strangers. I wrote a previous blog on Hospitality in Scripture, so let me summarize by saying that biblical hospitality is clearly displayed in the good Samaritan story in Luke 10. The biblical understanding of hospitality is loving strangers.
In my research, I surveyed one hundred and seventy-six evangelical churches. In addition, I conducted narrative interviews with twenty-two individuals to observe how churches were practicing hospitality toward Syrian Refugees and identify its impact on their congregations. I discovered that churches that practice a biblical model of hospitality are more likely to be demonstrating other characteristics of church health and spiritual vitality than churches that do not practice hospitality.
I heard some powerful testimonies of people who held negative feelings toward the Syrian refugees in the beginning but who grew to love and value their new Syrian neighbours very deeply.
I learned of congregations that shifted their priorities and budgets to provide for Syrian families. Often the experience of the host congregation was so positive that they expanded their commitment to include other family members or extended family.
Congregation #1: Working together with a Mosque
One congregation went all-in; they sponsored three sisters and their families. This church had teams of individuals involved in various aspects of resettlement, childcare, ESL, and connecting with the community. The church reached out to the local mosque to help develop relationships for the Syrian families. They started inviting and welcoming members of the Mosque community to participate in church activities. A beautiful relationship of trust developed as the church and mosque worked together to build community.
Congregation #2: Churches Partnering Together
Another congregation shared how they had limited resources to help resettle a family, but they felt God wanted them to do it. So, they partnered with two other local churches to sponsor a refugee, and they shared in the commitment. Not only did the partnership develop stronger relationships between the neighboring churches, but it also provided a new opportunity for individuals to employ their spiritual gifts of hospitality as they built relationships with the refugee and helped serve his needs. The resulting joy was evident in how they told their stories and celebrated this as a great ministry to their community.
Congregation #3: Community Impact
A third congregation began to see how caring for the strangers and outcasts of their village was what God had called them to as a church. So, this became their main ministry focus in the community. In just a couple of years, they had established apartments for refugees, and a network of businesses and churches who committed resources and opportunities. They even used their connections and experience to help refugees open a catering business.
Every church had a unique story to tell. Still, all of them were able to identify ways that God had used the refugee resettlement as a way to bring new vitality, spiritual vigor, and enthusiasm to their congregation. Of course, there were disappointments along the way, but leaders identified how the congregation had grown through the process, even in the most negative situation.
One participant stated it well. “Showing unconditional love to these new immigrants is an expression of the love of Jesus. God is sending the mission field to us; we must love them as he does.” A pastor in Vancouver said that serving refugees had changed his congregation. It changed everything about them, from how they prayed to how they functioned in the community.
Canada is a welcoming place for immigrants and refugees from around the world. We have great opportunities to demonstrate loving hospitality to strangers through our churches. I hope and pray that we are warm and welcoming to new people, that we extend true love to strangers well past their first steps into our foyer, and that we will be known in our communities for the love and compassion we pour out for others.
For more on this, watch for “Welcoming Strangers: Church Revitalization through the Practice of Biblical Hospitality Toward Strangers” by Dr. Kraft. It will be coming out in the March edition of the Journal of Asian Missiology and available on the OC Website.
Dr. Craig Kraft is the Executive Director of Outreach Canada. After 15 years of pastoral ministry in western Canada, Craig, with his wife Heather, served with OC in southern Africa before returning to lead the ministry in Canada. Craig is a graduate of Northwest Baptist Seminary at ACTS and a graduate of Asia Graduate School of Theology with a Doctor of Intercultural Studies. His study has focused on diaspora missiology in Canada. His dissertation explores the potential for revitalizing Canadian churches through the practice of biblical hospitality with refugees and immigrants. Craig loves to watch sports, work in the yard & spend time in the woods.