Why I Am Not Impressed with a "Culture of Welcome"

Issuing an invitation

Why I Am Not Impressed with a "Culture of Welcome"


Have you heard this phrase, “creating a culture of welcome” in reference to the Church?

I’ll tell you, I’ve really come to dislike this this phrase.

A friend and I went to hear a talk by another friend named Michael Harvey. Michael is a layman in the Anglican tradition and the co-founder of an initiative called Back to Church Sunday. This is a movement to get Christians inviting people to come to their church, and it has resulted in over a million deliberate personal invitations given.

One of the best things I’ve taken from Michael’s talks is the distinction between welcome and invitation. Do you see a difference there?

One is inherently passive, and the other active. One is about receiving someone and the other about going out to them.

Which do you think is living the Gospel more?

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important to be welcoming. In fact I think we need to be way more welcoming than we are now. We should have greeters at all our events. We should serve refreshments way more often. We should take people’s names and emails so we can be in touch with them and tell them about things that are coming up that might be relevant to them.

But should we be so proud of establishing a culture of basic hospitality? Is that really setting the bar high enough for what Christ asks of his Church?

A community that is satisfied with a culture of welcome will never have a great impact in our culture.

I saw a stat somewhere that polled people who don’t go to church and asked them if they would ever go to an unfamiliar church with a question. I think it was over 90% who said no. On the other hand, I met a pastor from a church in Scarborough the other day and he mentioned that the 3 people in their RCIA program all have one thing in common: someone invited them to come to the church.

What would have happened if the apostles took up a position of mere welcome? There would be no Church as we know it! They didn’t just stick an “All Are Welcome” sign on the entrance of the catacombs; they went out, proclaimed, and invited people!

If the apostles took up a position of mere welcome, there would be no Church as we know it!

Do you know that Pope Francis cares about this distinction? In recent the Synod on the Family he gave an address where he spoke of the role of pastors. He said that he as pope needed to remind them of their first duty:

"(T)o nourish the flock to that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears the lost sheep."

But then he corrected himself:

"I made a mistake here. I said welcome: [rather] to go out and find them."

The shepherd goes after the sheep. He doesn't merely leave the gate ajar so the sheep can find their way back in. He leaves the 99 to seek out and save the lost (cf. Matt 18:12-14; Luke 15:3-7).

Will we follow his lead?

You’re a welcoming person, attentive to the newcomer at your parish? Awesome! Keep that up. Now let’s also do everything we can to make sure that there are newcomers at the parish by asking our friends, family, coworkers, neighbours, etc., to come there. (I say this with the hope that we will also have activities aimed at newcomers, even non-Christians, like Alpha)

Let’s invite people liberally, and not be discouraged at the declined invitations. Let's do it both in the context of our personal lives, and as an organized parish activity, going out in pairs and knocking on doors in the neighborhoods around our parish. Is that so radical? As Harvey said, “Success is not an invitation accepted, but an invitation given."

He also gave us a great point for self-examination:

“If we have not been rejected lately, are we in the game??"

Question: Who is one person you can invite to church? The Advent and Christmas season offers many an opportunity, no? 

You may also enjoy: I Want My Parish to Be Radical and Fearless

The shepherd goes after the sheep. He doesn't merely leave the gate ajar so the sheep can find their way back in. — Josh Canning

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