Translate Page

Invitational faith: Ministry beyond the pews

There are distinctions between proclaiming welcome and practicing invitation.
There are distinctions between proclaiming welcome and practicing invitation.

Listen to this article:

A church that touts, boasts, and overly self-professes just how welcoming of a church they are tends to be a dying church.

I’ve always felt that hospitality is something the guest should automatically experience on their own rather than being told just how welcoming the host can be. It’s almost like that one person who is simply adamant about how funny they are and it’s like, “if you have to tell us you’re funny— are you that funny?”

But the real tell of why a welcoming church tends to be a dying church is that they have completely embraced passiveness towards ministry opportunities.

Being a “welcoming church” implies that we (passively) wait for people to come to us. We want people to come to where we are. We want people to join in the conversations that we are already having. We want others to do the heavy lifting: the risk taking of going to a new space all the while we just eagerly wait at the doors of our church for someone new to come.

On top of that, “welcoming” has different meanings to different people. 

I witnessed a church, who claimed they were very welcoming, ask a visiting new family to move to another pew because they were sitting in the row of a long-time member who sat there for the past 40 years.

I worked with a welcoming committee who spent the morning in a circle amongst themselves catching up on sports and the week that was.

I’ve also seen a “welcoming church” be gracious hosts and greeters to their friends, family, and people they already knew and completely leave alone those they did not recognize.

I’ve experienced churches who tout “all are welcome” until they found out one of the people they (accidentally) welcomed were queer and things got awkward real fast.

Those who boast they are a welcoming church tend to be a dying church because that’s all they got going for them: their idea of welcoming and the mentality of when people who we like come through the doors, “boy are we gonna be welcoming!”

We were never instructed to wait in our churches for people to come.

The Great Commission wasn’t “Sit and Wait” -- but to go.

Instead of emphasizing something that we should naturally and always be doing (welcoming), the church should be working on being invitational.

Is this all semantics? A bit.

Invitational church or welcoming church?

Being invitational — at least for me — has a sense of being active. Inviting someone to anything always carries a sense of risk.

I feel that when we start embracing being an invitational church rather than a welcoming church, we will move out there where the people are. We’ll engage in conversations with people who are not part of our church. We’ll make connections and get to know people.

We’ll begin to meet people where they are at.

We’ll begin to join in the conversations they are having.

Invitational church compels us to be more incarnational — to be in the midst of our communities getting to know people’s stories.

Welcoming churches give us permission to hang up signs in the front of the church campus and just wait and hope that someone new rolls on in (as long as they don’t sit in someone’s pew).

Hospitality is important. It’s imperative that people who enter our space feel loved, feel that they belong, and feel safe. And the reality is, churches do need to train their members for loving, genuine, and holy acts of hospitality.

However, we’re not called to sit and wait around for people we can interact with. We’re called to go and make disciples.
Going involves risks and putting ourselves out there in a vulnerable way. Going means we spend time in the neighborhood our churches reside in, getting to know and love our neighbors. Going means that we do all this loving and we do all this serving even if the people we love and serve don’t ever step a foot into our church. We love without attaching conditions to God’s unconditional love.

Don’t be hospitable just within the buildings of your churches. Go and share that love, warmth, and welcoming with people in your community.

Be bold in love. Be courageous in service. And go be love. 

Joseph Yoo is the author When the Saints Go Flying in. He is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at

United Methodist Communications is an agency of The United Methodist Church

©2023 United Methodist Communications. All Rights Reserved