As an Asian kid, when I was growing up, I never noticed roof racks on cars. That’s because Asian parents aren’t big on roof racks. They have no need to own roof racks because they don’t go surfing or camping. The whole reason your Asian parents make you study so hard is so that you can earn a degree and get a job so you can afford to stay in a hotel and not sleep in a tent for your vacations.
But once I took up surfing and found myself in need of a roof rack, I realized that roof racks are everywhere. Why hadn’t I noticed them before? Because I wasn’t looking for them.
It’s the same with hospitality. It’s everywhere in the Bible. But for a long time, I was so focused on the “word gifts” in the New Testament like preaching, teaching, and evangelism that I failed to notice how often the idea of hospitality appears in the New Testament.
Almost every New Testament writer uses the word hospitality—Acts, Romans, 1 Timothy, Hebrews, 1 Peter, and 3 John. But the idea of hospitality goes far beyond this. It’s there when Zacchaeus joyfully welcomes Jesus into his home (Luke 19:5–6). It’s there when Levi throws a banquet for Jesus and invites his tax-collecting friends (Luke 5:29). It’s there when Lydia invites Paul and his companions to her home (Acts 16:15). It’s there when the jailer takes Paul and Silas to his home for a meal (Acts 16:34). Interestingly, in many of these examples, it’s the nonbeliever who shows hospitality to the believer.
But what’s the big deal about hospitality? The three simple steps of evangelism—coffee, dinner, gospel—are actually hospitality in disguise. Hospitality provides the space and permission for gospel conversations to occur.
In almost every other area of life, it’s difficult to have a conversation deeper than small talk. Sometimes deep conversations are inconvenient—your friend has a bus to catch. Sometimes deep conversations are inappropriate—your friend should be working and not talking to you. Sometimes deep conversations go against social etiquette—it’s not the time or place to talk about religion. But the whole point of eating together is providing a space to talk together. Eating together isn’t about the food; it’s about connecting, relating, and talking.
Hospitality is the secret hidden sauce of evangelism. Right now, my wife and I are juggling a multitude of different universes of non-Christian friends. We have the after-school-swimming-lessons friends. We have the weekend-football friends. And then we have the playgroup friends.
So far, the after-school-swimming-lessons universe has not been fruitful. We’re meeting in a loud, public space, and all the parents rush off straight after the lesson. Similarly, the weekend-football universe was not fruitful until we started to have people over for barbecues and introduced them to our Christian friends.
But by far our most fruitful universe has been the playgroup universe at our local church. At 10:00 a.m., the parents drop their children off at the playgroup at one end of the church fellowship hall. Then they sit down at the opposite end of the room to have coffee and enjoy small talk for an hour. Because an hour of adult conversation is not enough, my wife then invites the parents to our house for lunch. Now that they’re engaging in adult conversation in the privacy of our home, the conversations drift toward values. People linger. Often when I get home from work, the parents are still there. It would be rude to ask them to leave, so my wife invites them to stay for dinner. Conversations drift toward worldviews, and gospel conversations begin.
Many of the non-Christian parents in our playgroup have become friends with the Christian parents. They have checked out their churches, read the Bible with them, and explored Christianity deeper. A significant proportion have become believers. And it all came down to hospitality.
Chan, Sam, and Ed Stetzer. 2020. How to Talk about Jesus (without Being That Guy): Personal Evangelism in a Skeptical World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Check out our Bible Study on Sam Chan’s book How to Talk About Jesus. It is on Amazon as well as part of the Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.