Five ways to welcome the cultural outsider

Jason Roach

11 Mar 2024


Five ways to welcome the cultural outsider


I slipped in at the back of the church. In front of me was a family with an eight-year-old girl sitting nervously next to her dad. She looked even more agitated when a man that she didn’t know sat next to her in one of the few seats left.

Her dad saw her nervousness, put his arm around her and said: ‘Don’t worry. Let me tell you a story about this man. Ten years ago, I was new to this country. I walked into this church for the first time not knowing anyone. This guy walked across from the other side of the church and made me feel like family.’

These two men clearly hadn’t seen each other in years. Yet the impact of one on the other had lasted a lifetime. I would love the impact of the welcome among our church community to match what that man, at the time a cultural outsider, had experienced. So how can we get better at welcoming others, as we have been welcomed by Christ (Rom. 15.7)?

Here are five things that are helping me:

1. Draw on your experience

Very few of us are always the insider in every aspect of our lives. This means that most of us have individual experiences to draw on when it comes to feeling like an outsider. An open-plan office when you are new to the job; a party when the only friend you know disappears; a new home, in a new street, in a new town. Although these may be much more controlled and limited situations, remembering how it feels can help us to empathise with others who feel alone in the crowd.

More fundamentally though, all of us at one time were aliens and strangers when it came to the Kingdom of God. Whether we feel it or not, we should welcome others because of the grace that has been shown to us. This is what God says it means to love your neighbour as yourself:

‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not ill-treat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God’ (Lev. 19:33-34 cf. Eph. 2:12-13, emphasis mine).

"all of us at one time were aliens and strangers when it came to the Kingdom of God"

2. Expect blessing

Scripture trains us to expect extraordinary blessing from welcoming outsiders. Just like Abraham entertained strangers and found one to be the angel of the Lord, so we are to anticipate that divine presence and blessing are available in every encounter with a stranger (Heb.13:2). To show hospitality is to join a long line of saints who have received unexpected protection (Gen. 19:16), sustenance (1 Kings 17-18) and physical blessing (2 Kings 4).

It is this kind of teaching that has encouraged us over time to try not to make our welcome a one-sided affair. We used to feel that we needed to be omnicompetent hosts – providing and doing everything. But, inadvertently, we were sometimes disempowering our guests. Now we leave space for our them to use their gifts and generosity to bless us too. Some of our best family devotions, our most peaceful family meals, and the most memorable moments in our home, have been in the presence of outsiders.

More than that, Jesus encourages us to expect to see Him in those people that society shuns (Matt.25:31-46). His words are both an encouragement to spread the net of welcome wide and also a challenge to offer the most gracious welcome that we can. For, as we do, we welcome Christ Himself.

Just like Abraham entertained strangers and found one to be the angel of the Lord, so we are to anticipate that divine presence and blessing are available in every encounter with a stranger. (Heb.13:2)

3. Be intentional

We naturally gravitate towards those who are like us. Conversation is often easy, trust high and our sense of apprehension low. This means that connecting with people from different cultures often seems risky. But small intentional steps can build bridges and dispel our fears. For me, this often means wrestling for time in my daily decisions and in my diary.

Recently, I have made a deliberate practice of moving towards any neighbour that I recognise when I’m walking through our estate. The truth is that a combination of busyness and introversion could normally stop me from doing this routinely. This intentional choice means trying to tune out the tyranny of getting the next thing done and tune into the moment God has given me there and then. It is incredible how many opportunities God has opened up for me to welcome people in our shared space and to share something of God’s welcome in the gospel.

When it comes to diaries, timetabling space is one way to move forward. We try to arrange one Saturday a month to have fewer things scheduled in so that we are more available to those around us. Sometimes that means people enjoying breakfast with us or joining a spontaneous trip to the park. Often it is far less successful. But the choice to guard the time and pray for God’s leading sets the compass of our hearts in the right direction.

4. Listen to people’s stories

Our mindset when confronted with difference can often be controlled by fear. If people are different from us, we are not sure what to expect or how safe they will be. The Bible transforms that outlook in two ways. First, it reminds us that outsiders are people made in the image of God just like us (Gen. 1:26-28). In this respect, our expectations of anyone we meet should be similar to those we have of people just like us. They are precious individuals with histories and hopes and hang-ups.

Secondly, hearing people’s stories can help us move past our fear towards meaningful fellowship. That might even start before encountering in person those who are different, with reading rather than questioning. Why not ask a friend in your local community who is from a different background to you what you could read to find out more of what it is like to live in Britain from their perspective. Or why not ask a friend ‘What makes it hard for you to live in this city right now?’

Hearing people’s stories can help us move past our fear towards meaningful fellowship.

"Welcoming someone into your community takes deliberate, ongoing effort."

5. Welcome with others

Welcoming someone into your community takes deliberate, ongoing effort. Otherwise it is just a token effort which makes us feel good but does little to relieve loneliness or build friendship. For this reason it is often too much for one person to do well. But we don’t have to!

An example would be a recent spontaneous gathering outside our flat for drinks and cake. We invited both our neighbours and our church family. When new people came, others were on hand to chat and to serve. But crucially, people knocked on doors, went out for coffee and made food for people in ways that we could never have done. Not only have our neighbours seen our love for each other (John 17:23) but our service together has made it easier for us to love them too.

None of these five suggestions is a magic bullet. They are all small steps of intentional behaviour that move us in the direction of welcoming all kinds of people. But small steps can leave huge impressions on the lives of those we meet. Like the man who walked across a church to welcome a newcomer, might our steps make strangers feel like siblings.

Written by: Jason Roach

Jason is LCM's Director of Ministries. He is a medical doctor by background, has served as a special advisor to the Bishop of London. He is the founder of The Bridge Church in Battersea London.