Hospitality is the New Apologetic

Maybe you’ve noticed that our society is just a bit divided.

Whether it’s political persuasions, social justice issues, or even the dreaded Starbucks vs. Dunkin’ debate, we’ve all become experts in drawing a line in the sand, circling our wagons with those who agree with us, and villainizing those who oppose us. Social media has produced social pariahs. Twitter has made us loud-mouthed twits. Facebook has become our platform to save face and refuse grace. 

Even if we’re not overt about it … even if we keep our opinions to ourselves and only use Facebook for pictures of puppies … we can confess that we do tend to hold tightly to our stance on political persuasions, social justice issues, or even the dreaded Starbucks vs. Dunkin’ debate. And that means we occasionally pray our own version of Luke 18:11: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers … or even like those who enjoy burnt coffee.”

Our Dilemma

In the church world, we’ve all heard the adage and accusation that we’re too often known by what we’re against rather than what we’re for. But what if we could change that? What if we were known as a people more interested in compassion than coercion? More interested in winning a friendship rather than winning an argument?

A New Way

I believe that in our incredibly divided society, kindness and hospitality can serve as a new apologetic. 

My generation grew up with youth pastors who taught us to defend our faith, argue from Scripture, and convince people why the way of the cross was the best way. And to be clear: I absolutely believe that Scripture should drive us and the cross should compel us. I believe that sin is real and salvation is provided through Jesus and Jesus alone.

But our unbelieving community doesn’t necessarily believe that.

And so beginning with “Thus saith the Lord” may not carry the weight that it used to.

But beginning with “How can I befriend this person?” just might. 

Jesus’ Example 

As I read the gospels, I find it fascinating that people who were nothing like Jesus really liked Jesus. He drew others in through dialogue instead of debate. He had dinner with sinners and gave grace to the broken. In fact, Luke 7:34 labels Jesus as a “friend of sinners.” That’s an incredible, nonsensical, counter-intuitive statement. Jesus was nothing like a sinner. He was 100% sin-free. Yet He befriended those at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Our Response 

For those of us in church leadership, re-discovering Jesus as “friend of sinners” leads to staggering implications. It means that our weekend services need to be planned – at least partially – through the filter of unbelieving guests: will they find judgment or grace? Systems to keep them out or processes to draw them in?

And it means that our weekday lives have to be lived with intentionality towards our unbelieving community, asking the question “How can I befriend this person?” rather than “How can I convince this person I’m right?”

Our society might well be divided, but let’s count ourselves among those who stand in the gap for others. 

Posted on July 22, 2020

Danny Franks is the Pastor of Guest Services at The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, and the author of People Are the Mission: How Churches Can Welcome Guests Without Compromising the Gospel. Read more from Danny at
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  • I want to take a step back from “through the filter of unbelieving guests: will they find judgment or grace?”. What about members and baptized attendees? Will they find judgment or grace?

    • That’s true, too, Mark! And a great point. Since I was approaching this from the perspective of someone who’s new to your church, I chose to specify “unbelieving guests.” But grace should season all of our interactions, whether with someone brand new to the church or the covenant member who has been with us for 50 years. Thank you for the reply!