But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. Luke 15: 22 – 24; ESV
This is to all those who have strayed away from attending church: whether it is because you were working, busy raising a family, got busy with life and put God into a corner, or whatever else comes to mind. I have been told that some of you have reservations about returning home to church. One reason is because you feel because you have been away for some time that you will be judged by others. In another case, that God might not want anything to do with you because you walked away from the faith. And in other cases, you fear the unknown. If I may, allow me to bring you some comfort and peace upon you return home.
You are welcomed to return at ANY TIME you wish! You will not be judged by anyone for coming back to church; and if you are, inform the pastor… they should make things right. Speaking for myself only here; if I know about someone judging someone else, I’m speaking to that person! Regardless of who they are, each person is welcomed at our church. And more importantly, in God’s viewpoint, EVERYONE is welcomed back into the family! The passage from Luke 15 is clear evidence to that fact. If you read the entire passage (Luke 15: 11-32), you will see not only God’s love and welcome mat for the return of the family member, He also shares when someone judges another.
Look at how The Message version of the Bible puts it:
He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.
This is God’s response to a person returning home to Him! God stood and watched for His child to return home. He never mentioned how long His child was away doing their own thing, but the father watched earnestly for his child. He knew one day the child would return. And seeing them off in a distance, the father RAN to his child and welcomed him home. He never removed the welcome mat from his front door; knowing the father, he probably picked the welcome mat up and held it for his child to see! There was no judgment, no “I told you so!” of any sorts. There was rejoicing and love.
If we, as churches and more importantly, as individuals and believers, want to truly be Christ-like, we NEED to make these who are returning home feel welcomed. If we need to pick up our welcome mats and meet them where they are, so be it! I can picture God making a path of welcome mats leading from His heart to theirs; we should do the same! It does not matter why the person left: it does matter if they return to having them finding us looking for them. If the church isn’t actively searching for their lost sheep (leaving the 99 to find the 1 lost), we should at least be at our doors and windows watching for their return. And when they do come home, react like the father did in the story!
If you want to return home (back to church), then go. Make you way back to God. See to it that you come home with the understanding that you are welcomed at ANY time you choose. If someone judges you, speak to the pastor. But do not stay away from God because you fear what others might say. Are you returning for God’s blessings and acceptance or the congregation’s? If you are returning to God, then fear not child! The welcome mat is out for you!
If you are looking for a church home, I invite you to visit the various churches in your area. I know you will find a good one that preaches the true Word of God in all its integrity and power. Find one that meets your needs and how you can help meet their needs as well; plugging into a church where you can not only be ministered to, but also you to minister to them by your service unto God as you have been called.
Please, don’t stay away from God! The welcome mat is out for you…
Please help us to make every person coming to church to feel welcomed and loved. And for those who are returning home after a period of time, please help us to make them feel even more welcomed! Let us make their journey back to You a celebration like the father in the story from Luke. Give us Your heart and understanding as we lay out the welcome mat…. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
 Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Lk 15:22–24). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.