Think back to the last time you visited a church other than your own. How did you feel in the church? Most churches know basic aspects of welcoming guests such as clear signage, dedicated greeters, etc. Too many churches, however, stop there. They make some technical adjustments and move on to other matters.
Hospitality goes much deeper than simply posting a smiling person near the church door. In his book Setting the Table, restaurateur Danny Meyer offers that the key to hospitality is how it makes you feel. In short, you need to make the other person feel important. For Meyer, relationships are the foundation of hospitality because taking the time to build a relationship demonstrates that you think the other person is important. Meyer trains his front-line restaurant staff to connect with people by seeking the story behind the story. He encourages them to take genuine interest in their customers and draw them out (sensitive, of course, to hints that they’d rather be left alone). In doing so, his staff collect “dots” of information that they can use to connect guests who share similar interests. Thus, building relationships is more than just a top-down effort. Those who excel at hospitality cultivate new relationships between previously unacquainted people. The guest feels important that someone else took the time to get to know them well enough to connect them with someone new.
What might this sort of hospitality look like in a church? First, you should help regular attenders understand that they function like the front-line staff in a restaurant. Help them understand that guest hospitality is everyone’s job. Help them see the vision of how they can be a blessing to others through hospitality. Second, these regular attenders need to feel that they are cared for so that they can offer hospitality toward others. Leaders should model hospitality in the way they interact with both regulars and guests.
Developing a culture of hospitality in a church is no easy task—especially when most churches believe they are far more friendly than they actually are. The way we treat our guests, however, is a reflection of our Christian witness. We know that people are important because we are created in God’s image. However, we need to help people feel important. By doing so, we help connect them to Christ’s community. When churches set the table for guests, we welcome them to a meal that will not leave them hungry.