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.
Have you ever noticed that you sometimes become so accustomed to a scent that you can no longer smell it? In my office, I’ve been recently annoyed by an occasional tiny gnat. Through the collective wisdom of the internet, I identified my potted plants as the likely origin of the insects. The most common solution seemed to be setting out a container of vinegar, so I partially filled a cup with some cleaning vinegar I found under the sink and placed it next to the plants. For the rest of the day, I noticed the smell, but it didn’t seem very strong. With each passing day, I noticed it less and less. When I opened my office after the weekend, however, the vinegar odor was powerful. I was willing to tolerate the smell in order to rid myself of the gnats, but I quickly realized that my coworkers might not be so understanding. It was evident that I had become nose-blind to the smell. I dumped out the vinegar to preserve harmony among my office neighbors.
Continue reading Nose-blind
Have you ever walked into an unfamiliar church and become utterly confused–you’re not sure where to go or what to do? In many instances, it’s difficult to figure out which door to use even to enter the building. In my last post, I wrote about the need to focus your church outward to engage your community through service. Today, I challenge you to consider the experience of newcomers to your church. While we certainly can’t sit-around waiting for new people to come to us, we do need to be ready to welcome those who come our way.
In his book, Beyond the First Visit, Gary McIntosh provides some great practical suggestions for ways churches can welcome newcomers and (eventually) connect them to the ministries of the church. Most helpfully, McIntosh encourages church leaders to think in terms of guests rather than visitors. A visitor is someone who shows up unexpected. If a visitor appears at your house, you can try to make him or her feel welcome, but you haven’t had time to prepare. A guest is someone you’re expecting. You make appropriate arrangements to ensure he or she is comfortable and can have your full attention. When a church expects guests, its members notice when they arrive. They walk them into the building. They introduce them to other members. They make sure the guests know where to go and settle them in comfortably before attending to other ‘family’ business. After the worship service, members thank guests for coming and invite them to return.
In addition to addressing a congregation’s welcoming culture, church leaders need to rethink their church facilities from an outsider’s perspective. What does the church look like from the street? Have overgrown trees or bushes begun to obscure the building? How easy is it to park and find the front door? Once inside, how does a person know where to go? Are there clear signs? When we’ve been in a church for a long time, we become desensitized to many of these potential problems. We know that the old front door leads to a hallway used for storage. The real entrance is around the side. We fail to notice the dead bush or the neglected flowerbed. We know where the bathroom is, and we might not mind its 1980s decor. To get a fresh perspective, invite a friend from outside your church to visit and offer his or her reflections.
When we look at our church through the eyes of outsiders, we can help guests feel more welcomed. Perhaps some will choose to join the community. Our mission to make disciples will clearly require us to focus our churches outward, but we should also ensure that those who come into our buildings experience Christ through our hospitality.