Have you realized how we tend to notice things we might otherwise overlook in our homes when we have guests coming? You know, the dust on the bookshelf or the dirt on the baseboards or the junk mail on the counter. Those things are fine when it’s just “us” and they will be dealt with eventually. However, when guests are coming, they move up the priority list! Guests have a way of motivating us to present our best. Why is that? It could be to impress them to gain their approval I suppose. But I think it’s probably more about the simple desire to be hospitable. Hospitality is defined as, “the quality of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” It’s generous to give guests our best.
Hospitality is built into our Christian worldview. When Jesus taught on the Final Judgement, he described the King inviting the righteous into the Kingdom in part due to their hospitality (an outward expression of the relationship they have with the Father through the free gift of salvation received by grace no doubt). Their response tells us about this hospitality, “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” Matthew 25:37-40. Receiving guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way is an important aspect of living out our faith in Jesus.
Just as we get comfortable in our own homes and overlook things when guests aren’t coming, in our “church homes” we too get comfortable and fail to notice things. In so doing we might be less than hospitable. If you haven’t had regular guests to your church, you can get lulled into a mentality that it’s just going to be “us” again today so why does it really matter? Instead, how about assuming guests are coming to your church every Sunday? Whether they do or not, you’ll pay closer attention to details and be ready. And then your confidence that your church is ready for guests each week will create more inspiration to invite people.
Here are 10 Ways To Make Your Church More Hospitable
- Be Clean. Keep the church clean like you would your house when you’re having guests over. Think, “if a guest came, would I leave that clutter there or that smudge here?”. Be faithful in the little things.
- Be Warm and Friendly. That’s in the definition of hospitality! Greet everyone with a smile when they come in, especially people who may be new. A smile and a handshake can go a long way.
- Be “Party Ready.” I was told that meant to be ready 10 minutes before guests arrive. That way you’re not scrambling around with last minute details when they get there. As a rector, I always tried to have my sermon prep done, spoke with everyone about the service I needed to, dealt with a/v issues or whatever, by 10 minutes before the service so I could warmly welcome people as they arrived – members and guests.
- Be Excellent. Strive for excellence in every aspect of Sunday Worship – before, during, and after the service(s). Not perfection, there’s no such thing, but excellence. It’s honoring to the Lord, but it’s also providing our best to our guests.
- Have Coffee Available. Not only do people like coffee but guests often feel some fear at a new place. Letting people get a cup of coffee gives them something to do, and having the cup in their hands creates a sort of comforting barrier for them. Also, if they have a hot cup of coffee after the service they kind of have to wait to drink it which gives you a chance to talk and build relationship with them!
- Identify and Release People with the Gift of Hospitality. Hospitality is like evangelism in that we’re all called to do it but some are just more naturally gifted at it than others. Find hospitality gifted people and put them in charge of more than just receptions.
- Have a Welcome Center. Create some space where guests can find information about your church. Make it visible and accessible. Anticipate questions your guests will have and create quality handouts with answers. Having a handout gives them something to do by reading it. If they linger after church and are looking at information they are sending the message they are interested. It doesn’t guarantee they’ll come back but it’s more likely than the ones who leave immediately!
- Have Clear Signage Inside and Out. It’s generous to your guests to make it clear where everything is. We had a sign by the women’s bathroom but we were constantly asked where the bathroom was. It seemed so obvious to us plus there was a sign! We finally realized that from the position of coming out of the sanctuary the sign was blocked. We just moved the sign to the other side of the bathroom door and it solved the problem. Make it clear to your guests.
- Lead the Liturgy. Lead the liturgy with guests in mind. Don’t assume they are Anglican already. Then lead in such a way that is “warm, friendly, and generous” to them. There are ways of doing this that flow well and don’t detract from the focus on God.
- Give a Gift. This is fairly standard now but still a good idea. Have a gift for the guests at the Welcome Center with information about the church. Also, if you get their mailing address you could send them a gift in the mail the week of their visit. We had good results for a season sending first time guests a $5 Walmart gift card. Be creative. What would be generous and make your church memorable to them?
The Rev. Canon Mark Eldredge is Director of Church Revitalization for the American Anglican Council.