4 Keys for Church Hospitality

As my family visited churches upon moving to Nashville, we were blown away by the differences in hospitality to first time guests. In some churches we knew exactly where to park, were graciously welcomed, escorted to the children’s area to drop off our kids, and introduced to several helpful people. In other churches, we had no idea where to go and had no one welcome us.

While I know some churches have over-swung the pendulum and become so guest-driven that they lose focus on Christ in their hyper-attractional attempts to draw a crowd, others have over-swung the pendulum the other way and are almost ignoring guests as a badge of their spirituality. Both miss the mark, as hospitality is both deeply biblical and deeply spiritual.

We touch on hospitality in our new book, Creature of the Word. Here is a section taken from the book:

Every church sends a message with their strategy for hospitality. Those with no system for greeting new people, welcoming them, and pursing them in a loving way send the loudest message: “our theology has not affected how we treat you.” Clear signage and friendly people go along way in expressing God’s welcoming heart in a tangible way. Your context will dictate a lot about your hospitality, whether you train greeters to shake hands, hug necks, nod, or fist bump. But by all means, have a plan to express hospitality. Some of our reformed brothers need to understand that having a sign and friendly greeters to direct a new family to the children’s area is not doctrinal compromise. To the contrary, it can be an expression of doctrine beyond the pulpit.

Hospitality is included in the necessary qualifications for an overseer (1 Timothy 3:2) because hospitality is a direct and tangible link to the gospel. What has God done in the gospel if not welcome strangers? We were all strangers to the family of God and the household of faith. We were enemies, but God in His great mercy welcomed us. He has practiced hospitality toward us. Therefore, we must accept one another as Christ has accepted us (Romans 15:7).

When I consult churches with Auxano, we begin or conclude with an “anchor weekend” that includes an evaluation of the hospitality expressed to guests. Some of the things we look for are:

  • Are there signs in key decision places? Look at your worship service through the eyes of a first time guest. When a guest pulls into the parking lot, does he know where to park? That is a decision he needs help with. Are there signs helping him know where to go next? Help him decide where to walk. Are there signs pointing him to the children’s area and then the worship center/sanctuary? No signage is bad, but signage with too much information is overwhelming. Have clear and visible signs that direct people to the next point.
  • Are the right people in those same places? Signs can direct a guest, but only a person can shepherd a guest. Signs are important, but without people they feel cold and stale. It may be helpful to divide the first few minutes of a guest coming to the service into waves or sections and then staff with people appropriately: parking, outside greeters, inside greeters/ushers, etc. Sometimes churches view these roles as “anyone can do them” and thus they merely fill slots. For strategic hospitality, the right relationally savvy people with grace-filled hearts to welcome guests must serve in these critical roles. In other words, those roles are more important than we often realize.
  • Is there a central place to get information? Hopefully first-time guests will want to grab some additional information on the church. Be sure there is a clearly marked place where that can happen, and that gracious and knowledgeable people are there to serve.
  • How does the children’s space feel? Perhaps the most intimidating moment for a first time guest is dropping the children off in a new place with new people. If the only leaders in the room are un-engaged teenagers who just want to skip “big church,” a family will not be welcomed properly. The area should feel clean, safe, and properly staffed with consistent volunteers that love children. When the same leaders are in the childrens’ rooms each week, the children benefit from the consistency. They get a picture of faithfulness and are able to know and be known by godly adults who care.

When a church has a system to provide relational touches to guests, they reveal that hospitality is an important value to them. No system for hospitality reveals that biblical hospitality, in light of Christ’s welcoming of us, is not embedded in the culture of the church.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger serves as the Vice President of the Church Resource Division at LifeWay Christian Resources. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, playing with his daughters, and shooting basketball.

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COMMENTS

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Recent Comments
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
 
— Laurie
 
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 

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