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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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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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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