Something that is on my mind right now because of the Christmas season is hospitality.
Here’s why: most of our churches will serve a bunch of guests this holiday season.
Last year, we served something like 25% more people on Christmas weekend than normal. I’m guessing your experience will be similar.
Many of these people only show up at church once or twice a year. These people often identify as Christian but are not connected in any meaningful way to a community of Jesus followers.
This is a huge opportunity!
How do we get these people reconnected?
Well, it all starts with how they feel about their experience. If their experience is relational, warm and inviting, they may just desire to reconnect.
If not...they probably won’t.
What we’re talking about here is hospitality.
And yes, of course, the message of the Gospel connecting with the hearts of people is of utmost importance but we don’t have much control there do we?
We can’t cause people’s hearts to be moved - that’s God’s work.
However, what we can control is much of what a guest experiences. So, let’s talk about how to improve hospitality.
1. Hospitality Is Experienced Online
Here’s something that you may find surprising.
A guest’s first experience of hospitality often happens online - either in interacting with your website or with your social media.
It starts with visiting your website to discover your location or service times. And, this often happens on their mobile device.
Think about this: a person’s opinion about your church begins to be shaped by their online experience with your church weeks or days before they even pull into your parking lot.
In other words, a guest already has an opinion before they walk in your doors.
This means that we need to think about how a person experiences your church online.
1. Is your website up to date?
2. Is it visually attractive?
3. Is the information accurate?
4. Is it easy to connect through the website?
5. Does your website function well on a mobile device?
6. What about your church’s Facebook or Instagram? Do they represent your church well and are they the front door to your church that you desire?
These questions are important because a guest’s opinion of your church is being formed before they even show up.
2. Hospitality Is Experienced In The Parking Lot
Think back to a time when you were running late to a meeting or an event.
Due to your tardiness, you were already feeling stressed. Then, you arrived and there were no available parking spots close to the building.
You drove around in circles for a full 5 minutes until you found a spot far away.
Now, add three cranky kids in the backseat and a spouse who is critiquing your parking skills and we have captured what it feels like to show up at a new church.
If your parking lot experience is chaotic, confusing or just too full, understand that a guest is likely walking into your church with a host of negative feelings already swirling around in their mind and heart.
It’s hard to fall in love with a church when you’re stressed and frustrated.
Guests experience hospitality, or the lack of hospitality, in the parking lot.
Maybe there is something your church needs to do here, maybe not.
All I’m saying is that a guest is already making decisions on whether or not he or she will come back before even walking in the door.
3. Hospitality Is Experienced In Warmth
This year, our church is participating in a Growing Young Cohort with the team at Fuller Youth Institute. If you’re interested in the content, the experience is based on the research behind this book:
One of the core ideas in this book is that young people - that is 18-29 year olds, experience hospitality most vividly in warmth.
Young people desire a warm and authentic experience in church. By this, we mean smiles, hellos, relationships and connections.
And so, a big part of improving hospitality is becoming warmer as a church.
Something that might help is a practice that we have adopted at our church.
It’s called the 5-15 Rule.
We didn’t invent it, but the idea is that when you are 15 feet away from someone, smile. And, when you are within 5 feet of someone, say hello.
It’s simple but it might help as you seek to become a warmer church.
4. Hospitality Is Experienced In Kids Ministry
Chances are the guests that show up to your church this Christmas season will have kids.
Research shows that people who walk away from church as young adults often return when they have children. Your Christmas guests might fall into this category.
Here’s the thing about having kids: There is no way that you will make a church your home church if you don’t love the Kids ministry.
If this is true, then one of the most important facets to hospitality is having a great Kids ministry.
A few thoughts to help take things to the next level:
1. How’s your signage? Would a new family have any trouble finding the right places for their kids?
2. Is safety and security for children obvious and intentional?
3. Is the welcome area for Kid’s Ministry warm and inviting? Is there someone there to give guests a quick tour and guide parents to the right classroom?
The most important part of your church for a family with kids is probably a warm and welcoming environment for them. One way you can show great hospitality this Christmas season is through your Kids Ministry.
5. Hospitality Is Experienced From The Stage
The last aspect of hospitality that I want to mention is how people experience your church from the stage.
Years ago, our senior pastor experienced something that forever changed the way he and anyone else in our church communicated from the stage.
His neighbor showed up at church - his unchurched neighbor who knew nothing about the Bible and what you’re supposed to do at church.
As he was communicating from the stage that day, our senior pastor realized that this guy was totally lost for most of the service.
And so, from that day until this one, we have tried our best to be hospitable from the stage.
Here are a few ways we do this:
1. When we share an announcement about Lifeline, we say, “Lifeline is our ministry to middle school and high school students.”
2. When we say that a certain event is happening in “The Studio” we say, “The Studio is one of our worship venues upstairs."
3. When we begin a sermon, we show a slide of the table of contents of the Bible and show where the book is located.
4. When we talk about the Apostle Paul, we explain who he was and why he mattered.
5. When we talk about the book of Philippians, we show where Philippi was in the ancient world.
I think you see what I mean.
To be clear, we don’t dumb down our messages, make them less challenging or become “seeker sensitive.”
However, we do seek to be hospitable.
It’s kind of like when a friend joins a conversation between you and another friend and you are part way through a story. If you are any sort of hospitable, you catch the newcomer up on the details of the story.
That’s exactly what we are trying to do for guests at our church.
So, if you want to be hospitable toward your guests this Christmas (and really always), I would recommend asking a simple question about everything you communicate: Is this hospitable?
Well there you go. Christmas is coming and so are your guests...therefore, hospitality matters this holiday season.
I hope this has been helpful. As always, feel free to share your own ideas on this topic or ask a question in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!