There are the things we say and then there are the things we do.
You know how this goes.
When your significant other says,
“I’m not mad at you.”
But their hands are clenched and their face is purple.
"I’m pretty sure you are furious with me right now.”
The thing about hospitality for many churches is that we say to guests,
“We’re so glad that you’re here!”
But, what we don’t say communicates much more loudly,
“Yeah, we kinda wish you hadn’t showed up.”
If I’m a guest at a church, I’m subconsciously asking a few questions as I pull into your parking lot and eventually walk through your doors.
If you answer these questions well, I’m likely to return.
If not...well, not so much.
1. Are You Glad I’m Here? Show Them
If I drive right by your church and have to turn around because the sign was tucked away or confusing...
If I pull into your parking lot and can’t find a spot...
If I have to open the door to your church with my own hands and no one is at the entrance or in the airlock to greet me...
If I have to wander around the church building looking for the children’s ministry and the auditorium...
If this is how it goes, it doesn’t really matter to me when someone from the stage says,
“If you’re a guest, we’re so glad you’re here!”
I don’t believe you because everything leading up to those words communicated that you’re actually not happy that I’m here.
Often, church guests feel like they might be an inconvenience to the regulars.
2. Do You Know I’m Here? Speak to Them
When I was a kid, my sister and I used to play a mean game.
One sister and I would pretend that our younger sister wasn’t actually there.
We’d talk about her as if she weren’t in the room.
When she talked, we'd say things like,
“Did you hear something? Weird. I feel like I heard something. Huh. Must be nothing.”
Yeah, that was mean.
About a year ago, we hired a consultant to do a secret-shopper type review of our weekend services.
We got a lot of encouraging feedback from this experience but one point of critique opened our eyes to a problem.
Of all the services that our consultant attended at all of our different campuses, only one or two people said hello to him in our atriums.
Now, to be clear, he was greeted at the entrance but basically no one talked to him in the atrium.
This leads to a sense of
“Do you even know I’m here?”
This can also happen from the stage.
If guests are never greeted from the stage.
If the worship leader never says,
“This song might be new to you...”
And if the pastor speaks as if everyone in the audience has been attending for 20 years and has their Bible memorized, well, people start to wonder if you even know if they are there.
3. Do You Love This Place? Care for Details
Actions speak louder than words.
If I tell you that I love my car—that’s it’s the best car I’ve ever owned but when I pick you up at the carpool lot and my car is filled with McDonald’s wrappers, a wad of gum is stuck in a cup holder and there’s an inch of dust on the dashboard, you’re probably thinking,
“I kind of feel bad for the stuff you love! What happens when you don’t like something?!?”
Here’s the deal: Cleanliness, order and upkeep send a powerful message.
A question I’m asking when I visit a church is,
“Do you love this place?”
“Do you love this place to the level that you care how it looks, smells and feels?”
All I’m saying is that the condition of your bathrooms might communicate more clearly than the welcome from the stage and the cleanliness and order of your nursery room might say more than the welcome packet you hand out at guest services.
Every guest is asking questions.
How we answer these questions through the experience will determine whether or not they come back and the stories they tell about your church to the people in their lives.
This matters because we carry the message of Jesus.
If you’re looking for a helpful next step in this area, I always recommend inviting the perspective of an outsider—whether that is a secret shopper, a friend from a different church who doesn’t mind sharing honest feedback, or a consultant, consider inviting an outside voice.
I hope this has been helpful. Thanks for reading. We’d love to hear your thoughts on hospitality in the comments below.