Most pastors understand the importance of projecting church hospitality, but what has to happen for a visitor to really feel welcome?
The subject of church hospitality was on my mind recently. I’d heard about a new church’s plans to bring in an expert on the subject to discuss how to be hospitable.
I was unable to attend the meeting, so I don’t know exactly what was talked about. That doesn’t change the fact that I would have been curious to hear.
Introverts like me experience difficulty sometimes feeling welcome. It’s not that people at churches aren’t police. Most churches station greeters at every door.
But that initial hello doesn’t do enough in and of itself…at least not for someone like me.
I’ve attended churches where the greeter does his or her job. They hand out the bulletins for the church service. They even point out the way to the sanctuary.
But once inside, you may well find that no one else speaks to you. The exception comes when the worship leader commands everyone to greet a random number of people around them. Sometimes, congregants will be instructed to greet with a phrase like, “God loves you” or “I’m glad you’re here.”
For an introvert like me, that’s not fellowship. It’s forced interaction. It’s not remotely genuine.
I suppose, since it’s so common these days, that other people must not see it that way. But then I suppose most people aren’t introverted to the extent I am.
I’m the first to admit that I’m not good at hospitality.
Years ago, I took a church test designed to determine my “spiritual gifts.” The idea is that everyone has some amount of gifts that can be used to God’s glory in a church setting. I don’t disagree with that notion.
My top spiritual gift, the test said, was “creative communications.” Well, I must say I was pleased about that since that’s exactly what I do for a living. Discernment was high on the list. That’s the gift of being able to determine right from wrong or at least the best course of action.
The gift of serving was also high on the list, and at the time, I did serve at a church on a tech team.
What came in at the absolute bottom for me was hospitality. I’ve never been the one who had people visit my home; I always visited theirs. I guess this result was an extension of my own discomfort with visitors.
Fortunately, no one ever placed me in charge of church hospitality!
But what does it really take?
The Gospel Coalition said it’s about “meeting, welcoming, listening to, and loving people.” I can do all of those things. In fact, I’m a great listener and I do try to help. But I’m also the kind who occasionally needs someone to listen to me.
But when I’m a visitor to a church, there are certain things I hope for and others I absolutely dread.
Years ago, I attended a church where visitors were recognized. The congregation was asked to stand in honor of any first or second-time visitors, who were asked to remain seated. Everyone was then urged to greet and welcome those who didn’t stand.
On the surface, it was a nice gesture. But if you were one of those visitors, it felt awkward because these were strangers who, again, were greeting you because they were instructed to do so.
As uncomfortable as it might have been, I’ve come to realize church hospitality is about a lot more than people speaking to you.
It’s about small details like signs that direct people to parking. Once visitors make it inside, additional signs can direct them to information or where to find coffee or restrooms.
It can be about a lot more than people, though people still carry most of the burden.
The hardest part about church hospitality is making people feel welcome without making it feel like you’re following a script.