Philosophical and Practical Ideas
CHURCH HOSPITALITY – TWELVE ESSENTIAL STEPS
Please think about each of the twelve steps below and prayerfully consider how you can contribute to the hospitality of our church and those who visit us.
1. Spruce up the Front Door
No one joins a church he or she has not visited.
If individuals cannot find information about you (in advertisements, your Website, or the telephone directory), or locate your congregation (through physical signage), they will not feel welcome.
Make sure the front page of your Website offers a welcome, has your address and telephone number, and offers plainly accessible directions and maps.
2. Invite People You Know
Researchers have found an amazing statistic about who will come to your congregation: They have learned that when friends or acquaintances ask a person to come with them to a service, about 90% of persons without a church home will do so then or sometime in the future.
Yes, that is nine out of ten persons.
Therefore, based on the research if each member invited three persons a year to a congregation with a good membership program, one of the three would become a member.
3. Send “Welcome” Signals
Many newcomers have never belonged to any church community before.
Do not presume they know what to do or where to go.
Greeters should be in place and ready to say hello to everyone, paying particular attention to those they do not recognize.
Greeters should offer orders of service and explain that “this paper tells you about today’s service”.
They should also invite newcomers to stay for coffee and conversation.
4. See As A Visitor Does
The appearance of your church reflects the value the religious community places on its members.
Dusty corners, drab or peeling paint, broken fixtures, and cluttered corners say, “What happens here must not be very important”.
Today’s church seeker feels most at home in a church that is most like where he or she works and receives other services.
Select a task force of self-identified “neat freaks” to identify problem areas, plan better out-of-sight storage and select spots for paint or repair.
Make an annual date when all members stay after service to clean and repair.
Have a party at the end.
Above all, make sure the entrance to church facilities sends a message of warmth, cleanliness, and taking church seriously.
5. Speak the language of Newcomers
Services are often filled (cluttered) with announcements, requests for volunteers, and inside jokes where only first names are used and everyone is expected to know acronyms.
Screen all announcements with an awareness of visitor comfort and understanding.
6 Make Every Member a Host
After newcomers pass the initial greeter, they are at the mercy of the congregation.
Whether or not newcomers see themselves as responsible for continuing the practice of hospitality is what determines most whether a visitor will return.
Members should introduce themselves to their new neighbours before the service.
Then they should invite and offer to escort any newcomer to coffee and make at least one introduction of an existing member to newcomers.
7 Follow the Rule of the Two Tens
Research has shown that the first and second most important times in determining whether a visitor will return are, respectively, the ten minutes just after the service and the ten minutes just before the service. It is at these times that most visitors expect welcomes, introductions, conversation and graciousness. Visitors who are not invited into conversation with members are unlikely to return.
8 Ask Visitors to Come Again
Visitors report that the single act of a member inviting them to return is a powerful incentive – but there is one caveat. If the visitor returns and the person who invited them is present but does not say hello, it causes disillusionment in the visitor. The visitor quite rightly concludes that the person extending the invitation did not mean it sincerely.
So in asking visitors to return, members must make notes and do what it takes to recognise returnees. A simple “How nice to see you again” will make the difference. Another very welcoming option is to invite a newcomer (someone who has visited more than once) to a church event as your guest. You could even pick the visitor up and bring him or her to the church with you.
9 Follow Up
Following up with visitors should be standard practice in all congregations. Typically, you will need to send a note within 48 hours. This practice coincides with research findings that most visitors will plan whether or not to attend a church on Wednesday. Most congregations send these notes only after a first visit, but newcomers may appreciate a different type of note or card after second visits as well.
The initial notes should not come from the minister but from a layperson. In general, visitors feel that notes from laypersons are more genuine. Beyond receiving a note, visitors most likely to return will positively regard a call from a member on Wednesday or Thursday; someone the visitor has met is best.
10 Involve New Members
Doing a good job of welcoming people in the front door is meaningless if they drift out the back door. Members need help belonging, finding ways to get involved, and meeting other members.
In all programs, new members should have reserved spots and be recruited to participate.
Small group ministry (covenant groups), classes, discussion groups, circle suppers, picnics, committees and board should all have opportunities for new members where both the input of “fresh eyes” and the opportunity to meet the congregation intersect. This involvement incorporates the new members into the life of the congregation, providing support in the transition that is part of moving into membership.
Congregations that understand the transition and continue their intentional welcoming beyond the moment of “signing the book” will find that their members stay with them and become involved at much greater rates than congregations without a membership plan.
11 Maintain Outreach
Outreach is communication with the larger community outside the congregation. Outreach is all the programs, communications, invitations, witnesses and ministry where persons who are not from the congregation encounter your church.
Many of the speakers, classes, fundraisers, and services to community should be open to the public. The congregation should cultivate a public presence and be known to stand for liberal religious values.
When members of the larger community think of your congregation, will they:
- Know anything about it?
- Have regard for your service to the community?
- Have regard for your hospitable ways?
12 Each One Teach One
Share what you learn to do well. Conduct workshops in the district. Mentor smaller congregations. Spread the word, and offer your congregation as a resource to others who are eager to establish themselves as radically hospitable and welcoming to newcomers.