My family and I attended a church service in a Christian faith tradition completely different than what we are used to.
We learned 3 important lessons for hospitality committees at churches.
As we tried to participate in their church service at their personal invitation, we felt so out of place.
The order of service, communal prayers, and liturgical responses were completely different from anything I had experienced before.
The one room church structure was simple. The rain falling on the metal roof was muffled by the exposed insulation, causing it to sound like the quiet hiss of a sound system with a loose cable.
The building was clean and comfortable. The pews had kneelers, which my son had never seen before. He thought they were foot rests. A few times, I needed to remind him of what they were.
The 40 or so people all around us were smiling and talking with each other.
Other than the people who invited us, we didn’t have much interaction with other members.
The liturgy was beautiful. It announced the good news of Christ throughout. Sermon included elements of the gospel proclamation of Jesus Christ.
The order of service included elements of liturgy that were sung, recited, chanted, and “call and responses” from the congregation.
People around me knew when to sit, stand, kneel and say a well known prayer that many had memorized.
Here is where the church visitor got lost.
Here is where I felt the most out of place.
I didn’t know their memorized recited prayers (except the Lord’s prayer).
I didn’t know their liturgical responses or the timing of when I was supposed to respond.
There was no
- prayer book available that I could follow,
- no church bulletin or program to guide me,
- no words on a screen to help me participate.
When communion (Lord’s supper) came, I listened for an invitation about whether guests are invited to participate.
I know that some Christian traditions want members only, believers only, or have some limit on who may take communion. Since I wasn’t sure, I listened for the invitation that never came, so we chose to sit out.
It was awkward.
We felt out of place.
My son often asked what was happening when prayers were offered in unison. All we could say is the church members are reciting prayers they have known for a long time.
When I asked my daughter what she experienced, she shyly said “I just stayed quiet.”
After the service
When the service was over, I expected to see the pastor mingling with the people and maybe a chance to shake his hand. But he was nowhere to be found after the service.
When it was time to walk to the fellowship hall for the reception afterwards (in a different building), church ushers escorted people one at a time under the cover of a big umbrella, as the rain was still falling. (The umbrellas were a huge blessing!)
We enjoyed the reception and the chance to interact with people.
In fact, we stayed quite a while as we began to meet people and visit with them.
3 Church Hospitality Lessons for Hospitality Committees
1. Visit other churches. It is an exercise in empathy.
Have your hospitality committee members visit a Christian faith tradition other than your own.
Go by yourself, uninvited.
Do not take the entire welcome committee when you can be surrounded by people you know. Go alone, or only with your family like I did.
Make a note of when you feel uncomfortable, awkward, disoriented, lost, out of place, or uncomfortable.
Think about what could be done to alleviate those feelings if a visitor came to your church.
In this experience, a church bulletin with written prayers for me to follow would have minimized much of the awkwardness I felt in not being able to participate.
Learn to think like a visitor by developing empathy for their experience.
2. Regularly review your welcome experience.
As a hospitality committee, discuss the flow of the primary worship service through the eyes of a first time guest.
Start from when your guests first enter your parking lot (or nowadays your website) and think through every step they take through the moment they leave your parking lot.
You might see gaps or unintentional barriers you have created to prevent your visitors from desiring to come back.
I suggest once a quarter at a minimum, but you may choose to do something more informal every week with the mentality of continual process improvement.
In this experience, a review might have helped them see that
- They have guests
- Guests need some guidance
3. Plan some kind of visitor reception afterwards where connections can start to form.
You should plan some kind of reception afterwards and make sure your guests know where it is.
Your members should be encouraged to talk with people they don’t know and take the time to visit with your guests.
Your teaching pastor that morning should be there to be visible and available for guests to talk with if your guests so desire.
People don’t look for a friendly church. They look for a church where they can make friends. A short reception time after the morning service provides the space for conversation to naturally occur.
Not every guest will visit, but many will.
Provide tables and chairs to allow people to sit and talk if they so choose.
In our experience, the reception afterwards gave us a chance to get to know people. We sat around tables and talked with people. That time overcame those feelings of awkwardness generated by the morning service.
Why bother with the effort to print a bulletin?
Some might object:
Why bother printing a a version of the liturgy? Everyone knows the liturgy!
That attitude reflects a lack of concern for the church visitor who might be making their own effort to attend your service for the first time.
It reflects a lack of evangelistic vision and an exclusive inward focus.
I know that producing a paper copy of the liturgy, or even getting a liturgy into power point for display is effort and work.
But making that effort can reap evangelistic rewards if your church visitor comes back and keeps returning while they are seeking Christ.
An apathetic short cut to skip the bulletin can leave your visitor feeling awkward, out of place, and disinterested in returning to your church.
What if there is no time or space for a reception?
You might attend a large church where the sheer amount of people makes a visitor reception an unlikely proposition. Here is what I’ve seen:
- Your next steps center is the place where connections can start.
- A cafe of some kind with seating spaces create a place where people can linger or start.
- Seating areas in your lobby (or narthex) can create some of those conversational spaces.
Want to Improve your Hospitality?
I’ve put together a free tutorial. There you can also sign up for further email information on hospitality ministry.
If you are a new leader in your church’s hospitality or welcome ministry, this recorded class will help you get started in preparing for the upcoming season of welcome.
Here is what you can expect to learn in this 90 minute webinar (recorded narrated presentation):
1. The Two Best Measurements of Effective Hospitality
2. The Master Word that will Help You Find and Remove Hidden Faults
3. 7 Areas to Form Your Action Plan