I was an associate pastor in a small church. We had to carefully manage every dime received through the offering plate.
During lean seasons, we had to question every expense in the budget.
Sometimes we’d question the value of spending money on coffee and snacks after the morning service. Our pastor prided himself on his thrifty Scottish heritage and often looked for ways to not spend money if there was no value received.
Should our church have spent precious gifts from our members on little food items to have a small fellowship time after church?
Was it worth the effort to buy napkins, cups, plates?
Did the pastry matter?
Pastor, I liked your sermon
Our church had a reception in room right off the sanctuary. Guests were invited every Sunday to visit with us and maybe even share a prayer request.
One Sunday, an immigrant approached me after the service. She had grabbed her cup of coffee and sweetened it with sugar. Then grabbing a fresh pastry, she asked me to join her at the table.
“Pastor, I like your sermon,” she said in accented English.
I felt a nudge of the Holy Spirit that put me on alert that God was wanting to do something.
“Tell me more,” I invited.
She began to tell me about how listening to my sermons answered some of her questions, how easy they were to understand. She told me how she was learning about God and what it meant to start following Jesus.
As I listened, the nudge of the Holy Spirit felt heavier. It felt stronger. Perhaps something like what Phillip might have felt before talking with the Ethiopian Eunuch.
We had a napkin handy, so I drew out the illustration there.
When I finished and asked her where she would put herself on that diagram, she indicated that she was ready to trust in Jesus. With that open door, I led her in a prayer of dedication, offering her life to the Lord and inviting him to come in.
A few months later, she took baptism and got involved in an international student ministry to help other immigrant students discover Jesus.
Did the pastry make the difference?
A fellowship time after our service in a small church provided a context for a life changing conversation to occur.
This young lady had been listening to sermons, visiting with church members after the service, and developed enough trust to talk about issue on her mind.
The fellowship time provided the context.
Without that context, she might not have stayed.
Without that staying on a regular basis, she might not have surrendered her life that day.
Did the pastry we paid for make the difference? Of course not.
But the food, fellowship, and the coffee created a relational context for her life to change.
Anecdotal evidence suggests food and beverage gives a person a greater willingness to linger and may help set a comfort level that can create a conversational context.
In my church visitor assimilation seminar (now available for download), one item I focus on why you need some kind of lingering space after the worship service.
A reception helps your small church ministry
A visitor reception like this is one of my top six ways to follow up on a first time church visitor. Don’t go cheap. Allow your church hospitality committee to spend the money on this reception.
In my current church, the reception after the service often allows people to stay for another hour (and sometimes 2) after the service is over.
- Conversations happen.
- Connections are made.
- Relationships built.
- People pray for one another.
Enough relationships are established that second and third visits happen.
If you are leading a small church, you’ll need to create some kind of relational space for newcomers to get to know you. A reception immediately after the service creates that space.
Your guests can
- choose to stay and visit,
- sit with a friendly church member and
- start a conversation that may lead to that second visit.
Not every guest will take you up on it. Some will be in a hurry to leave.
But others will choose to linger, to learn more about your church, maybe even to seek out someone to pray with. Make sure your church greeters are looking for people who might be newcomers.
I have concluded that the funds for a small reception like this are untouchable, and should be increased.
Your reception should have quality beverages, quality snack items, and well made coffee.
Spend the money on table cloths, tables, and chairs to give your guests and members a place to sit. That’s what one church welcome committee did with their hospitality budget.
Outreach to visitors is not a place to be tight on budget. That is part of your evangelism budget – but that’s my biased opinion.
Check out this church hospitality resource
How to Welcome Church Visitors is a compilation of several hospitality articles all in one place formatted into one eBook.
It is for church hospitality committees, leaders, and greeters that need to get a fresh vision for welcoming the visitor who comes to your church as well as practical steps to get started.
If you are in a hurry, without enough time to read all the hospitality articles here, get your copy of How To Welcome Church Visitors.