I recently spent a few hours in a Starbucks in a large town far away from home doing some work for church and enjoying an exquisite Eggnog Latte. As always I positioned myself in a place that allowed me to watch the door. I saw that each and every person who entered immediately scanned the room before taking more than a few steps in. Many times they even stopped all together before entering. At first I thought they were looking for faces they knew, but then I realized that while that might be a part of it, they were really looking for something much more basic. They were looking for a welcome.
So I decided to do what I always do back home in my small town, I just began greeting everyone from my seat. To some I would say hello, to most I just offered a smile. And with the exception of one young man who may have already had too much caffeine, everyone smiled back some even took the time for a kindly good bye gesture upon leaving.
Of course as I thought about this experience I related this to church and business. I believe that we are fundamentally relational creatures we are all looking for a positive connection with others. (Though admittedly we all define positive connection differently.) So what does that mean for our churches and businesses?
1. We must ace hospitality.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers
-Hebrews 13:2 (NIV)
We have all heard the old axiom, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” And that is absolutely true. How many restaurants, churches, or businesses do you have filed in your “I’ll never go back there.” file? For many of us most of those places failed to impress us on our first experience. Even if you are blessed enough to get a second chance, a continual lack of hospitality will be the death knell of your organization.
2. Hospitality begins well before the front door.
It starts with your reputation...
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
-1 Peter 2:12
This is much more than PR or marketing, the church needs to be engaged in a positive way in the community. It is a part of our call to “GO”. Take some time and see where needs are in the community and do what you can to address them. The community at large will notice, pastor and author Shannon O’Dell even guarantees it will grow your church.
...and shines when they visit!
- Web: Your online presence is the front porch to the community, does it answer their questions, where are you located, when are your services, what can I expect, how should I dress?
- Parking Lot: Do people know where to park? Where the entrances are? Is there special guest parking?
- Signage: Do people know where the bathrooms are, where to check their kids in for children’s ministry, where they can find more information, someone to talk to, or leave a prayer request?
- Does your hospitality leave people feeling welcome and wanted or awkward and strange?
3. Hospitality isn’t just for new comers.
Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. John 13:35 (NLT)
People will plug into a church that excels in really loving one another more than they will at a church that has good music and worship. (Though I would argue that biblical teaching and Christ-honoring worship will lead people into love for God and each other which results in the best hospitality.) There is no better compliment a preacher can receive from a first time visitor than, "Wow this is the friendliest church I have ever been to!" If your church isn't friendly people won't feel the Spirit move them. If your business isn't welcoming, the products and services won't get noticed because people just want to get out. Great preaching and great music serve to attract people, but if the congregation fails to display love people will not feel compelled to make that church their home. It doesn’t always have to be about pondering the deepest theological questions. Simple fellowship based on affinity provides a natural platform for both friendship and evangelism. Work to provide opportunities for relational connection through small groups, service projects, parties, and be sure to display pictures and videos of church people together enjoying those events.
I ran across this video that tells a great story of how genuine people and hospitality can make a difference in a person's life. Pay attention to the feeling words he shares, and the looks on the faces of the people he interacts with.
Hospitality does make a difference, it opens both doors and hearts and can have just as powerful of an impact on the one practicing it as the one who receives. Hospitality doesn’t have to be expensive but it must be excellent. The last time I checked smiles, hand shakes, kind words, hugs and authenticity are free. Lead the way and empower your people to be great at hospitality!