It’s old news that most institutional churches consider themselves to be friendly. Merely “friendly churches” are dinosaurs. (And honestly, we aren’t as friendly as we think we are. I’m talking to you First Church on the Hill.)
We need to teach hospitality skills to our people. I realize that this will offend many of our long time church members who believe they are already excellent at this. We are not. Even as a Presbytery staffer, I have experienced worshiping with people who don’t even look at me, much less tell me where coffee hour is.
But it’s not enough to say that we could be friendlier.
We need to equip nuts and bolts hospitality skills to everyone in our congregation – not so much because we want to treat each other well within the confines of Church World. The point is that we want to model hospitality outside the walls of the church. We just hone our skills on Sunday mornings with each other and those who visit as we worship together.
Some basic suggestions that show it’s about The Other (and not about us):
- Teach church members to introduce themselves to guests and then walk them to coffee hour after worship. Just announcing that there’s coffee after worship isn’t enough. Sometimes it’s hard to find where people are gathering- especially if it’s served down the hall or in the basement.
- Teach people how to get to know a guest for the sake of getting to know the guest. This is not about pouncing on visitors in the hunt for fresh meat. This is about being authentically interested in God’s children. Show members how to introduce themselves and then find out three things about this new person.
- Create a culture of inclusion and invitation. If a small group of people is going to brunch after worship, encourage them to seek out someone who seems to be new or alone or really hungry and invite that person to come along. Church is not a private club. We are a community of people grappling together with issues of faith and life and new people also like to grapple. Over food. Especially look out for a) middle aged women who are often invisible, b) people who don’t look like you, and c) parents who look like they could use a nice salad while someone helps with their toddler.
- Meet people in the parking lot with smiles (and umbrellas, if it’s raining) and walk them into the building. Make sure they have what they need: a coat hanger, the nursery, a bulletin or program. Connect them to someone else (“Judy, this is Steve”) before you leave them to return to the parking lot to greet someone else.
- Ask the young mothers of your congregation to come up with a list of helpful tips for those who wish to visit after the birth of a child. And then share this list with all those who sign up to take a meal to a family with a new baby. New moms will tell you the truth: please don’t bring casseroles in your best china, please don’t stay more than 10 minutes, please don’t make comments about the new mom’s housekeeping or personal appearance. In my former parish, we found that some well-intentioned visitors – especially those who had not had a baby lately – had no idea how to visit a new mom. The problem is that they thought they did.
What hospitality skills do you teach in your congregation? If our churches have a culture of learning – including learning genuine hospitality – we’ll become a really different kind of community.