Creating a Culture of Hospitality

What makes you feel welcome when you visit a place for the first time? What makes you want to come back again? Think about going to a store, a restaurant, a hotel…what are some of the hallmarks of a place that will keep you coming back? A friendly, warm greeting; attentiveness to your needs without being too pushy; clear directions and signage so you could find what you needed; a clean and hospitable environment – all these things would likely make your top ten list of places to which you would want to return.

Church Leadership Consultant Thom Ranier has worked with hundreds of churches in his career and provides great insight on how to create a welcoming culture for new visitors and guests to the church. Below are fourteen things that help make a church feel welcoming. Ranier says that Genuinely Friendly Churches (GFCs) have at least eleven of the fourteen items present in their church culture:

1. They are intentional about being friendly. Warmth and friendliness are clear values of theses churches. They are articulated regularly. All organizations, including churches, naturally drift toward an inward focus unless they are otherwise intentional.

2. The leaders model warmth, humility, and friendliness. The friendliness is not contrived or phony. These leaders have prayerfully become genuinely friendly men and women.

3. The leaders are clear that genuine friendliness is more than a brief stand and greet time in a worship service. The efficacy of a stand and greet time was debated extensively on this blog. Regardless of a church’s decision in this practice, leaders in GFCs were adamant that true hospitality and friendliness extends beyond a two-minute welcome time.

4. GFCs utilize a secret guest at least twice a year. One small church of which I am aware budgets $100 a year for a secret guest. They pay the guest with a $50 gift card to come to the church and provide feedback on their experience. I call this process “looking in the mirror” because it gives the church a real opportunity to see itself as others do.

5. GFCs had a guest friendly web site. The web site typically set the tone for a guest. If it did not have obvious information for a guest, such as worship times and addresses, the guest came to the church with a more negative disposition.

6. The church has clear signage. Far too many churches lack this signage. They assume that everyone knows where everything is. First-time guests know nothing about the church or its different facilities.

7. GFCs have a well-organized greeters’ ministry. They have greeters in the parking lot, greeters in the entrances, and greeters in other strategic locations inside. Many GFCs utilize newer members in this ministry.

8. These churches have clear information places. It may be something as simple as a well-marked table manned by a member of the church. The signage points clearly to the information table, booth, or kiosk.
GFCs have clean and neat buildings. It is amazing how much a clean facility adds to the positive mood of a guest. It is equally amazing how few churches pay attention to this issue.

9. They have a guest feedback process. To the best of their ability, GFCs follow up with guests to get feedback on their experiences. They also encourage the guests to be open and frank in the feedback.
The children’s area is clearly safe and sanitary. Don’t expect young parents to return if the church does not give clear attention to this matter.

10. The majority of church members in GFCs are involved in the community. They thus exude genuine friendliness in the worship services because they are regularly connecting with non-church members other days of the week.

11. Small groups are highly intentional about reaching people beyond their own groups. Thus when these group members are in a worship service, they are already accustomed to reaching out beyond those with whom they already have relationships.

12. GFCs have new member classes that emphasize the responsibilities and expectations of church members. Members are thus more apt to look beyond their own preferences to serve others. That attitude shows up in the worship services.

Imagine that you were coming to Burlington Presbyterian Church for the first time this Sunday. How many of the following things would you experience? Where do you see room for improvement? I welcome your comments and feedback. Let’s build up a culture of hospitality in order that we may welcome others in a genuine and intentional way, as a church family.

Peace, Pastor Trina

Everyone is Welcome

Everyone Is Welcome

This summer, Nelson and I made the decision to buy our first home together, after many years of renting. We are excited about moving into our new place in Framingham, and meeting our new neighbors, and getting to know the community in Elena’s new school as well. It has been a busy time, and one filled with all kinds of questions and some worries too. All this “newness” also brings with it some trepidation, as any big transition does. Will she like her school? Will we fit in? Will we find a warm welcome for our neighbors?

It has gotten me thinking a lot about the idea of “welcome,” of hospitality. It is something that was important to Jesus, as he often talked about widening the circle of welcome. Rules of etiquette and social hierarchy dictated who was “in” and who was “out” of social circles in Jesus’ day – and it might not be that different now! Table fellowship was shared with those of similar social status to oneself, with the expectation that you would be invited in kind. It was a mutually beneficial system, reinforcing who held the status, wealth and power, and who was kept out. But Jesus said, “When you give a banquet or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14)

As a church community, how do we widen the circle of welcome, as Jesus urges us to do? How can we be both a place of welcome for people to come, and people of welcome, who bring that spirit of inclusion into the places around us? One opportunity for us as a church family is in reaching out to new members of our surrounding communities. I have been particularly drawn to the needs of new refugee families being resettled in the Lowell area. In early September, the International Institute of New England expects to receive about 13 families, which is about 30% of their annual caseload. The IINE is in need of material supplies for furnishing new apartments, and volunteers to help the families feel comfortable in their new homes. There is an article in the newsletter detailing ways we can respond to the needs of these families.

We have a global community right here in our small church. On World Communion Sunday, October 2nd, I would love to celebrate our global heritage by representing our various and diverse cultures in worship. If you would like to participate by bringing a type of bread that is important to your culture; bringing a cloth for the communion table; wearing clothing that represents your heritage; or sharing some music with us, please let me know by September 25th. And let us seek to be a place where everyone is welcome, and everyone is included – for that is how the Kingdom of God is!

In God’s Love,

Pastor Trina

Christ’s light shining in the darkness

Dear BPC Members and Friends,
We’re moving into the season of Advent, and on November 29th we’ll light the first candle in our Advent Wreath. “Joy to the World” proclaims “let every heart prepare him room”, so the four Sundays in Advent—concluding on December 20—are special times for preparing our hearts, minds and homes for the birth of Jesus Christ.
Our worship during Advent, especially the lighting of the Advent candles, proclaims that the light of Christ shines in the world’s darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. As Isaiah proclaims, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.” In many different activities during December, the congregation will show forth Christ’s light as we touch the lives of many different people through our charitable activities such as the Wish Tree, the PJ’s and Underwear collection, the Christmas Joy Offering and so on.
In the midst of all the busy times of the Christmas season, it all comes back to whether we are truly preparing room in our hearts for the good news of Christ’s birth and the difference that following him makes in our lives. While much important work takes place at and through the Church, how we celebrate at home and open our hearts to the message of Christmas at home are vitally important, too. Can we find still points of peace during the hectic times of the holiday?
On Sunday, November 29, my sermon will focus on “Saints and Sinners: Jesus’ Family Tree.” We’ll look at the genealogy that Matthew gives us in the first part of his Gospel, and we’ll reflect on the fact that the genealogy is not comprised of just Saints. On the second Sunday of Advent, December 6, the sermon is “The Tree of Life”, inviting us to look at the symbolism of the Christmas tree down through the years.
On Sunday, December 13, members of the Women’s Bible Study Group will present a sermon in several voices, reflecting on who Jesus’ mother Mary was in the context of her times. Then on December 20, I’ll also do some reflecting on Mary and her “Pondering Heart”.
Advent and Christmas are so very familiar to us that perhaps we don’t think we’ll hear something new or learn something new about the familiar Christmas Story. I firmly believe that each one of us has something new—maybe several “something news” that God is inviting us to reflect on during this special time of the year.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and may God richly bless our preparation for and celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. The Peace of the Lord be with you!

Pastor Mike

Bad News / Good News

Dear BPC members and friends,
First, the bad news: on Sunday, November 1, sunset will be at 4:38. That’s always a jolt to my system.

The good news is that “the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” As November begins, we will celebrate All Saints Sunday on November 1, remembering the faithful who have witnessed to the light of Jesus Christ in their lives.

What is All Saints Day about? A recent Washington Post article on “5 Myths about Hallowe’en” tells us that “the origins of the holiday can be traced back to a pre-Christian Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced “SAH-wen”). For the Celts, Nov. 1 marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the new year. They believed that the souls of the dead mingled among the living at that time. And so they associated the fruits of the harvest with death, the afterlife and the supernatural.

Later, after Saint Patrick and other missionaries converted Ireland to Christianity, Nov. 1 became All Saints’ Day, or All Hallows Day, and the eve of All Hallows became known as Halloween. It featured feasts, the blessing of the hearth, and the lighting of candles and bonfires to welcome wandering souls. It was and remains a family celebration in Ireland.” My communion meditation for All Saints’ Sunday is “Dinner with Jesus and Uncle Charlie”.

Midway through November, I’ll be preaching a sermon entitled “Bethlehem or Bedlam”, inviting us to reflect on our Christmas celebrations and traditions while encouraging a simpler celebration of the holiday.

As November ends, we will begin lighting the candles in the Advent Wreath, as we prepare for our celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. The Light will indeed continue to shine in the darkness as we move forward through December to the shortest day of the year, followed quickly by Christmas. My sermons will look at Jesus’ family lineage, the meaning of the Christmas Tree, and two sermons focused on Mary’s role in the events of that first Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve we will light the Christ Candle during the church’s traditional Christmas Eve service with tableaux.

Even as the days get shorter and the sun sets earlier, there is much to be thankful for and much to celebrate! May the light of Christ shine through our every celebration.

The Peace of the Lord be with you,


New Beginnings

Dear BPC members and friends,

Our new church program year will be starting up on September 13, and the month of September will bring with it new opportunities for study, fellowship, and sharing.

Rally Day, September 13 will bring with it the start of a new Church School Year, as well as a new opportunity for study and sharing in the Adult Class. Starting September 13, I’m going to lead the Adult Class in a study on “The Power of Forgiveness”. We’ll be using a couple of different resources; one of them is a Public Broadcasting Service documentary entitled “The Power of Forgiveness”, which looks at the understanding of forgiveness from a number of religious traditions. Along with the video, we’ll also be using a book by Lewis Smedes, “Forgive and Forget”, a very pastoral look at the dynamics of forgiveness and its importance for our well being. Copies of Smedes’ book will be available for purchase beginning August 30.

Sunday, September 20 brings with it the annual Fall Luncheon, which will take a different form this year as it will be an International Pot-Luck Fall Luncheon, and it will include the kick-off for the church’s participation in the New Beginnings Mission Study process. Our consultant from New Beginnings will lead us in a time of sharing where we can identify what’s most important to us about our life together at BPC. Our preacher that day will be Boston Presbytery Resource Presbyter Cindy Kohlmann who has a very engaging preaching style which I know you will enjoy.

The New Beginnings process will ultimately result later in the fall with a series of “cottage meetings” which may take place at members’ homes and/or at the church. Those meetings will be designed to encourage our hopes and dreams for what the future of our church will look like, with each meeting group coming up with ideas for what our ministry can be in the future.

Brenda Flynn is chairing the church’s Mission Study Team, which will use the results of the New Beginnings process to put together a Mission Study document which will guide the church Pastoral Nominating Committee in its search for the next installed pastor of the congregation.

This fall will be an important time for the church to pull together, pray together, share together, dream together and work together as we discern God’s will for the congregation.

Worshipping together will be an especially important part of this journey as we pray for direction and guidance from above. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

The Peace of the Lord be with you, Mike

Who Are We? Who is our Neighbor? What is God calling us to do?

From the Interim Pastor:

In May I led a Session Retreat in which the Elders were asked to look at the mission and ministry of the church. Session members were invited to look at the life of the congregation through several “lenses”: Bible Study; the cultural context in 21st century America; Leadership Styles; Membership, Attendance, and Giving; and the Life Cycle of the Church.

It’s easy to recognize that the cultural context in which the Church is called to ministry has changed dramatically since the time of the church’s founding in 1962: Mainline decline shown in loss of membership across the country, the rise of the “Nones” (those with no religious affiliation), a shift in definition of “regular attendance” at church from what used to be 3 or 4 Sundays a month to perhaps two times or even one time a month; 90% of pastors wishing to make their own housing arrangements, whether owning or renting; and movement through what is called “The Life Cycle of the Congregation”.

Let’s focus on the Life Cycle for the moment. The Session and I looked at a model of church life cycles that I had learned at an Interim Ministry Workshop in Florida. Other models use terminology like “Start, Incline, Recline, Decline, and Death” to cover the stages of a congregation’s life cycle. Those words are a bit mechanical, so we used a model which compared a living congregation to a living human being. The broad stages are Birth, Growth, Prime, Redevelopment or Revitalization, and Aging.

In looking at the internal life of a congregation, there are four main areas that contribute to a church’s vitality: Vision (Purpose, Core Values, Mission); Relationships (Experiences, Discipleship); Programs (Events, Ministry, Services, Activities); and Management (Accountability, Systems, Resources).

At the start of any church’s life, Vision is paramount: Who Are We? Who is our Neighbor? What is God calling us to do? This grows into Relationships and Programs, along with Maintenance, and a church at its prime of “Adulthood” is characterized as VRPM—all cylinders are firing, and everything is strong.

As with any living organism, the church can change, and as something becomes less of a priority or less of a stated purpose, it gets characterized by a “small v” or “small r” or “small p” or a “small m”. As a church moves past its mature peak, more letters are in lower case.

Working independently, two groups of elders each came up with the same conclusion of where BPC is at this point in its ministry: vRpM. Relationships are important, as is Maintenance, but vision and program have suffered. The Elders all agreed that some degree of revitalization is necessary for the church.

The Presbyterian Church in Burlington is indeed a living, breathing organism with a rich history, but there are issues to be faced as the congregation seeks to live up to its full potential. The Session’s evaluation leads to the conclusion that new work has to be done on Vision and Program to restore some of the vitality of previous years.

This is the point at which you, the members of the church come in. Session will be making a final decision on July 15 on what the Mission Study we are required to do will look like. No matter what shape the Mission Study takes, your input, your opinions, your thoughts, your prayers, your concerns are all necessary to helping the church plan for the future under a new pastor. The church must re-establish its vision and begin to rebuild some of its program, and put all that in writing, which will be the basis upon which the pastoral search is conducted. Essentially, this is the church saying to potential pastors: “This is who we are and what we feel God is calling us to do. Do you want to be a part of this and share your gifts to help us pursue our calling?”

When the Mission Study rolls out in the fall, in whatever form it takes, be assured that you will be an important part of that, and your participation is absolutely necessary to help us discern God’s will for the future of the Presbyterian Church in Burlington. Stay tuned for more word from the Session as the summer continues………

The Peace of the Lord be with you,


The Ascension of Christ & next pastoral steps

Dear BPC Members and Friends,

On the liturgical calendar, we’re still in the Easter season, celebrating the Apostle Paul’s declaration in Romans that “Christ Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of God, so that we too might walk in newness of life.” Before the month of May is finished, we will be celebrating Pentecost, when the gathered Church in Jerusalem received the power of the Holy Spirit.

Tucked in between Easter and Pentecost is the Ascension of Christ. To be honest, for most Presbyterians the Ascension is often overlooked, and not given the attention it probably deserves. In the Acts of the Apostles, which is the second volume of Luke’s history, he writes, “So when [the apostles] had come together, they asked him ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times of period that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The apostles are asking the time honored question that parents often hear from the back seat of the car, “Are we there yet?” ☺ To which Jesus answers, “not exactly”, in fact “you have work to do in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.”

At BPC, the equivalent question that is asked is “When will we elect a Pastor Nominating Committee and search for a new pastor?”, and the answer is “we have work to do…” on a Mission Study. Boston Presbytery, through its Committee on Ministry, has shared its wisdom, based on experience across the denomination, that any church after a long term pastorate should take its time before jumping into a Mission Study. Well, the time is now and we will be moving forward. The first step will be a Session retreat on May 2, the formation of a Study Team, and then information gathering and planning for events in the fall. The basic questions we will be asked to answer are “Who are we? Who is our neighbor? What is God calling us to do?” We’ll look at internal and external Strengths, Weaknesses, Threats and Opportunities as you set a vision for what you hope the new installed pastor will help BPC accomplish, with God’s help. We’ll identify how “being witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth” translates into BPC’s context. Here’s a hint: Jerusalem? This is us. It is the people who are already here as members and participants of this congregation. These are the people whose names we know, whose faces we recognize. We are comfortable with these people. But God’s call doesn’t stop there—the mission we are called to begins as we leave the church each Sunday.

In the coming weeks my preaching will focus on the Acts of the Apostles and lessons we can learn from the early Church as they asked and answered these kinds of questions. Perhaps we can have some discussion/feedback times after those sermons as we take those first steps into the future that God is calling us to.

In Luke’s report on Jesus’ Ascension, he writes, “While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Jerusalem, why do you stand looking up to heaven? The next chapter begins in Jerusalem…….