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

Upcoming events

Dear Burlington Church Family,

“Hospitality Sunday” – Join us this week as we share in Christ’s hospitality.
Joyful worship at 10:30 a.m.
Annual Fall Lunch for everyone immediately after! Why not invite a friend?

Christian Education – We’re off to a lively start.
Sunday classes for Kindergarten through Senior High (10:30 a.m.)
Adult Study Group (9:15 a.m.) has just started talking about a new book –
What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? (A Guide to
What Matters Most). Plenty of time to get involved!

Have a blessed weekend!

Rod and Linda (in the church office)

Two Vintage Sermons

One of MY New Years resolutions is to get back in the habit of posting the sermons on the website. I must admit, I might feel more inspired about it if I knew anyone LISTENED to the sermons I post, so if you happen to enjoy these (or even think they’re a good idea) please make a comment on this post and let me know!

These sermons are from June, I think.
Sermon 1: Confrontation in a vineyard

Sermon 2: A bridge not a barrier

Christ goes in the guise of a stranger

Hospitality Basics

A Celtic Rune of Hospitality

We saw a stranger yesterday,
We put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place,
Music in the listening place,
And, with the sacred name of the triune God,

He blessed us and our house,
Our cattle and our dear ones,
As the lark says in her song:
Often, often, often, goes Christ in the
stranger’s guise.

Are we ready for guests?

Every church wants to be known as a friendly church, of course. But the reality goes much deeper. To extend a true welcome, the hospitality of Christ, is to do all that is possible to make a place for every one who comes seeking a spiritual home.

The new season will bring guests our way. Let’s be sure we’re prepared with the basics:

  • A church that looks fresh and cleaned as though prepared for company
  • Greeters at the door—always
  • The front entryway as “the welcome zone” on Sunday mornings (the job of any member there is to say hello to everyone who comes in the door—other discussions should take place around the corner in the hallway)
  • Every member feeling equipped to introduce themselves to visitors and offer to give directions, answer questions, and invite to coffee hour
  • To give us a chance to brush up on our basics, the Hospitality Committee is planning for sometime in early fall to provide all worshipers with our “Guidelines” piece on being a welcoming church.

    The committee will also be reviewing the use of the sample church “business cards” provided in the spring so that members may have a resource to hand any acquaintance as part of an invitation to our church.

    “As you have done it to the least of these my brothers and sisters you have done it to me.”

    Enjoy these golden days of late summer!