Hospitality was key part of the vision that District Superintendent Carlo Rapanut cast at the recent Alaska United Methodist Conference.
How can we be hospitable? For a start, I proposed to Council last week that we reserve the back row of the sanctuary for latecomers and visitors. But how, you ask, could we keep regular attenders from sitting in their usual spots back there? My answer: traffic cones:
Of course, that’s too late. By the time a visitor gets into the worship center, they’ve already formed an impression about how hospitable we are. As Andy Stanley put it (in his indispensable Deep and Wide), “the sermon begins in the parking lot.” Too often, the first two points of that sermon are:
1. We weren’t expecting you to come.
2. What we’re doing here isn’t all that important.
To be more hospitable, I’d start by looking at the two points of that “sermon” and use them as a lens to look at everything else we do: did we expect you, and is what we’re doing here important? Did we really expect people who don’t know better than to dress like that? Are we communicating that what we do really is more important than your kids’ soccer game or family time at the cabin. (Separate question about that last: should we communicate that, or should we help people figure out how to do both?)
My list just has those two points. Thom Rainer has two whole lists: seven things to say, and ten things not to say, to guests. (He discusses each point in his podcast, at the top of that page.)
Also: Gavin Adams discusses the idea of an “entry point” for church guests: “If you hope to create continuous growth in your church, ushering guests into your church through your garage is a poor strategy. You need a clearly defined, designed, and defended front door.”
It is so easy to allow the design of the front door to shift away from its original purpose, because all the complaints and “suggestions” will come from those inside the church. Without a clear strategy to defend the entry point, inevitably it will shift away from being a front door to a garage — one small, subtle shift at a time. The easiest way to protect the entry point is to remind yourselves and your teams every week that today is somebody’s first Sunday.
Update: I remembered Chris Thompson’s list of friendly practices he’s observed in his visits to area churches.