Forward Today: Welcoming guests (continued)

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

Dear friends in Christ,

Last week, I wrote about welcoming guests starting from the outside of your church. This week, let’s talk about the inside.

I can tell you, I’ve visited lots of churches and experience a wide range of hospitality (or lack thereof). Let’s start with some negative experiences.

When I moved to a new town some years ago, I visited a number of Episcopal congregations, mostly smaller churches. I got one of two welcomes, both terrible in their own way. Some churches were clearly desperate for new members, so they literally asked me to be on their vestry before they asked for my name. And so on. Others were just the opposite. I began to worry that I had accidentally taken an invisibility potion: they completely and utterly ignored me.

Those are the extremes of bad welcome. Don’t ignore people, and don’t smother them. Fortunately, most of my experience as a guest has been quite good.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited a church. Someone noticed I was new on the way in, and they made sure I had a leaflet and knew where to sit. And they welcomed me warmly. After the service, the clergy encouraged me to come to coffee hour. When I arrived there, someone found me and struck up a conversation. It was delightful. If I lived there, I’d go back.

Good hospitality takes good intentionality. Raise up a ministry of greeters (different from ushers) whose only job is to welcome everyone, especially people who might be there for the first time. If they have a child in tow, help them with whatever they need to know (are there classes?).

Encourage members to say hello to guests. Offer some coaching on how to strike up a conversation that invites folks in, without causing offense or putting people off.

Shorten the passing of the peace, or at least train folks to pay attention to guests. If you are visiting a church, it’s no fun to stand there with your hands in your pockets for several minutes while all the members catch up. And that’s not what the peace is for, anyway!

Coffee hour is a danger zone! Make sure guests are welcomed and invited into conversation.

Why do we do this? Because Jesus said when we welcome strangers, we are welcoming Christ himself.

On a less theological note, studies have shown that when people walk through the doors of a church for the first time, it’s likely they’re experiencing major transition in their lives. They have moved. They have a new job, or they’ve lost a job. Someone is dying or has died. A child is coming. And so on. People are fragile in these moments, and a gracious welcome can make all the difference in the world. So can a horrible welcome.

Fall is coming, and so are guests. Now is a great time to talk about how you can make sure your church is welcoming people warmly.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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