My wife and I went on our first cruise.  It was a well oiled machine.  They were prepared for serving meals to 2800 people.  “Free” ice cream almost 24/7!  A staff member always in sight to make your experience great.  A highlight was the towel art on our bed each evening which was in the shape of an animal.

The towel art was a highlight because it was something we didn’t expect.  Okay, I paid a lot of money to get “free” ice cream.  I also expected that there would always be people around who could help me with any questions.  But the towel art was a simple and delightful surprise.

In other news, I need my carpets cleaned in my house.  So I’m eliciting help from our friend Google.  It may not be fair or complete.  But there is great power in the comments from people who have encountered the services offered.

I was reluctant to consider any business I hadn’t heard of or that didn’t have any reviews.  Most companies that had reviews would have the majority of comments being positive.  Then there would be a couple angry people who gave one star for some reason.  Hey, I’m a pastor and church consultant.  It doesn’t take much for people to get angry.

But there was this one carpet cleaning company which had 50 Google reviews and all of them were five stars!  I thought, “How is this possible?”  I called up the business.  The person answered right away (I only got voice mail from the others I called).  The woman had a pleasant and friendly tone.  I asked about the unbelievable rating.  She laughed and said her husband works very hard.

The reviews of this business were not so positive because they clean carpets well.  If you pay someone to do this, you expect to get clean carpets.  No, reviewers were glowing in their praise of the professional and friendly behavior, experiences that went beyond what the people anticipated.

What do these two illustrations of hospitality say to life as church?  What are the issues of hospitality which will give rise to a positive buzz about your church?

It should be clear that I am assuming you have the basics in place.  You preach the loving grace of Jesus.  You worship God with uplifting music that helps to usher people into his presence.  That’s what I expect if I come to a church.  But why not exceed people’s expectations with the likes of the following:

  1. Don’t just have a nursery, but make sure it’s safe, secure, and sanitary plus staffed by people who moms will say they trust.
  2. Don’t just have signage (you do have signage of course!), but make sure it covers all the bases of where to enter your parking lot, where to enter the building, where to find the nursery, worship center, and restrooms.
  3. Don’t just have restrooms, but have the cleanest and most inviting restrooms in town with supplies and decorations that are appropriate for each gender.
  4. Don’t just have a worship center, but address the needs of the stranger with hard copy materials and projection which insures that they are comfortable in knowing when to stand up, what to sing, what to say, and that it’s okay to bring their beverage with them along with what the wifi password is.
  5. Don’t just get anyone to be a greeter or usher.  Insist that these people as your first impressions are the most hospitable, gregarious, friendly, guest oriented people you have.  Visitors should always have someone readily available for help, including outside the main entrance.
  6. Don’t just do church.  Create a spectacle.  Something that’s totally unexpected.  What are the unique gifts that God has given the people of your congregation?  Maybe it’s musical, or artistic, or serving, or mission, or food, or…  Whatever it is, God is handing you the opportunity to develop a signature ministry which people will talk about in your community.

On the cruise, I got what I expected, but we came away talking about towel animals.  For the carpet cleaners, people got clean carpets, but were taken by the positive experience of the people who served them.

What if you became the friendliest, most hospitable congregation in your community?  It takes an intentional effort.  It doesn’t just happen.  If some assistance would be helpful in order to change your church culture, check out The Effective Church Group Hospitality resources.