Every church says they are friendly (hospitable), but that usually is true only among church members themselves. The experience of the stranger, of the first time visitor, is often very far from a sense of being welcomed.
Let’s be honest. The call to make disciples and the kingdom goal is at stake here. It isn’t about what your members believe. It’s about what your visitors believe. Do they comment that your church is the most friendly one in town?
Realistically, every church needs to constantly evaluate its hospitality. It is something that can easily get taken for granted. The results of such are devastating to your ministry and the lives of those you are called to touch.
So what are the eight crucial steps to enhancing congregational hospitality in a way that transforms lives?
- Bring in a “secret shopper” to give you an honest evaluation. It is best if this person is one who doesn’t go to church. Make it clear that you aren’t trying to proselytize them. You only want their unbiased, totally honest impression of Sunday church. Give them perhaps $100. Don’t let anyone know they are coming. Treat them just like you would any visitor. Then take them to lunch. Record their story of how they were received and what connected with them (and what didn’t). Leave your ego and feelings at the door. This is kingdom work. Even if you think a comment isn’t fair, that doesn’t matter. This is their perception. And perception drives behavior.
- Take the information from the secret shopper and learn, starting with evaluating to what degree your church has a culture of hospitality. Did the secret shopper indicate that you just need to adjust a few details? Or is there a foundational issue? For most congregations, it is essential to remind folks about the Biblical mandate for hospitality to the stranger. Preach on it. Write articles on it. Have conversations about it. Purchase a hospitality training resource and equip your people. Give a vision for a congregation where every member understands themselves to be a host and every stranger they encounter is their guest. It isn’t hard. Just think of what you do when you host guests in your own house. Then do that in God’s house.
- Develop a team of those who especially “get it” and have a gregarious personality. Let this hospitality team know that this is essential ministry, one that is often neglected in congregations – to everyone’s detriment.
- Establish a flowchart for what positions are important for your hospitality team. Do you have greeters who are outside the main entrance to show people where to enter and to go help them if they are bogged down with a crock pot or a diaper bag – or go bring an umbrella if it is raining? Do you have informal greeters inside who understand it is essential for them to introduce themselves to people they don’t know and showing them the nursery, the restrooms, etc. Do your ushers do more than just hand people materials? Do they smile and make eye contact? Do they look for what needs visitors might have and seat them accordingly? Do you have pew hosts who sit throughout your worship center with the understanding that they are responsible for connecting with people they don’t know in their section of the seating area? Then do all those hospitable people share the information?
- Take an inventory of your signage from the perspective of the secret shopper. Anyone who has attended your church for any length of time will have forgotten how vulnerable they might have felt when they were new. Is it clear what driveway people should use? Is it obvious what door is your main entrance? Can people see signage for the nursery, restrooms, and worship center wherever they are in the facility?
- Now how do those aspects of your campus look? Is the parking lot in good shape? Is it attractive? How about the landscaping and lighting? Do the restrooms look like the best ones in town – clean and inviting with items which speak to the needs of each gender? Is the worship center inviting? Do you allow drinks in there? Is it clear how to connect to the wifi (you do have wifi, yes?)? Here’s a big one for contemporary people: Is your nursery close to the worship center, staffed with responsible people, and clearly safe, sanitary, and secure?
- Have good follow-up. This will show people whether you care. The pastor in a small or medium sized church or a staff person in a large church need to make a doorstop visit on Sunday afternoon. Send handwritten notes. Give some type of gift that is branded to your congregation which people would be likely to retain. Make sure there is a small group where people can start getting involved. How will you hand off the visitors from the hospitality team to the integration team?
- Repeat. Get another secret shopper. See how things have improved. Track if you are seeing more people return. What are the visitors saying about their experience?