Hospitality is bigger than you think!

By Peggy Hahn

I sat in the back of worship at my home congregation last week and it hit me like a brick – there are little things that make a BIG difference – and they are happening at my church!

young families in worshipHere is what I saw:
1.    Half the people in worship were under age 35.
2.    Half of those people had coffee mugs in their hands. Yep, right in worship! Not even trying to hide it.
3.    Half of the people had little children, most under age 4 (based on their height & wiggles).
4.    One dad had his small daughter on his shoulders so she could see all the action in the front of the room, concert style.
5.    There was a big basket in the back of the church that you had to pass on your way in filled with baggies of stickers, colors, coloring sheets, pipe cleaners, etc. Free and for the taking. Most children in the room were already busy exploring their bags.
6.    Worship leaders included youth, young adults, families ushering together (even one dad carrying his son, as he helped his other son pass the plate while mom worked the other side of the room.)
7.    Everyone came to communion. Most just walked through the stations and returned directly to their seats but there were others who knelt for prayer during the distribution of the elements. There was no one “right way” to take communion. And this was good.
8.    The PowerPoint projection was clear, easy to read and what we were singing actually matched what was on the screen. No one had to flip from slide to slide to find the right verse. There was even a short video which was reflective, meditative, and meaningful to me.
9.    The music was very sing-able, though not all upbeat. (Yes, it was a “contemporary” service but it wasn’t endless repetitions of the same four lines…)
10.    It was clear the congregation (and not just the ushers) was expecting visitors as everything was easy to follow.

I visit a lot of congregations and I don’t see this everywhere. But I do see lots of potential. Most congregations could ask the tough question “is our culture here [or perhaps more to the point, “is our list of do’s and don’ts that shape our worship culture”] really about worshiping God or is it more about worshiping the space or about something else entirely?”
My best thinking is that if you want to increase the hospitality of your congregation, step one is to worship as a visitor at a few other congregations to better understand what it’s like to be new. It’s not the big things that trip up newcomers. It’s the nuances that are “normal” in your congregation but may not be happening in another congregation, much less in the real world.

Step two is to widen your generational lens. How are families welcomed? Something simple like using this Hospitality Bulletin Insert (or something with fewer words that you could project on a screen) could go a long way in letting families know the community is expecting them at worship.

It’s hard to evaluate ourselves since so much of what we do is automatic. Intentional hospitality is not just for worship, but that is a good place to start. It would be awesome for members of neighboring congregations to visit each other’s place and offer some constructive feedback. What are the little changes that can be made in the worship experience at your congregation that will have a big impact for visitors?

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