‘Congregations that practice 'Radical Hospitality' demonstrate an active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ. Radical describes that which is drastically different from ordinary practices, outside the normal, that which exceeds expectations and goes the second mile.’
As you consider the congregational practice of radical hospitality, you may find it helpful to read some of my reflections from my time spent in the early years as District Evangelism Enabler when I visited several congregations as a ‘mystery worshipper’. My intention during these visits was to walk through the experience as if I did not normally attend church. The purpose of the visit was not to assess the worship style or quality, but simply to look at the welcome offered to a visitor.
Before Each Visit:
In order to even visit the church services I would always look online to see if the church had a website. A lack of website is a wasted opportunity to let people know that they are welcome to visit. A good website will be a welcoming website, including all the relevant information. Websites with times, directions and information about parking were particularly appreciated.
View From Outside:
During my visits I would always pause and look at the outside of the building. If a notice board is out of date then it does not give a good impression. Likewise regarding the general upkeep of the building and gardens. Most importantly, is it obvious where the entrance is? Several churches I visited used the side entrances, which were not always apparent. The churches that had an obvious entrance, with an open door and a person waiting to welcome attenders immediately gave the impression that they are an open, friendly fellowship.
Most churches have a door steward, but the level of welcome from these stewards varied hugely. At the very least, a friendly ‘good morning’ should be expected. On occasion I walked by un-noticed as stewards chatted to regular attenders. It was not uncommon to be greeted with an element of surprise…as if visitors were not expected.
Many churches still give printed notice sheets and some of the best ones had a prominent welcome to all. If coffee is served after the service it is good to mention that in the notices.
Most churches I visited had a general buzz of conversation before the service. Whilst I appreciate that some church members dislike this and would prefer silence, I have to comment that as a visitor, silence can sometimes be intimidating. As a visitor I very much appreciated the times when someone sitting close by leaned over and said hello. Even better was when they introduced themselves and chatted for a while.
Don’t presume everyone knows the name of the steward and preacher. I found it was common to forget to introduce people.
Many of the congregations I visited started their services with an introit. Again, the presumption being that everyone knows the words and when to sit or stand. This immediately excludes the visitor. If churches insist on un-introduced introits then can I suggest that the steward on the door mentions this to any visitors. Another way to include people would be to make good use of any projectors making sure that instructions and words are clear for all to see.
If the preacher is not local to the church it is good to have a steward/worship leader give a general welcome. I found it was particularly helpful to have an encouragement to visitors to not leave without saying hello to a steward who would be wearing a badge. I’ve been to several churches that have said ‘make yourself known to a steward’ but this is obviously so much easier if the stewards are wearing badges or are introduced from the front. Church stewards – don’t disappear straight into the vestry after the service. The level of welcome should be considered after the service as well as when people enter the building.
If coffee is served then put this in the notices, on the screen and mention it from the front. All of that is great, but the best practice is for another member to come and invite a visitor to join them for coffee. Don’t presume that visitors will know where the hall is! Even when a good invitation was given, I still regularly found myself standing on your own drinking coffee. Please don’t leave visitors standing on their own.
Everyone is a Welcomer:
As a result of my time as a ‘mystery worshipper’ I regularly encourage churches to build on their welcoming skills. It is good to consider the whole experience of attending a church service through the eyes of a visitor, asking questions about the level of welcome from the door to the coffee. I like to encouraged everyone to take their part in being hospitable…there is great value in a smile and a ‘good morning’.
Congregations should never underestimate just how difficult it can be for a visitor to enter an unknown place. If members would do all that they can to smile, talk, introduce themselves, and invite visitors for coffee etc. then this would all help the visitor to feel like they would like to return. This is just one way to show hospitality.
Elaine Lindridge, District Evangelism Enabler.