Most people who are members of any faith community probably remember the first day they visited the church they eventually joined. They may recall the things they liked most about it or laugh about an odd part of the experience. The main reason they came back and eventually became a member, however, probably had little to do with the songs that were sung or what the preacher talked about. They probably stayed because they felt welcome.
There are many ways to practice hospitality in your church. Prioritizing this gift not only inspires newcomers to return for a second visit but also blesses the members you already have.
One reason that many people of faith avoid attending church services is that they simply don't want to go through the awkward experience of being the new person. Their hesitation is not unfounded. Too many churches either make their welcome too exuberant or ignore visitors altogether, and both extremes can be off-putting. True hospitality is finding a sensible middle ground.
Welcoming newcomers doesn't have to be complicated. It's mostly a matter of thinking about what you want when you visit a place for the first time:
- Informational signage to help you navigate the building
- Friendly people who introduce themselves and offer to keep you company
- Invitations to share refreshments or a meal
- Respect for personal space and boundaries
- Welcome that doesn't put you on the spot
A beautiful aspect of many faith communities is that they treat members like family. They not only see each other at services but also throughout the week as they share their lives with one another. What happens to those who are unable to show up to services and events, though? Good hospitality means making sure they are not forgotten.
Your church probably already has a ministry that reaches out to homebound members, but you can also think of ways you can expand the way you include them. For example, you can bring communion to them at home or make time to visit or have dinner with them. Offering hybrid services also allows them to participate more fully in what the church is doing.
No one expects you to know instinctually what homebound members want from church leaders or other members. The more effort you make to reach out to those who cannot be physically present, however, the more opportunities you are likely to discover.
Many members show up every time the doors are open. It's easy for church leaders to assume that these members feel like they belong, and they are often surprised when people who seem to be highly engaged suddenly stop coming. Most of the time, this happens because they feel unseen or unappreciated.
It's important to remember that even regular attendees need to hear that you're glad they are there. Any time you see people sitting alone, be sure to say hello or have a brief conversation with them. Ask if you can sit with them or make plans to meet up during the week when you both are free. If they serve the church in some way, send them thank-you notes by mail or email to show that you notice and appreciate them. Everyone likes to hear that they are welcome, even the ones who have been coming to your church for years.
Most churches focus their welcome efforts on visitors or people who are new to the church. True hospitality doesn't end when they put their names on the mailing list, though. Helping members maintain a sense of belonging keeps them engaged and helps your church thrive in everything it does.