By Scott Ball
How we treat guests reflects what we believe about Jesus.
That might seem like a bold statement, but it’s fundamentally and theologically true. Throughout the Bible, hospitality is one of the highest values. Lot, for example, is saved from the destruction of Sodom because he shows hospitality to angels. Rahab is saved from the destruction of Jericho because she shows hospitality to spies. Jesus tells us that “whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward” (Matt. 10:42, NASB).
The reality is that most declining churches fail to live out the kind of hospitality that the Bible calls us to live out.
Here are three simple mental shifts any church can make to improve guests’ experience and live out Biblical hospitality with newcomers.
- Treat guests to your church like you would treat a guest in your home. In a literal sense, treating guests at home and church should have massive parallels. Would you expect guests in your home to walk themselves in, or would you greet them at the door? Would you offer them refreshment? Would you speak to their children and show those kids what they can play with? When the guests leave, what would you say?
Most declining churches fail to apply this logic. Guests walk themselves in. They find no refreshment. They’re unsure what to do with their kids. And no one says anything to those people when they leave.
Showing hospitality to guests is not about being cool; it’s about being kind. Treat guests to your church like you would guests in your home.
- Avoid insider language. Insider language is speaking in a way that excludes newcomers, and it’s one of the biggest mistakes churches make. For example, if you say during your announcements, “Talk to Bob after the service if you want to help set up for Forest Camp,” a guest will be totally lost. What’s Forest Camp? Who’s Bob? Where would I find him if I wanted to?
These kinds of callouts to church members and use of unknown terms tell a guest, “This isn’t for you” and do not make them feel informed and at home. For these reasons, be thoughtful and intentional about how you communicate on Sunday mornings.
- Get outside eyes. You don’t see it or smell it anymore. You’ve gotten used to the broken ceiling tiles. You overlook the stained carpet in the nursery. You don’t notice the musty odor. Do you know who sees and smells it all? A guest.
Whether you partner with an outsider like The Malphurs Group or invite an honest friend who goes to church somewhere else, you need to have outside eyes show you the things that are off-putting. You may not be able to tackle all your facility’s challenges; budgets are tight. But many facility issues are easily fixable cheaply or for free with volunteer labor.
Remember that providing a great guest experience is not about being the coolest church in town. It’s about showing radical hospitality to strangers. You never know: “for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2, NASB).
Scott Ball is director of services at The Malphurs Group.