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Hospitality Is Bigger Than You Think!

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

As I was sitting in the back of worship at my home congregation recently, it hit me like a ton of bricks – there are little things that make a BIG difference and they are happening at my church! Here 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 for the taking. Most children in the room were already busy exploring their bags.
  6. Worship leaders included youth, young adults, families ushering together. One dad was even carrying his son, as he helped his older 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 the words on the screen actually matched what we were singing. 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 singable, 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 (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 maybe 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. You’ll discover that 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 bulletin insert (PDF or Word) (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?

Smelly Church

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

What is that smell?

Walking into churches across the country, I am struck by three things:

  • hospitality of the people
  • hospitality of the building
  • hospitality of the experience

Oddly enough, all three are impacted by what I can only call: The Church Smell.

You are probably used to or may even like the smell of your church. Most people don’t realize how the smell of their own home gives them the “I belong here” feeling. It’s that feeling that can make us immune to the smell of places we love, like our church buildings.

This is not true if you are new to the place. Smells hit me like a shock wave when I enter these sacred spaces.

Friends, the smells in our church are often, well, let me just say it: stinky.

But the good news is that we can detox our churches. Let’s not wait; I say act now and act fast!

Do the Sniff Test:

  1. Ask 5 people of different ages who have never been in your church before how it smells.
  • Like nothing at all
  • Like a place you can relax and want to stay
  • Like yesterday’s meal
  • Like mold and way overdue for deep cleaning
  • Like you just want to leave

Do this test in the sanctuary, fellowship hall and education spaces.

  1. Talk about smells: Ask them what they expected the buildings to smell like, what they wish they smelled like and what bothered them the most.
  2. Take care of business. Make a detox plan to rid your building of stink. Is it the carpet? The ancient banners? The pews (no pun intended)? Or is it something harder to manage like mold or rot?

You may be smiling right now, as I am while writing this, but that is only because we both know…

This is true. And it matters.