Every church thinks of itself as friendly. And, for the most part, they are friendly. When you visit a few, though, you’ll quickly learn that not many of these friendly churches are truly hospitable. When it comes to modern church-shoppers, friendly just doesn’t cut it anymore. Here are a few differences between friendliness and hospitality to get you and your community started.
Friendly is about us, Hospitable is about you.
If you only take away one thing from this article, let this be it: Friendly is about the people who are already here, Hospitable is about the next person through the doors. The friendly mentality sees what is in front of it and acts in a Christ-like manner. Every handshake, smile, and door held is friendly. The hospitable mindset sees a little farther ahead. Before a single hand is shaken, the hospitable questions are: How did that person find your church? Where did they park? How did they know where to go? Do they even want to shake hands with a stranger?
I already hear that voice in your head saying, “but we love to shake hands at this church.” That’s right, and that works for all the people already at the friendly church. The hospitable church asks if that’s what works for the next visitor who risks showing up.
Friendly churches make assumptions, Hospitable churches give options. (or, One Size Doesn’t Fit All)
From the music we sing to the food we eat, church-goers have a lot of preferences. We also have limitations. Friendly churches, since they’re used to the way they do things, assume that you prefer to do things that way too. You know the type of thing: “We all go in the side door that goes straight to the sanctuary.” “We all follow along in the bulletin so we know what to do.” “We all drink coffee and eat cookies after service.”
The hospitable church, though, knows that one size doesn’t fit all. We have to actively consider how the way we do things might not work for someone else, even though that someone else isn’t part of the congregation yet. The hospitable church makes radical statements: “We changed what door we all come in because it’s accessible, even though we don’t have anyone who uses a wheelchair yet. We even put a big sign over it!” “Even though the service is pretty much the same week to week, we not only have print bulletins to follow along, we also put it on the screen and tell folks out loud what we’re doing. That way, when a new person shows up, that’ll feel normal to us.” “We have coffee and cookies after service, and we also have healthy options, allergy-friendly foods (clearly marked), and there are even some home-made treats that show how much we care. We make sure that there’s a card saying what’s in them, though.”
That’s right, because the next person through the door won’t be just like everyone else, we have to have options. While it’s good to have a friendly usher who can point the way to the bathroom when asked, a hospitable church also has obvious signs so you don’t have to ask. It’s good to have a friendly greeter to hold the door, but it’s even more hospitable to have a welcome center with a big sign above it, a well-trained person at it, and plenty of paperwork to read if you aren’t sure you’re ready to talk to lots of people.
You aren’t as charming as you think.
Christians are called to be grace-filled, gentle, and patient. A friendly congregation usually knows each other well enough to cut some slack with others’ quirks and idiosyncrasies. Praise God! Without this grace, no church could function. But… when the slide is a grainy picture, the sound system is feeding back, the announcement has gone on for 12 minutes, and the presenter is sure he’s really funny, our quirks can quickly lose their charm.
In the rest of our lives, we have easy access to recordings of the best music in the world, billion-dollar movies and TV shows, endless libraries of knowledge, and even social networks. The singer in your local church doesn’t have to be able to win The Voice, but they shouldn’t be on America’s Funniest Home Videos either.
New visitors are looking for a place they can be proud to identify with, proud to tell others about. They get to pick their church family, and they’d all prefer a Modern Family to an Addams Family.
The good, the bathroom, and the ugly.
In the house I grew up in, when a guest asked to use the restroom, we pointed them to “the big bathroom.” This one was mom’s. It always had fresh, neat hand towels, smelled great, and sparkled with freshly cleaned pride. We did not point them to “the little bathroom,” where Dad and I showered. The little bathroom was at the far end of the house, next to the laundry. It was half the size, but we crammed twice as much stuff in there. Sometimes, that even included a hand towel. We kept it mostly clean, and it was all we needed.
At our church, we have our own “little bathroom.” It is in the basement, at the end of a long hall, right next to my office. It’s a classic seafoam green and black floor-to-ceiling tile. It’s positioned under a stairwell, so half the ceiling is on a 45-degree angle, forcing tall folks to duck. The faucet in one sink always drips, so there’s a nice rusty ring. There’s no ventilation either, so sounds tend to echo and smells tend to linger. I’ve been in many churches over the years, and every church has some variation on this theme. Some have old bars of soap, some have giant lacey baskets of potpourri, some have rolls of paper towel sitting on the sink, but they all send the same message: “We hope you went at home.”
A hospitable church, though, makes sure there is “the big bathroom” too. Because, if you aren’t family yet, you don’t need to use “the little bathroom.” Visiting a new place is stressful, and using a public restroom is even worse, so anything we can do to make sure folks get the “big bathroom” treatment is paramount. Cast a grand vision! Let’s have a bathroom that feels like a day spa! Let’s have a restroom that makes people feel restful! And maybe, just maybe, we’ll have a church where our hospitality doesn’t get in the way of showing Christ’s hospitality.
Whatever your perspective, we hope this starts a conversation. Feel free to reach out to us through Director of Communications, Sam Garrett, firstname.lastname@example.org, and thanks in advance for your help.