I spend a lot of time visiting churches. As a touring performer for over 38 years, whose primary audience is made up of church congregations, I would give a rough estimate that I have been in over 3,000 churches during my lifetime. That has to be some kind of record!
On a recent trip, I was in a church I had performed at 25 years earlier. I have to say I didn’t remember much about the church; it had a different pastor now and no one remembered me. But while I didn’t remember the church, I vividly remembered the pastor. I had stayed in his home and the hospitality I received was what I remembered—it was exceptional.
On that same recent trip I was in another church—first time at this one. As I left the church I recalled thinking, “If I lived here, I might attend this church, and I would certainly visit again.” It wasn’t the sermon (I was speaking), or the music (it was okay but not great). If I had to single out the one thing that made me want to visit again, I would have to say it was the hospitality—it was exceptional.
Hospitality has to rank at the top of the list of things that make me want to attend a church. Here are some specific things I have noticed about those churches:
1) Greeters Who do More Than “Greet” – There is a difference between someone who has the “job of greeter” and someone who truly loves greeting people. These greeters didn’t just shake my hand and give me a bulletin. They asked my name and then–and this is important–used it in a sentence soon after. People love to hear their name spoken. It makes them feel noticed and important. I think there is a difference between having a person at the door to greet people and having the right person at the door to greet people.
2) The People Liked Each Other – As an actor and a church visitor, I learn a lot by watching people. One of the observations I have made about the churches I would visit again is that the people seem to like each other. There was plenty of real conversation, laughter, eye contact, hugging, and listening among those gathering before the service and after. It wasn’t just “church smiles”—it appeared to be genuine. I would want to attend a church where the people liked each other.
3) I Liked the Lobby – There is a difference between a lobby that takes up space between the parking lot and the sanctuary and a lobby that is an inviting gathering place for the congregation before and after the service. And I am not talking about large spaces or big budgets. Just like those make-over TV shows, many churches could do with a lobby make-over. A lot of fellowship and community take place in the church lobby. I was in a very small, rural church recently, and the lobby was tiny but inviting. A few comfortable chairs, warm colors with rugs and art work, and of course coffee service. It was the sort of place where I would love to hang out and visit with a good friend.
4) Restrooms Signs! – Signage matters. I like to be able to find a restroom without having to ask where it is. Some people even find it embarrassing to ask. I don’t want to be bombarded with signs, but a few to help me find the essentials would be appreciated. And while we are on the subject of restrooms—the churches I liked had clean ones with someone to monitor them often (a clogged toilet does not a good impression make). And if you are doing the lobby makeover, consider adding the restroom to the list. I have heard some say they wouldn’t eat in a restaurant that had dirty restrooms. Maybe some people would make the same observation about where they worship.
5) Don’t Make Me Wear a Name Tag – I’m not against name tags, in certain situations, but putting a name tag on a visitor, or making them stand up to be noticed in a worship service can be intimidating. The visitor feels like a target. Any attempts to engage with the visitor after being singled out, runs the risk of feeling disingenuous. Inviting a visitor to pick up an information packet after the service or a “gift” at the information table is fine. But we don’t want to stick out like the proverbial “sore thumb.”
Obviously, hospitality isn’t the only criteria for selecting a church, but it should be a big priority for every church. I have been to many churches with great music and eloquent sermons but left feeling cold. Hospitality makes the difference.
What other things matter to you when visiting a church for the first time?
For a real blast from the past on a related topic, check out Blessed Usherance! This is how-to video we created waaaay back in the early 90′s as a resource for greeters and ushers. Though dated, it still makes some good points and done with a dash of humor! Available in our online store here.
Posted by Chuck Neighbors