Hospitality: How well does your church do it?

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“It is natural for people who have been going to their church for a long time and formed many friendships to think that it is a warm and welcoming place; however, we must put ourselves in the shoes of the newcomer to really evaluate our level of hospitality,” says Dr Stephen Harrison

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Hospitality should be a hallmark of every local church. This means welcoming new people and helping them to form ongoing relationships.

Hospitality is key to church health and growth. This was confirmed by the Church of England Research ‘From Anecdote to Evidence’, which is discussed here. It found that “growth in numbers was more likely if a church was welcoming and had an atmosphere of belonging and caring.”

It is natural for people who have been going to their church for a long time and formed many friendships to think that it is a warm and welcoming place; however, we must put ourselves in the shoes of the newcomer to really evaluate our level of hospitality. There are a number of things that people can do to make a difference and these go beyond just a friendly welcome at the door.

How might you welcome newcomers?

It is important that churches are intentional about how they welcome newcomers. If your church does not have a strong culture of welcoming, you may need to assign people to the task. This would include someone to identify new people, to introduce themselves and to talk to them after the service.

Inviting them to come and have a coffee after the service is also very hospitable. It is not enough simply to tell a newcomer that there is morning tea in the hall. A truly welcoming church would ensure newcomers have someone to take them there. There is nothing more daunting than walking into a group of people you don’t know who are already in conversation.

My practice in greeting and talking to new people is to introduce them to some other people in the church. This provides them with the opportunity to connect with a number of people who they might talk to in future weeks.

Making contact with potential new members after they attend services or activities is also important for growth. Some research has found that “when lay persons visit the home of a first-time worshipper within 36 hours, 85% of them will return to worship next Sunday. When the visit is delayed for 72 hours, only 60% return; when delayed 5 to 7 days, 15% return.”

“If the vicar makes the first visit, all of the percentages are cut in half – far fewer return. The reason is that the first-time worshipper either feels that this is a duty the vicar is performing, or they are threatened by such a quick visit.” (Dr E J Kolb in The Anglican Digest 1988 Pentecost Edition)

Do you make newcomers uncomfortable?

On the downside there are some things Anglican churches do that can make newcomers feel uncomfortable. For instance, pointing out newcomers during worship may not have the desired effect of being welcoming. The greeting of peace can also be problematic depending on how it is done. In many churches it has become the practice to walk around the church and great everyone. For the newcomer this may be confronting, especially if few people approach them. If churches have this practice, one person should have the task of greeting the new person and welcoming them during this period.

Do you want to become a more welcoming church – a church known for its hospitality?

St Francis College’s FormedFaith has a Mission 360 module called ‘Opening the Circle’. It is a practical workshop on making sure your parish is the most welcoming community it can be. In the workshop you will:

Find out more here on the FormedFaith website.

First published on Wednesday 26 February on the faithful + effective website.

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