As we begin to reopen the church for various activities including our 11am worship service we need to be even more mindful about our hospitality. We tend to think of hospitality as being friendly and saying “hi” to others, but it is so much more. It is a lifestyle that says I am willing to be uncomfortable in order to help someone else be comfortable. It means not sitting in the same section of the church or the same pew if someone else is sitting there. Instead it means going up to them and saying “Hi” I don’t think we have met…my name is…it is good to meet you and I hope you enjoy worshipping with us today. And then finding a different seat for yourself. John Pavlovitz, wrote in his book, “A Bigger Table,” that hospitality means we ascribe value to people. Since we personally want to feel valued, then it is important to do what it takes to open up your circle and welcome new people in, so they feel valued too. That is what hospitality is about.
We show hospitality when we maintain our facilities and we are grateful to our maintenance and custodial staff as well as all our Trustees who ensure everything is in working order, clean, and ready to be used. We show hospitality when we welcome new people and take the time to show them where everything is when they ask us questions even if it means we will be late to our meeting or to the worship service. We show hospitality when we don’t rush out of the church but linger and get to know people we don’t know…maybe even inviting them to join us for lunch (paying for their lunch is a bonus) We show hospitality when we insist different music is played for our services even if it is a style we don’t care for knowing younger people are coming and prefer more contemporary music styles. We show hospitality not just by being nice but by making sure others are comfortable even when we are not.
So…as we are trying to find a new normal…a new equilibrium as we move forward and learn to live with Covid-19 until there is an effective vaccine, I have a couple of favors to ask of everyone.
The first favor is to follow the 3-minute rule. What is the 3-minute rule? I would love for each of you to spend 3 minutes before and after the worship service to greet people you don’t know. Don’t worry if they happen to be a longtime member. What matters is that you don’t know them. So, this is an opportunity for you to get to know new faces and discover who attends Grace. It is an opportunity to follow Jesus’ example by welcoming the stranger because who knows when you will be welcoming Christ into your midst?
The second favor I would like you to follow is the 10-foot rule. What is the 10-foot rule? I am so glad you asked. It is being attentive to the environment and the people within 10 feet of where you are standing or sitting no matter where you are. It is offering hospitality and kindness to those who are closest to you. I would imagine that no new person to a worship service would like everyone in that service to converge on them to welcome them for coming. That would be quite overwhelming. The goal is to be welcoming. So, be aware of the 10 feet of space around you. Do you see new faces, or faces you don’t know? Welcome them, have a few small talk questions you can ask them as you get to know them.
The 10-foot rule also means you are responsible for the way the area looks. If you see trash, pick it up and throw it away. If you see the pew pockets are messy (once we put everything back in place) straighten them. Are you in the bathroom and see paper on the floor or a counter splashed with water? Take care of it. Hospitality means we care enough about who comes in after us that we want to leave the space we are in clean and neat. We are all responsible for doing that because we want people to have a good first impression of Grace.
As we begin to open to more and more activities, I invite you offer hospitality and all it entails to everyone you see on campus. I invite you to be welcoming to the strangers among us. I invite you to follow the example Jesus gave by treating everyone you see just as you would like to be treated. I invite you to offer hospitality.
On Being Friendly
Last week I talked to you about what it means to offer hospitality. I hope, no matter where you are, but especially when you are on the church campus, you practice hospitality. It is important. Just take a moment and think back to a place you went where you didn’t feel welcome…it didn’t feel good did it? We would like for anyone who sets foot on campus to attend church, to bring their children to preschool, or even to be here to come to our food pantry, clothes closet, or country store, to feel welcome. Like we are, all of us, really glad they are here no matter what the reason. That is what it means to offer hospitality.
Even more, offering hospitality means we see value in each person we meet. We let them know through our greeting, when we look them in the eyes, in our overall demeanor, that we value their presence and want them to know we are genuinely glad to see them. When people feel welcome, they relax. When they relax, they feel comfortable and when they feel comfortable, they can breathe, and when they can breathe the Holy Spirit can begin to work in them. Hospitality offers a way to open the doors to lifelong change.
But, in order for that to really work, we need to be intentional about how we act when we are here on campus. It means we need to be intentional about exceeding people’s expectations. Because here is the thing: people come back to our church because of how we made them feel. If they leave feeling good about themselves, they are more likely to come again and again. So, how do we help people feel welcome? There are a couple principles we can practice and be intentional about doing when we interact with others.
The first principle of being friendly is to “notice.” We can’t greet someone if we don’t see them. Make sure you notice who is close by. The last thing we want is to appear too busy to be approached. If someone is here for the first time, they are probably nervous. They don’t know where anything is. If they make it into the sanctuary, they don’t know our habits of worship, like when to sit and when to stand. They are out of their comfort zones. That is why it is so important for us to make sure everyone who steps foot on our campus feels welcomed and can relax. They will recognize we are a safe space by how we treat them and everyone else around us. They will be more likely to approach us for answers to their questions if we are available and don’t look busy.
The second principle is really simple: offer a warm greeting with a genuine smile. Did you know the act of smiling lifts our own mood? So, if we are smiling at another person, it would seem logical that it might just lift their mood too. A smile is a real day brightener. So, as you go around greeting people, make sure you do it with a smile.
The third principle I want to mention is this: If someone is here for the first time and asks where to find a particular room on campus, take them there. It doesn’t matter if you are a few minutes late to a class or to church, because you have been helping someone. While giving directions is great, offering the personal touch of taking them to their destination gives you the opportunity to introduce them to others who may be around. It gives you a chance to get to know a little more about them as you walk them to their desired location. You can get to know their names, where they live or hobbies they may enjoy. Because you are present with them you can also listen to what their own needs and concerns might be.
The important aspect of hospitality to remember is this: it can change lives. When someone feels welcome. When someone feels seen and valued by another person. When someone feels genuinely cared for…they want to know what it is we have in our life…and of course the answer to that question: We have Jesus. By showing hospitality, we introduce people to the love of Jesus. It doesn’t get any better than that!
On Creating Connections
When I first moved to Merritt Island waaaay too many years ago, I thought many people spoke a different language. People talked about the OPF at KSC and working in the VAB or planning EVAs and needing to talk to the LCC and I had no clue what they were talking about and felt a lot like an alien in a different world. It took a while but I got the gist of all the acronyms people used and while I still don’t always know what they are talking about, at least I know they are talking space stuff.
First time visitors to churches have a tendency to feel a lot like I did when I first moved here to the Space Coast. Churches have their own set of words they use to describe areas and activities in their specific church. So we have a Narthex, a Chancel area, Club 56 and Third Student Ministries. We celebrate Advent, Pentecost, and observe Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday after Fat Tuesday and of course there are many others words and phrases that are unique to churches. For first time visitors we might as well be speaking in tongues. Which they also would have no idea what we meant when we say someone is speaking in tongues.
One of the greatest gifts we can give people who come to church for the first time is to use plain language to tell people where they are or what a ministry actually is. So, if a family comes to church and they have children that would benefit from our children and youth ministries call them children and youth ministries. And if they are heading to the children’s area tell them it is in room 221 and not the Happy Room. Better yet take them there and introduce them to Niki our children’s minister. The same is true for teens and adults. They have no idea what our insider language is all about so please don’t use it when you are conversing with someone who is here for the first time.
If we truly want people to come back, we need to make things as comfortable as we can and one way is by not using all the insider language we use without thinking about it. We also need to make sure we have the right signage around our facility so people who are setting foot on our property for the first time can find exactly what they are looking for in case there is no one around to ask. There is nothing worse than wandering around an unfamiliar space, not knowing where you are going and there are no signs to direct your path.
So, I have a request. As you find yourself on campus at Grace, take a look around and see how easy or not easy it is to find your way around. If you see where we can improve, and I know there are, please call the church office (321-452-2420) and let us know. By the way, did you see what I did? I included our telephone number so you don’t have to look it up. I made it easy for you. Which is exactly what we want to do for our visitors. We want their first impression of us to be one that makes it easy for them to choose to come back again and again.
On Hospitality again…
Many of you who have read my articles in the Gracevine these past four weeks, may be wondering why I have taken the time to write about hospitality over and over again. I have done this because it is important. Very important. It is in fact life changing for those who experience the radical hospitality that I have been talking about and that you will find taught by Jesus throughout his gospel message. It is the Good Samaritan. It is the woman by the well. It is so many other examples Jesus taught and lived throughout his life and because of the radical hospitality Jesus offered to all he met, lives were changed.
The thing is: our hospitality doesn’t stop here at the church. It is who and how we are when we are living and working in our community. It is how we act when we are on vacation. It is a lifestyle we internalize, and it becomes the way we live even when no one is watching. It is how we make being a Christian attractive to those who have never set foot inside a church, or who have been hurt deeply by religion. And there are many others who just don’t see the point of following Jesus when they see many Christians doing things that are not only hypocritical but down right mean spirited. So, living in a way that offers hospitality, no matter what the circumstances you have in your life, is important.
So, in following Jesus’ example of telling stories, I have a story I would like to share with you all that shows just how important living a life of radical hospitality really is and how it offers the possibility of a changed life.
Back in the early to mid-1980’s I was looking for a church. I had been going to many of the area churches and none of them felt like home. That is probably not the best criteria for church hunting, but it was mine at the time. So, for about five years I checked out churches from Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island, Cocoa, and Rockledge and was unsuccessful in finding what I was looking for. I went to churches that did not come close to my theology. I went to churches where the people didn’t even acknowledge I was there. I went to churches that everyone in the church surrounded me and I felt suffocated by all the attention. I went to churches that were nice but there was always something missing and to be honest, I really couldn’t put my finger on what was missing. It was a quality that I knew I would recognize when I experienced it.
One Sunday, I found my way to Grace UMC. Rev. Hubert Floyd was the pastor at the time and I no sooner walked into the sanctuary that I knew this church had the potential to become my home church. I believe that was the Holy Spirit talking to my parched soul at the time. The service was what I was looking for, the preaching was good and enjoyable, but while the people were friendly, I will tell you no one really went out of their way to connect with me. So, I found myself standing at a crossroads after the service let out. Everyone it seemed had left. At least as far as I could tell, and I was standing on the sidewalk on the north side of what I would later learn was called the Fellowship Hall. I was undecided what to do next. I will tell you I was feeling a little frustrated. I liked everything about the service. The people seemed friendly on the surface…but still something was missing…I wanted a church home and felt that I was still going to be looking for one. I should tell you it is interesting that I was still just standing around not leaving. That is not typical behavior for me as I would usually just leave when a service was over. But my feet felt rooted in that spot.
It was at this point in my musings that I saw a family of four hurrying around the corner rushing to get to the parking lot to go home. As they rounded the corner, and they were in a hurry, they saw me. Now I will be honest with you, I expected them to nod, say a quick “hi” as they hurried on down the sidewalk. But they didn’t. They stopped. They acknowledged I was there. They basically said “hi” we are so glad you came to church this morning. It was great to see you and we hope to see you again soon. At that they wished me a good day and went on toward their car and home. Now that greeting took all of a few seconds, but it made me feel as if I had been truly seen. That was what I had been missing in all those other churches. It is one thing to offer a greeting, it is an entirely different thing when you offer a greeting that allows the other person to feel seen by you…that they matter, they are important. I was in that greeting that I knew I had found my church home.
Little did I know then how that greeting would change my life as I would grow deeply in my own faith and end up becoming your associate pastor. Radical hospitality is important and no matter how it is offered, changes lives.