Imagine that you are at least 60 years old, have been a Christian for at least 40 years, and have been a member of your church for at least 20 years. And your pastor suggests that you need to learn how to offer authentic hospitality.
At best: These are fighting words. (“Of course I know how to welcome people.”)
At worst: “Ouch.”
One of the trickiest things for a pastor to navigate is sharing the uncomfortable news to her people that they are not skilled in 21st Century Hospitality. We’ve all heard the well-worn adage that all churches consider themselves “friendly” even though it’s clearly not the case. But it’s quite another thing to suggest that our lifelong church members do not know how to welcome guests well. Among the common mistakes we make:
- Pouncing. (“You should join the choir!)
- Stalking. (“I’ve been watching you for the past couple Sundays.“)
- Smothering. (“Let me take you to coffee hour and then we can sign you up for the chili dinner.“
- Scaring. (“You should meet Peggy. She’s single like you.“)
- Offending. (“Those piercings must really hurt.”)
- Discomfitting. (“We like it when people dress appropriately for church.“)
I honestly believe that we intend to be genial to the guests in our congregations. But in our excitement to make “new people” feel welcomed, we say awkward things and our efforts do the opposite of our intentions.
Imagine teaching all church greeters, ushers, and coffee servers how to say “hello” in the most authentic and genuine way, without agenda or fakeness. Imagine saying “Hello” with the intention of making that stranger feel loved and safe and included. Such a small thing that makes such a difference in creating community.