The slumbering church is awakening. We are realizing that our pews are empty, our familiar way of doing things isn’t working, and we are facing an unexpected future. We are asking how we will be viable in the years to come. How will we bring back our young people, our Gen -Xers and a growing number of mature women who are finding the need for organized religion a thing of the past? The studies are telling and we aren’t sure what to do.
In all of the proposed solutions on the horizon – Intentional Discipleship, Divine Renovation, Alpha, Rebuilt, Strategic Coaching – the idea of hospitality is consistent.
People often ask what hospitality is and if it is really THAT important. It’s a good question really. Would people come to know Jesus if hospitality and welcome were not present? Today, with so many things vying for people’s attention, hospitality must be the foundation of ministry. People of all ages are being very careful about where they spend their time, energy, and resources. When there is so much offered each day in any aspect of their lives, people have the luxury of being choosy. Hospitality becomes an essential part of lives, not the “if I have time” part. We are searching for all the little ways that touch the hearts of people – loving them where they are and inviting them into a closer relationship with Jesus.
If you have ever had the privilege of being invited into an Iranian home for dinner, you will truly understand hospitality as a way of life. The host makes a personal phone call to invite you, and will tell you the other invited guests so you feel comfortable. Upon arrival you are greeted and introduced to everyone, or the guests all stand to greet you with a hug, a kiss or a handshake. Then there is always hot delicious Persian tea served. This breaks the ice and warms everyone up. Often, children are the ones to carry a little tray around the group to serve as they learn how to greet, offer to guests, and converse in a kind manner.
At the meal the guests go first, with the elders in the room offered the best of everything. The dinner wouldn’t be complete without the compliments to the chef and the continued invitation to second helpings. The meal sets the tone for the rest of the evening. Dishes are done by the guests helping the host and more tea is on for dessert, conversation, music, and dancing.
Over dessert there is a chance to recite poetry, sing, or tell a story. Each person was invited for the joy of it and their presence a blessing and gift. You feel it. A good party lasts at least six to eight hours and guests are often invited to spend the night to continue the fun into the wee hours of the morning. You leave feeling full in body, mind and spirit.
How can you cultivate hospitality as a way of life at your parish? It is all in expectation, training, mentoring and modeling along with affirmation and encouragement. Here are five ways to grow in hospitality as a way of life.
- Make hospitality must be the first thing on everyone’s mind. Not the last.
- Expect beautiful things from an invitation to Sunday liturgy. Ask everyone to smile, greet, and be of service to others.
- Use welcoming language in every communication. Never speak a disparaging word. Listen with intention, affirm others, and be open with your own story.
- Being who you say you are. If this church is a church of disciples, then it must look like people who love and follow Jesus. Kindness, mercy, joy, compassion should be evident in leadership, ministries, parishioners, stewardship, everything.
- Remember to follow-up! Send a note. Intentionally make a connection between the times you meet. Know what’s happening in other lives and respond when you can – a birth, death, accident, happy occasion, school events, new home, or loss of job.
Intention is everything. Hospitality as a way of life means making choices and building habits. If you want to be the kind of parish people, focus on hospitality!