This coming Sunday (or next Sunday), imagine you are coming to Bethany UMC for the first time. You are looking for a church and you found Bethany's website. Imagine that you don't know anyone in this church. In fact, think that the last time you step inside any church building was many years ago. How would you feel? What is your first impression of the parking lot, the building, the narthex, as you step in? Make some mental notes. Then let's talk about it during the N.O.W. meeting on July 10--if you would like to join us.
Hospitality is not a program that we have to do because it's a conference requirement. It is not a cool trend we copy from other churches. Hospitality is a way of life. It is an inner attitude that manifests in our smile, our friendliness, and genuine kindness.
I see this when we greet one another in the "passing of the peace." I see this when we talk to guests as they make their way to the friendship room. I see this when we intentionally cross the aisle to hug someone that we have not seen in a while. This is amazing! These we will keep and cultivate.
In addition, we have also put guest cards, a "Welcome to Bethany" leaflet, and prayer requests forms at the back of each pew. What other simple ways can you think of?
Here is a suggestion. Be a narthex greeter. Be at the frontline of hospitality as you welcome worshippers. Here are 3 Simple Guidelines:
Smile: a friendly smile communicates a spirit of welcomeness.
Greet: a simple greeting of "good morning" "welcome to our church."
Give: hand them the worship bulletin.
Marge was doing it for long time. And thank God for her many years of ministry. But she cannot do it every Sunday anymore. And I don't think we need another sign-up sheet to schedule weekly greeters. Let's make it simple: if you came in earlier one Sunday, and you don't see any greeter in front in the narthex, just do it!
Here is the balance. Though we use hospitality tools, the decision for visitors to come back is not ours. It is theirs. And in addition, it is good to remind ourselves that after we've done our part to be welcoming, the inner conviction is still the work of the Holy Spirit, not ours.
Let me end with this. A short book entitled, The First 30 Seconds, the author says, "the first 30 seconds play a crucial role in whether or not we feel good about a new business or social relationship." Then she narrated a story:
The pastor of a growing congregation tells the story of one person who said that he and his wife wanted to join the church "but its not because of you pastor." The pastor was intrigued and asked why the person wanted to join. Here's the response: "The first time we visited your church, it was raining. A person met me in the parking lot and asked if I would like to use an umbrella. When we entered the church, we were immediately greeted again, given helpful information, and introduced to some members. An usher helped us find seats and said we should let him know if we need anything. When I sat down, I told my wife that this was the church we should join. The decision was made before I ever heard you preach."
Friends, we don't have the sophisticated hospitality tools big churches have. But maybe in simple ways we can discover other means of cultivating more the hospitality that we already have. Because every Sunday morning, whether we are aware of it or not, we the church of Jesus Christ, are all frontliners in ushering people into the presence of God.