The Rev. Dr. Robb Almy serves as Pastor with me at Fredericksburg United Methodist. Previously, Robb was director of a church coaching and consulting ministry called ChurchIngenuity.Com where he also publishes a blog.
Holy Week and Easter often means more people will consider attending a nearby church, maybe for the first time. They will be our guests and should be welcomed warmly. Will our churches be ready to offer hospitality as well as stirring music and a compelling message? Dr. Almy provides excellent advice on what church hospitality should look like.
When it Comes to Church Hospitality…Take Mom’s Advice and Watch Your Language
Confession time. Growing up outside of Boston on the poor side of town my language and that of my young friends could be described as salty at best. Inevitably, one of these salty words would slip from my young mouth in front of my mother (like the time Bill Buckner missed that ball in game six of the ’86 world series) and my mother would say as only moms can, “Watch your language!”
The motherly advice to watch my language has served me well as a pastor when it comes to offering hospitality to guests who come through the doors of the church. I am not talking about refraining from cussing in front of guests, that is of course always a good thing. I am talking about how I have intentionally tried as a pastor to lead my churches to watch their language so that guests would feel welcome. Let’s face it, our words have power. In the case of guests who come through the church doors, words have power to welcome or not welcome.
Below are seven ways we might watch our language so we can welcome the guests who come through the doors of the church.
1. Recognize that we have guests not visitors. Think about our homes. Visitors are those that come and go. They might be the sales person knocking on the door or the furniture delivery persons. Guests on the other hand are persons for whom we prepare. When we have guests over for dinner we might clean the house, get out the best dishes, and tell the children to behave. Our hope is that our guests will feel welcomed, nurtured and want to come back. By referring to the new persons who come through the church doors as guests we create mind shift in how we approach hospitality.
2. Avoid Christianese and Methodese. For the person who has never been to church or has stopped going to church and is now returning, words like sanctification, narthex or intinction have no meaning and mind as well be a foreign language. Likewise, terms like apportionments, Annual Conference, and the Wesleyan Quadrilateral mean little to our guests with little or no church background. Throw on top of this our penchant for acronyms like UMM, UMYF or UMW and we have confused our guests. This type of insider language should be limited to meetings of the already convinced and connected.
3. Explain how your church receives communion. I have served churches in various capacities for almost twenty years and I still get a little nervous each time I receive communion in a new setting. Imagine how guests feel when they come for the first time. At Fredericksburg UMC we explain each Sunday how we receive communion for the sake of the person who is new and has never experienced the sacrament at our church. I also take time to tell those who regularly attend that the reason we explain the logistics of communion each Sunday is for the sake of the guest. This helps the congregation become aware about hospitality.
4. Avoid church insider language. Just as one should avoid Chrsitianese and Methodese it is also appropriate to avoid church insider language. New persons do not know the inside jokes of the congregation. New persons do not know how to get to the room the Browning Sunday School class meets in order to drop off their food for the food pantry. Churches cannot assume everyone in the pews knows the Faith We Sing hymnal is the small black hymnal.
5. Always introduce yourself and have others introduce themselves as this helps guests get to know persons in the church. This helps guests begin to learn names and faces and leaders in the church. I will often say something like “Good morning, my name is Robb Almy and for those of you who don’t know me I serve as the Associate Pastor here at Fredericksburg UMC.” Likewise, don’t make an announcement and say, “See John for more details.” Not everyone knows who John is. At the very least make John stand.
6. Take time every now and then to explain symbol and liturgy. I believe liturgy and symbols still have power if they are explained. This is true for regular attendees and guests. You might explain one day what is meant by the “quick and the dead” in the Apostles’ Creed. The quick are not the fleet of foot but those who are alive. Or, you might explain what the “holy catholic church” with a small “c” means or the reason why we light candles is it represents the light of Christ.
7. Acknowledge but don’t overwhelm guests during your welcome. Most guests want to feel acknowledged but not overwhelmed. It is appropriate to welcome guests at the beginning of the service and even invite them to fill out a pew card, pew pad, or registration tear off. Please don’t ask the new family with two kids to teach Sunday School next week!
In the end, if we want to provide a place of hospitality for guests we must always filter our language. We might ask, “Does it honor God?” “Do my words help the guest to experience the love of Christ and respond to the love of Christ through worship?” “Would my words make sense to someone who has never been or stopped going to church and is now returning?”
How we treat our guests and what words we use is a stewardship issue. Every guest who comes through our doors is a gift from God. We should remove every human obstacle we can, except the cross of Christ, to the end someone might come to experience the love of Christ and give their life in worship and service to Jesus.
Thanks for your advice mom!