It is difficult for me to believe that we have been living in our current house for almost a year. “Moving” has become a dreaded word in my household. In thirty-three years of marriage, we have moved twelve times. There are many families who have moved more often than us, but I never anticipated hitting double digits. It is some-what reassuring that we will never hit triple digits!
I’m extremely impressed with the families that can move into a new house, and within a week they are completely settled. That is not us! We seem to get to a point where we are fairly comfortable; then the process slows to a crawl. For example, it was easy on moving day to direct a lot of furniture and boxes into the spare bedroom. Then for a year we have avoided the spare bedroom as much as possible! This works as long as no one visits us. Now, however, we have company coming for Thanksgiving. It is time for renewed action!
When I initiated working on the spare bedroom a little over a week ago, it was impossible to even walk around the room. I started by moving boxes into the garage (someday we might actually get to park a car in the garage!), and situating furniture in the spare bedroom. The heavy work is finished, but I have many pictures that I want to hang. Currently, two pictures have gone up. I have sorted through the pictures and stored the extras in the closet. By the time our company arrives, I anticipate having the spare bedroom fully decorated, though I admit that there is still a lot of work to do with a dwindling amount of time. I have twelve days left, with four of those days being out of town days for me (these almost sound like Biblical numbers!).
Is getting the spare bedroom prepared all that we need to do to be ready for company? I wish! The entire house should be cleaned (can we settle for just the public areas?), and I’m suspicious that food is expected! Considering that this visit goes over Thanksgiving, our normal food will likely not suffice for the entire time. I expect that Thanksgiving black-eyed peas would be frowned upon (though this dish is completely appropriate for New Years Day for those of us with southern roots).
Preparing for guests is an uncommon event at my house but should be a big part of what we do at all of our churches. My concern is that many of our churches don’t seem to think that this is an issue for them. Our preparations for guests likely will play a big role in how many visitors decide to make our church their home. If we ever wonder why more people don’t stay at our church, we might want to look at the preparations that we have made. Another term for this is hospitality.
A good starting place is to look at our attitude. Pretty much one hundred percent of our South District churches have told me that they are extremely friendly, and easy for visitors to attend. I am an itinerant church attender (attending a different church most Sundays), and I can tell you that in many of our churches that is not the case. It is apparent to me that the majority of our churches are focusing on the regular attenders, and not on guests. Take something as simple and basic as name tags. It is very common for church members to not wear them, even though it helps visitors a great deal. One suggestion that I make on a regular basis (though I’m doubtful that it has been acted on), is to have our church leaders periodically attend other churches. This allows us to see how other churches do hospitality and reminds us what it feels like to be a visitor. Is this something that might help your church?
Language can also be an issue in our churches. Being a life-long Methodist, I can speak United Methodist fluently (I can also understand a little bit of Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Baptist). If we find that we use United Methodist lingo (like UMW, narthex, UMM, Book of Discipline, DS…), I can guarantee most visitors don’t understand what we are saying. The language that we use matters in making our guests feel comfortable.
Making sure that our church buildings are prepared for company is important every Sunday. Is it clean, uncluttered, and comfortable feeling? I don’t even want to describe some of the smells that I have experienced, or the messes that I have seen. Two of the places that I think should be especially clean are the nurseries and the bathrooms.
An area that we often miss is being sensitive to special-needs. There is a wide range of special needs that can be considered. One example that I am aware of: I have a relative with a young daughter who is Autistic. My relative would love to attend a church but is not aware of one that is prepared for her daughter. What special needs is your church prepared for? Do you advertise this?
Addressing hospitality in a short article is difficult, since this subject can fill a book. There are many more issues that I could talk about. My hope is that this article will encourage us to take a fresh look at the hospitality that we offer at our own church. If you want to use me as a resource, I’m easy to find. I’m the guy wearing the nametag and the shirt with a cross and flame on it (though that leads us to start talking about evangelism).
Your brother on the journey, Mark
Health update: My fourth procedure on my Staghorn kidney stone is the one that allowed us to declare success! My kidney stone and kidney stent (not to mention money) are gone. It feels like Christmas to me (have you noticed that there are only seven Sundays left until Christmas?!?)!