Hospitality is defined as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.”
This past fall I taught a two-session class in our synod that centered on this concept of hospitality. We delved into questions of space, time, music, mission, vision, and what people experience from the moment they pull into a church parking lot to the final hymn and dismissal from worship.
As we delved into the introduction to The Sunday Assembly, Worship Matters, and Sing With All the People of God: A Handbook for Church Musicians, we coalesced around the idea that hospitality is truly born out of a love for those who are being served. It is asking the questions that will truly matter to those who are seeking, whether they are seeking a weekly return to a beloved family, a new experience of God, or a respite from a sometimes harsh world.
At its most basic, we ask the question: how does Christ welcome us? From there we can figure out what the needful things are. What is necessary, and what is just “nice to have”?
The class conversation ranged from the lighting situation in some narthexes (and naves) to what liturgy and hymns are chosen (and how); from confusing service folders and too-long intercessory prayers to clunky mission statements and non-inclusive language.
We also rejoiced together when our efforts, through the work of the Holy Spirit, created a space that reflected God’s love for us, and our loving response to neighbor.
What are the “right” questions to ask? I certainly commend all three resources I cited earlier as great places to start. They are full of information, guidance, and recommended practices that are meant to help you think more about your context, your mission, and your choices. Perhaps most importantly they challenge us to ask if we are serving the community with our choices, or simply leaning into our own comfort zone.
Another suggestion I would make is (intentionally) to invite a guest to worship, prepping them to give you feedback, whether it be about the liturgy itself, how welcomed they felt when they walked in, or what their overall impression of the space is. This can start a conversation about why you do what you do, which is a critical conversation; our ability to listen, adapt and even change the way we do something is a sign of a humble yet healthy congregation, intent on mission and service to others.