What kind of hospitality are guests looking for when they walk through your church doors on Sunday? Here are four things to keep in mind.
Mary Manz Simon
I chose to sit near the front of the church. As a guest speaker, I was also presenting the children’s message and wanted easy access. Settling into an empty row, I sensed, rather than saw, a person standing above me. I looked up into a frowning face. After a moment of hesitation, trying to figure out what I had done wrong, I finally whispered, “Is this your usual seat?” The woman nodded, and I moved.
Sunday morning hospitality in this church was sabotaged by a regular worshiper. Although the incident happened years ago, it’s seared into my memory.
Societal and cultural changes over the past several years have put a “spin” on some concepts of church hospitality and congregational practice. Is now the time for a reset that reflects our post-pandemic society and today’s culture?
1. Allow guests to make decisions
My husband and I recently visited a multi-campus megachurch with our son, Matt, and his family. When the auditorium doors opened, church volunteers herded us to the third row of chairs. Fortunately, I had picked up a pair of packaged orange earplugs as I walked past a small table at the entrance. I needed them. Our son’s decibel counter read 106.2. According to Matt, a church music leader, that’s a “dangerous level.” Although my ears weren’t damaged, I wouldn’t have chosen to sit near the front in a church that offered earplugs.“Display hospitality while also giving your guests the autonomy to make some decisions about their church experience.” — Mary Manz Simon Click To Tweet
Our society embraced the ability to make decisions about their experiences long before the flex-mentality and hybrid work schedules of these emerging post-pandemic years. Display hospitality while also giving your guests the autonomy to make some decisions about their church experience. Does your church still designate a segment of the worship space for visitors? Allow visitors to choose a seat that makes sense for them.
2. Offer learning opportunities
Growth is especially important to those sometimes referred to as Zoomers—Generation Z (born 1997-2012). The COVID era hit just as many were defining their adulthood. Research indicates how they make friends, the lens through which they view employment, and even their travel choices have been shaped by the pandemic.
These young adults want to continue growing, so offer a variety of formats, styles, and learning levels. Mentorship, small groups, online training courses, and other educational formats should be available. However, “digging deep” is important not only for a young generation of seekers and believers but for people of all ages who seek to grow spiritually.
Give high visibility to the learning opportunities you offer. In a smaller church, options may be staggered throughout the year instead of being offered simultaneously. However, upcoming opportunities should be included in any communication piece that includes information about spiritual growth and wellness. A guest might only visit once, so maximize this single opportunity.
3. Be alert to members of the “silver tsunami”
About 10,000 adults turned 65 today. And about 10,000 more will turn 65 tomorrow and the next day too. According to the 2020 United States Census, all boomers will be at least 65 years old by 2030. From personal experience, older adults especially appreciate designated parking spaces identified for all worship guests. When visiting a church this week, I noticed a parked wheelchair visible from the parking lot. Making a worship space accessible opens the door to this huge demographic.“People are looking for social gathering places in the church. But make sure these spaces are ready to welcome guests of all ages.” — Mary Manz Simon Click To Tweet
During a recent visit to a multi-campus megachurch, I immediately noticed a tripping hazard in the large gathering space outside of the worship center. Although an area rug visually identified a small seating area to encourage social engagement, the edge of the rug had flipped up. Post-pandemic shifts have triggered what Pew Research Center describes as a “renewed appreciation for social activities.” People are looking for social gathering places in the church. But make sure these spaces are ready to welcome guests of all ages.
And remember to pay attention to the lighting. When worship ended, although strobe lights were still flashing, the lights were dim as we walked through the aisle to exit. A variety of age-related eye conditions can reduce vision in dim light. Especially when in an unfamiliar space, older adults might not be aware of tripping hazards.
4. Provide a path for future contact
Many church visitor handouts include a QR code for convenient scanning. Offering quick links matches today’s hustle culture.
But don’t overlook the aesthetic and content on the physical handout itself. I am drawn to attractive handouts that provide a snapshot of ways the church might serve me in the future. I read everything in hardcopy communication pieces. A church that offers well-written content with a friendly tone immediately makes a good impression."A church that offers well-written content with a friendly tone immediately makes a good impression." — Mary Manz Simon Click To Tweet
Be sure to maintain boundaries as you seek to communicate in a friendly, welcoming manner. As a first-time guest during a recent church visit, I received a mug with a card tucked inside. The last line of the note from the pastor read, “Feel free to text me–I would love to connect with you.” His cell phone number was included below the signature.
Reading that invitation, I almost called aloud, “No!” I embrace the outreach-oriented concept of making oneself available to others, especially when in ministry. However, to me, this public cell phone posting signaled a lack of boundaries for the pastor. Ensure a visitor’s follow-up contact with the congregation takes a respectful path.