I have been thinking about hospitality ever since I visited a local restaurant that did not seem to take customer service seriously. The food could have been outstanding, but I still would not have returned because of the lousy service. Just so you know, the food was not outstanding…it was mediocre at best. I started to think about customer service, hospitality, and the church. We can have great music and great preaching…but if we don’t practice radical hospitality…that great music and great preaching may fall on deaf ears. At the same time, we can have mediocre music and mediocre preaching…and people may return if we practice radical hospitality. And, so, the following are my thoughts based on the restaurant experience.
Let’s be honest for a moment…Those of us in ministry can be a bit arrogant, prideful, and egotistical. And, at the same time, many of are totally oblivious to the world around us.
Now, those of you who struggle with the practice of being honest with yourselves are saying, “Speak for yourself, Jason. I’m not arrogant, prideful, or egotistical. I’m not oblivious to the world around me. I’m ‘culturally relevant’. Hell, I just cussed. And, I did a sermon series based on the characters from ‘Seinfeld’ last month. Anyway, I am the freakin’ dictionary definition of humility.”
Well, now back to reality. Why would I accuse those in ministry of these things? Well, it has to do with our ideas that coffee and donuts don’t matter! We have erroneously convinced ourselves that our efforts in hospitality really don’t matter.
And, why are we convinced that coffee and donuts don’t matter? Well, because our powerful preaching of the Holy Scripture should be enough to convict and convince people to come back. We don’t have to treat our “guests” well because the Holy Spirit will move and motivate them to return. They will desire to come back because our sermons were a) powerful, b) funny, c) entertaining, d) Spirit-filled, or e) all of the above. Let’s be honest again…how many of you would mark “all of the above” for your last message?
The problem is that when one does a little bit of research, we can see the “fruit” of our powerful preaching. It seems that the Spirit is indeed moving…it just happens to be moving somewhere else. Some of you may say, “Well, all the old ladies say, ‘great job, pastor’, when I’m finished.” Could it be they are simply relieved that you finally shut up? Many of us will get defensive and say, “well, numbers don’t matter.” But, let’s be honest…if we are in the ministry of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” numbers do matter.
So, I would argue that coffee and donuts do matter! We cannot overlook the importance of first impressions. Our practice of radical hospitality, from the moment someone arrives on our property to the time they leave will have a huge impact on whether or not guests will return. I recently heard that guests will make their decision to return to our churches within the first 6 to 7 minutes of their visit. So, let’s think about what happens during those seven minutes…
– They park
– They walk into the building
– They visit the restroom
– They drink coffee and eat donuts
– They enter the worship space
What doesn’t happen during those seven minutes…powerful preaching, music (some may have gotten the first song in the first seven minutes…but let’s face it, some of our churches have announcements that go on for 10-15 minutes), and all the “important” stuff.
The way we welcome our guests is extremely important. Coffee and donuts are important.
Some will argue that their church is “friendly”. The problem is that most of our churches are only “friendly” with those who already “belong”. I wonder if our visitors would affirm that we are indeed a “friendly” church?
We simply cannot underestimate the importance of the ministry of hospitality. Coffee and donuts matter.
I would go out on a limb and say that if you were to take a look at the growing churches in your community, you would find that they believe that hospitality is important…that coffee and donuts are important.
Then, take a look at the churches who are in decline. If I weren’t a Methodist, I would bet that many (not all) of our churches in decline don’t place a very high priority on hospitality (there are many, many reasons why some churches are in decline…however, I believe hospitality, or the lack thereof, is a big reason for declining congregations). They probably don’t believe that coffee and donuts matter.
“Keep loving each other like family. Don’t neglect to open up your homes to guests, because by doing this some have been hosts to angels without knowing it.” ~Hebrews 13:1-2