Radical Hospitality at the “Soda Fountain”

On Sunday afternoon, a friend and I visited a local “soda fountain”. It was a beautiful afternoon. So, after getting our “Diet Coke”, we made our way to the outdoor seating area.

The outdoor seating overlooks a small pond surrounded by beautiful trees. It truly is gorgeous, especially this time of the year. Who would have imagined a “soda fountain” would be surrounded by such beauty?

Before we could find a seat, an older gentleman seated with a younger gentleman waved us over and offered an invitation to join them. He immediately struck up a conversation.

After some interesting small talk, he said, “Well, if you have the time, I’d like to buy you another ‘Diet Coke’.” We didn’t want to be rude, so we accepted the offer.

The conversation continued. The older gentleman has led a pretty intriguing life. He is a retired businessman and splits his time between Indiana and California. I love California! So, I’m thinking I need to become close friends with this guy so I can have a free place to stay!

We talked about how the “soda fountain” wasn’t very busy. He talked about the lack of advertising and creative marketing. We talked about how it was a shame because the “soda fountain” truly is one of the gems of this area.

He asked what I did for a living and I told him that I’m the pastor at Centerville United Methodist Church.

He responded, “I don’t go to church. But, hey, the Church has great advertising. People are always talking about churches and trying to get other people to go.”

Before we left, he said, “Hey, we’re here most Sunday’s. So, maybe we’ll see you next week.” Then he invited us to join his “losers club” that meets at the “soda fountain” on Thursday’s. I think I’ll stop by!

The whole interaction was a great display of radical hospitality. Here are some things I learned that are good food for thought for the Church:

Radical hospitality starts with an invitation. The gentleman saw two guys looking for a place to sit and invited us over. How many in the church are inviting others to come and sit for a while? When we see people looking around, do we invite them to join us?

Radical hospitality isn’t a one-way street. The gentleman didn’t have an agenda. He didn’t monopolize the conversation. But, it wasn’t all about us either. He asked us questions and shared about himself and we left the conversation intrigued by the most interesting man at the “soda fountain”. How many of our conversations with our guests are one-way streets (trying to get their information, trying to get them into the next group study, trying to get them to come back, trying to sell our church)?

Radical hospitality is sacrificial. The gentleman, as a way of indicating that he had enjoyed visiting with us and a way to extend our visit, offered to buy the next round of “Diet Coke”. He didn’t have to do that. But, we were humbled and honored that this stranger wanted to keep us around long enough to enjoy another “soda”. How often in the church are we thinking more about what our guests have to offer us than what we have to offer them? How do we view our guests…as potential friends or as potential contributors to our budget? Do we make a sacrifice (of our time and resources) in extending hospitality?

Radical hospitality ends with an invitation. The gentleman made two invitations. He indicated that we were welcome to join him on Thursday’s or Sunday’s…anytime. I left the “soda fountain” with the impression that the guy really would be open and welcome to another visit.

Radical hospitality can’t be faked. The gentleman was genuine and sincere. He wasn’t going through the steps of some program a consultant taught him. He was simply being a warm and friendly individual. How often are we simply going through the motions or checking off the steps we were giving in our hospitality training seminar?

– Radical hospitality happens in many environments. This lesson on radical hospitality took place at the “soda fountain”. Honestly, the most impressive displays of radical hospitality I’ve experienced have taken place in coffee shops, bars, homes, and “soda fountains”. While radical hospitality can happen in the church building on Sunday morning, it needs to happen outside the walls of the church too!

Where have you experienced radical hospitality recently?