After a recent move a friend (we'll call her Sue) decided to find a church nearer her home.
She began her search by checking out a nearby mega-church. Despite their claims, it was an unfriendly experience. Three episodes showed that "friendliness" was an aspirational rather than an actual value at this church.
- She received a “free” coffee coupon they would not redeem.
- They made no good faith effort to replace the blank DVD of a message she purchased.
- Her request for prayer was met with, “Umm. What do you want?”
Sue's experience illustrates three actions undertaken by genuinely guest friendliness.
1. Guest friendly churches keep their promises
When Sue presented a coupon for a free coffee drink for newcomers (it was printed in the bulletin) at the at the church coffee shop the barista tell her, “Sorry. We are out of that coffee.”
“Can you give me something else?”
“No, I cannot.”
She asked again, noting that the church should make good on their “promises.”
She was denied again. No substitutions.
What if Sue was an unbeliever? What impression would this guest unfriendly church leave on her? She might conclude the church had an integrity problem.
Genuinely guest friendly churches keep their promises. In fact, they make it a point to "under promise and over deliver." After all, isn't that what you expect when you visit a church? The golden rule also applies to a church's hospitality. “31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:31, ESV)
Simple promise-keeping is critical in how a church presents herself, be it a promise to give a free bible, a free message, or, yes, even a free cup of coffee.
Pastor, who has the responsibility, the authority and the passion to insure that whatever the church promises its guests is delivered?
2. Guest friendly churches go the extra mile
Sue decided to look beyond “coffee shop experience” and planned to return the follwing week. But before she left, she ordered a DVD of the message.
When she got home she discovered that the DVD was blank.
The following Sunday she went to the Visitor Center thinking they could help her.
Their reply? “We are sorry, but you will have to return it to the Church Office on Monday.”
That is definitely "user unfriendly."
Sue remained firm in her resolve. She let it be known that she wanted them to solve the problem. She purchased the DVD at the Visitor Center, so she expected them to handle the problem. Finally, the Visitor Center attendant said, “Well, I guess we could leave it in the church office and ask for a replacement.”
Guest friendly churches train their members to serve. If retailers and service providers bend over backwards to serve people, should not the church? “43…Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43b-45, ESV)
Pastor, who trains the people who interact with guests how to serve, how to go the extra mile?
3. Guest friendly churches minister to guests
That Sunday Sue had come to church with other pressing needs. This rebuff at the Visitor Center only magnified her hurt feelings, so she hoped someone might be available to pray with her. She asked the attendant at the Visitor Center if there was a place or person she could approach for prayer.
The attendant seemed confused. “Umm. You want what?”
Seriously - you can't make this stuff up! The attendant was stumped and did not know how to answer a request for prayer.
Mercifully, a discerning Christian overheard the conversation and said, “Excuse me. I’d be happy to pray with you. Can we go find somewhere private?” They found a private place, shared burdens and sorrows, and tears and healing flowed. (Galatians 6:2)
Guest friendly churches reccognize that people visit for a reason, often related to spiritual or emotional distress. They are quick to provide counsel, biblical comfort and prayer. After all, when was the last time you heard of someone waking up on Sunday morning, feeling on top of the world and deciding - out of the blue - to visit a new church?
It just doesn't happen.
Pastor, how are you training people to serve (rather than be served) when the church gathers?
Don't be the 2nd friendliest church in town!
Our friend, Paul Borden, tells us that in all his years of service he has never visited the second friendliest church in town!
No church sets out to be unfriendly. But many that see themselves as friendly are in fact quite unfriendly when seen through the eyes of a church guest.
Don't be that church. Do the hard work of excelling in church hospitality.
After all, you never know when Sue will cross the threshold into your sanctuary.