I was explaining “radical hospitality” at a church workshop. I almost choked when I said my usual line: “Radical hospitality goes beyond a smiling greeter at the door.”
I was aware that this church hadn’t yet covered even the basics of hospitality. The office staff had developed a reputation of junkyard dogs–repelling visitors, members and fellow staff.
Sometimes, when churches are struggling, leaders search for intricate strategies to increase their visibility and outreach in the community. They hire consultants to advise them. But actually they could take a giant step forward by doing something very simple. Be nice.
Just be nice.
It starts at the front lines–the front office and the telephone. The people in these positions create first impressions, for better or worse. The good ones exude warmth and love, making all feel welcome. The un-nice ones bark and bite, or simply ignore those who approach.
Front-line people seem to be selected from three different bins:
1. Bodyguards. They fiercely deflect and discourage anyone who may wish to speak to the pastor or other leader. They’re tough.
2. Task masters. They put paperwork, numbers and things first. They’re busy.
3. Ambassadors. They love people, lead with a smile, and sparkle with hospitality. They’re nice.
Hint: When looking to fill a front-line position, look first in bin #3. A naturally kind and cheerful person can be taught to screen inquiries and organize the office. But it’s hard to teach a chronic sourpuss to be nice.
Some churches really understand “nice.” Take, for example, Hope Church near Rochester, New York. Director of music and outreach David Hurlbutt actually teaches a course entitled “Front-line Impact–Unlearning ‘Church’–Serving God and Guest.” He inspires the staff to show love to each person who connects with Hope–no matter if they’re a member, visitor, homeless person, staff member, or vendor. Front-line people are trained how to answer the phone with love. “Callers need to know: 1.) We’re thrilled they called; 2.) They matter; and 3.) We’ll get them to the appropriate person or answer their question as best we can,” Hurlbutt said.
“Radical hospitality” is one of the “four acts of love” we describe in Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore. But being nice isn’t really radical. It’s basic. It’s simple Golden Rule stuff.
In a day when growing numbers of people are avoiding the church, many wonder how to stop the bleeding. How about starting with this: Just be nice.
Gini commented on Facebook: “Sometimes even the pastors need to learn this, too. It may be difficult to remember at times when there are many demands on energy and time, but just being nice goes a very long way towards creating a positive, welcoming atmosphere.”
Nancy commented on Facebook: “I had an appointment with the director of the local “community ministry” which operates the area food bank. When I got there, I had to ring a buzzer to get in. The voice box growled “Do you have an appointment?” Not “hello,” or “How can I help you.” Is this the ministry of welcoming the stranger?”
Great article. Thanks for the reminder!
Anyone else laugh at the name “Hurlbutt” besides me? Sorry… ?
Pat commented on Facebook: “It’s so simple and so basic. It’s amazing Christians have to be taught this.”
Sheila commented on Facebook: “My preschool was just inspected by the state and one of the inspector’s comments was, “It felt so warm and friendly when I came in, and everyone was really happy. This must be a nice place.” Now if churches would view each person as an “inspector” and really engage with them, that would be a ministry breakthrough!”
I was talking to a church once, they said their outreach was the school at their church. When I was visiting, one of the school staff was yelling at a woman who accidentally parked in the wrong place and then stormed after her into the parking lot in front of all the children and parents. I am not sure if that is what Jesus had in mind when he said go be a light in the world.
What a very Christian idea……be nice…I don’t recall in the many years of employment at the church any one suggesting we just…be nice!
At my work, we have what I called Sunday school classes with ethics and anti-harassment training. In one of those sessions, they were telling us to smile and say hello to each other in the morning, basically do the same thing everyone complains about Christians doing at church in putting on a fake smiley face, a halo and pretending to be someone your not. The irony in the fact that the work place is moving into training ethics and morals because people are not going to church getting taught this simple stuff like being nice. I remember going through the period of time where people were criticized for wearing a mask when going to church with a fake smile giving the impression everything is perfect with you. So now people took off the masks to be themselves as to not be called fake Christians and find people don’t like it when other people being their true selves. So, Hey. Let get those masks back out, put on that fake smiley face and be nice even though we really don’t feel like it. Maybe fake isn’t so bad after all. Maybe those old people everyone was calling fake modern day Pharisees pretending to be happy and nice 20-30 years ago actually knew what they were doing. I have to be fake at work when doing business with my suppliers and customers in order to be approachable and to keep good relations with them. I learned how to do this at church and got lots of practice every Sunday. You know what? It works!
Someone using the name “Simple Discipleship” commented on Facebook: “The sad reality: 2000 years ago, Jesus was slaughtered on a cross to satisfy God’s wrath and provide forgivness for the sin of all mankind. 2000 years later, we are taught how to be “nice” to people in hopes they will feel welcome in our religious services and come again. Is this what Jesus intended?, Did Jesus say, “Go into Jerusalem and wait to be baptized in the Holy Spirit so you will recieve POWER to be nice?” Seriously?”
And here is Timothy’s response to Simple Discipleship’s comment: “And this comment right here is an example why I don’t go to church. The vitriol is dripping from it.”
If we can control our attitude then why not be nice wherever we go in or out of church. Can’t we smile in the face of adversity? I saw Walmart being nice to customers today that proves church people can do it if we really try.
Great observation. Now, how do we handle those who appear “nice,” but are insincere? Approaching with a loving attitude seems to make them think you are condescending. Prayer has helped a few times, but some become like the “junkyard dogs” you described. Especially the long time members who “have done a lot ” for the Church.