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.