Want to reach more non-churched people in your community? One way is quite simple: be hospitable.

In our early research and testing for the Lifetree Café ministry, we discovered the potency of hospitality. One of the natural forms of hospitality comes through food and drink. People naturally feel more welcomed, comfortable and open when they’re offered refreshments.

So, just as you would when guests come to your home, we offer complimentary refreshments to all who come to Lifetree Café locations throughout the country. The coffee and snacks put them at ease, feel at home, and make conversation flow. The ambience set by the refreshments is a key element of Lifetree’s success and effectiveness.

Jesus repeatedly modeled the hospitable use of food in ministry. Even during a big worship gathering of 5,000, he managed to feed the whole bunch.

But most church worship services today really frown on the use of hospitable refreshments. A few years ago I served on a church committee that was tasked with refreshing one of our worship services. We decided to place a coffee cart in the lobby and offer complimentary drinks and snacks. Immediately the refreshments made a positive difference. People talked with one another more, lingered longer, and felt freer to meet newcomers.

But then the elders noticed the change. They were not happy. They observed that some worshipers not only indulged in the refreshments in the lobby; some actually walked into the sanctuary with their coffee. Shame!

They called a special 6 a.m. meeting and promptly ordered the removal of the coffee cart. Furthermore, they dictated that signs must be placed on the sanctuary doors that read: “No social beverages allowed.” That wording was carefully chosen because an elder pointed out that a simpler “no beverages” sign might suggest that communion would be disallowed.

Serving worshipers food and drink may have been good for Jesus. But it’s just too much to swallow for many church leaders today. And it’s starving our ability to reach the very people who hunger for the nourishment that our Lord continues to offer.