Did you know that the average person makes up there mind about a church between their car door and their seat? Before a song is sung, before the pastor speaks, most people have already made up their mind about a church. Those first impressions mean more than we imagine.
Over the years as a church planter I have visited more churches than most people, doing research. As a pastor I know the drill of finding my way around a church and I am usually looking to be “off-the-radar” as I try to learn from that church without getting any special attention because of being a pastor. A few churches I have visited were down-right unfriendly, but most were reasonably polite. Still even the friendliest of them were a little awkward at first, simply because I didn't know where things were, or what the expectations were. That is why a hospitality team is honestly the most important ministry in the body. Those greeters, ushers, and security people make the church seem not only more welcoming but they determine if a person will stick around.
Recently I visited a church that broke the mold on hospitality. I have never been so impressed by any church’s first impression in all my life. To top it off, I was only at a satellite campus, not even the main campus of this fast growing church. What was so radical? Well, they had a huge team of hospitality people. Out of the 300 people at least 50 of them were involved in hospitality, but I was never mobbed. Instead every guest was greeted individually. A host walked every guest around so they could find everything they needed, including their seat, and they gave us s small packet of information, including a CD. Once we were settled they invited us to come back to the welcome center for a gift. A real gift! When I returned to the Welcome Center they answered all of my questions, and helped me fill out a connect card, had I lived in the area they would have also helped me sign-up for anything I wanted to get involved in. Then the host did one more thing after I left, while my name was still fresh on her mind, Sarah wrote me a brief postcard thanking me for my visit, and invited me back. That postcard went out the same day, and got to my house 800 miles away in two days. If I am ever back there I already know Sarah by name, because she greeted me and escorted me around the church so I didn’t feel lost, and her note reminded me of her name too. Moreover, Sarah answered all of my questions because she had been to a briefing that morning to give her all the info she needed and to remind her of that church's core values.
I was stunned by what I experienced. I thought I knew what good hospitality was all about, but then I got taken to school. I quickly figures out I have a lot to learn. My teenage children talked about their experience for nearly two hours after church. (It takes a lot to impress a couple of PK’s.) After I visited the church I posted about my experience and several people asked to explain what was so powerful about my experience. To be honest, reading this post does not even begin to do it justice. I must also add that I sensed the presence of God, and I heard a Southern Baptist talk about healing and the power of the Spirit in a very meaningful way. Yet, I also have to say that the church wasn’t perfect. The music was so loud one of my kids said she wished she had taken the earplugs. Even my son who loves it loud said, it would be hard to do that every week. The music and the preaching were good but not awesome. Yet this church has grown from handful of people in 2006 to over 20,000 people in 2015. So they have done a great job in making people want to stay. All I know, is that I am planning on going back to visit that church and learn more.
My take-away? Well, People ask me all the time, "How can I serve? What can I do to make a difference?" My first response has always been hospitality because I can't think of any more impacting role than to be part of the hospitality team. Too often people look at that role as beneath them, they take that role for granted, but the truth is, that's why most churches don't make much of an impact. I would love for everyone to feel what I felt when I visited that church. They made me feel like I was an angel from heaven that had landed in their midst. So I am going to spend the next several weeks with my team learning and growing in the ministry of hospitality.