Don't be weird

Last week I gave a talk at a conference for small churches on effective hospitality and greeting techniques. I'm not an expert on the subject but I do have some recent worldly experience considering every single person that I've encountered at Downtown Church was a guest before they were a regular. Church folks, especially the kind that go to churchy conferences already talk about hospitality and welcome with enthusiasm and fervor, so I didn't bother with a bunch of theological mumbo jumbo. Instead I focused on the simple and practical things (almost all of them free) that I believe lead to a more pleasant experience for guests. Below are the ten commandments of effective hospitality that I proposed. Add to the list in the comments if you care.

  1. Know your Context: being nice is universal - how you are nice is not.
  2. Don't be Weird: the boundary between set apart and strange is narrower than you think.
  3. Bite your tongue: insider language is just another barrier for entry - don't bother saying it if you don't have time to explain it.
  4. Obsess over details: if I'm a guest, my standard isn't other churches - it's the local dry cleaner, pharmacy, and bike shop that consistently delivers excellent customer service while remembering my first name.
  5. Make a keepsake: if it resembles something from a convention (water bottle, coffee mug, fridge magnet) don't bother - the keyword is "make". Whatever it is (a delightful gorgeous worship bulletin is the best keepsake), make it so pretty that I won't throw it away out of respect to the inherent beauty contained in that thing
  6. Learn the universal languages: Food, laughter, and good music are the easiest way to make an emotional connection with a stranger. Eat often and eat well - that means crappy church coffee is a sin.
  7. Lose the Name tags: if you don't know who your guests are each Sunday than your problems exceed the scope of this presentation.
  8. Be nice on Monday: a simple email or phone call for every first time guest the week after is not only appropriate, it's human. People need to be noticed.
  9. Un-program your welcome: over programmed welcome initiatives require volunteers  and there are some people like Karl the curmudgeon and pouty Peggy that need to stay as far away from guests as possible.
  10. Tell a sticky story: if your delight your guests with a surprisingly abundant and generous welcome, they will become your best evangelists and tell the story of your church from firsthand experience. This is the cheapest and most effective marketing ploy ever.