I remember the meeting, colleagues were getting tired (rightly) of my constant harping about hospitality, how this church I served some time ago needed to become more welcoming. Finally one staff member had enough, “so what specific programs and training would you propose to make this happen here?” Her implication was failing a program or set of training tools it was not fair to expect folks showing up as greeters or lay people arriving each Sunday for worship to know how to make others feel welcome. Clergy are trained to be professionals, we often see ourselves like teachers (or if we are feeling the need for others to look up to us, professors). And so we expect to solve our church challenges with training or education, a workshop, a seminar, an expert from “away” will come in and solve this dilemma.
Let’s be clear, this does make a positive difference. Having people spend quality time together learning from experts and tried and true techniques can improve our skill set. I have seen the evidence of this, churches that invest in hospitality in this manner do improve their welcoming atmosphere.
But what I think I was trying to say at that church (albeit annoyingly) was that personal example also matters, when we see each other showing consideration, making the first effort to say hello, taking interest in others, it does have a spin off effect. The Apostle Paul often used himself as an example, including his flaws and baggage so as to remain humble. Paul would tell churches, “imitate me”. I think when staff and lay leaders set an example churches see this and they themselves make an effort to welcome. It’s not either or but both and. Training and learning new skills does make a difference but so does setting an example.
It’s all of our responsibility to make our social settings as inviting as possible. A little bit of new learning here and courageous effort there will go a long way to make us the very group we would want to join if we showed up for the first time.