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Hospitality for Growing Churches

Posted by Tom Bandy, Consultant on

Hospitality for Growing Churches


               Jesus often compared the Kingdom of God to a wedding feast, and that is a good way to think about radical hospitality. Imagine the wedding of your son or daughter. How would you welcome the guests? Some are friends you know, others are new family members you have barely met, and still others are strangers. Yet for the love you bear your daughter or son, you will go out of your way to make each one feel completely at home. Even so, Christ is the "bridegroom"; he has invited everyone in the world to the feast; and for the love we bear him, we go out of our way to make everyone feel at home.

 The Mantra of Hospitality

 Acceptance         Fairness    Liberality          Respect

 The Purpose of Hospitality

                Whoever went to a wedding where the real focus of conversation was not the bride and groom, and their future life together? There are three goals for great hospitality.

 Encourage Significant Conversations

 Any conversation that involves healing, hope, purposeful living, deepening friendship, personal transformation, justice, or acceptance is a significant conversation. Idle chatter about weather, sports, local gossip, or fundraising is not. You can usually tell when a significant conversation occurs (even if you do not overhear it) by the body language and eye contact of people.

 Connect with Spiritual Leaders

Pastor, board, staff, and ministry team leaders are all spiritual leaders of the church. Most people get closer to a church through the next relationship rather than through a program. Introduce strangers to members and members to leaders. Point them out, share an important insight about them, or provide a "hook" that will allow them to start another conversation.

Motivate Next Steps for a Spiritual Life

 It always feels natural to open a door for someone and invite them in. Hospitality before worship intentionally invites people into worship and prepares them to find it meaningful. A word of preparation and expectation helps. After worship, the door is held open to enter the world. A word of encouragement toward a small group, mission opportunity, or personal focus gets them started.

 Hospitality is not really about helping people find a seat in the sanctuary or passing out bulletins. The purpose of hospitality is to encourage significant conversations about God-with-Us.

 The Place of Hospitality in Discipleship Development

 Hospitality contributes to the traction that a church has in its cultural context to move the church forward to fulfill its vision.

 Hospitality draws people into worship that changes lives … and draws people out of worship into significant conversations about faith, hope, and love.

 Four Basic Kinds of Hospitality

 See and the resource called Mission Impact: Lifestyle Expectations for Ministry

Different kinds of people appreciate different kinds of hospitality.

The Basics:         A friendly handshake at the main entrance; a generic coffee from a big steel urn; a donut; and time to catch up with their friends. Seniors, veteran church members, people with lower incomes often appreciate these simple gestures.

Multiple Choices:             An effusive greeting and personal introduction at every entrance; lots of choices for quality refreshments; time to meet the pastor and spiritual leaders; insights into the programs of the church. Boomers, church shoppers, people with middle incomes, love this kind of hospitality.

Healthy Choices:              Layers of greeters; healthy refreshments low on sugar and caffeine and big on fruits and juices; intentional, spiritual conversation; connection with a small group or mission service opportunity. Zoomers, serious seekers, of all ages, appreciate sensitivity to holistic health.

Take-Out:           Constant welcome; spontaneous spiritual insights; take-out food for later, gifts and handouts; electronic networking. Students, youth, 20-somethings ... low incomes, mobile lives. The food they take with them may be all they eat for the rest of the day.

Layers of Hospitality

                Effective hospitality is repetitive. People may be welcomed several times, and even if they miss one opportunity they will not miss recognition. There are at least eight opportunities for hospitality in even the smallest church.

Parking Team:       Hospitality begins the minute visitors park their car. Large churches often have valets who can either park your car for you, or give you guidance. Small churches often station someone outside the main door to help seniors or young families disembark, and point the driver in the right direction.

Outdoor Greeters Stationed outside at all key entrances and clearly visible as people walk to church … to welcome, articulate the mission, and literally open the doors.

Indoor Greeters    Stationed inside at all key entrances to welcome, articulate mission, and guide people to refreshments, rest rooms, worship centers, or Sunday school.

Welcome Center:  A major communication and refreshment center is often located at the single biggest intersection in the building ... a narthex, hallway, or other crossroads.

Minglers:                Spiritual leaders deployed intentionally amid the refreshments to seek out newcomers and engage them in conversation.

Ushers:                    Stationed at each worship center entrance, for each worship service, representing the 3-4 major lifestyle segments in the primary mission field in the neighborhoods around the church.

Personal Support: Teams stationed around the sanctuary during worship, ready to go to people touched by God to offer emotional support, prayer, or other coaching during and after worship.

Refreshments:       Friendly and generous servers, preparing and presenting a selection of refreshments, relevant to seekers, from multiple serving stations in the fellowship “hub” of the church.

Small churches may not need to have all eight layers, but the principle of repetition remains important. Remember that the same teams that are deployed before worship should also be in place after worship. The last thing a visitor should see as they drive away is a hospitality team member waving goodbye, and praying for their safe journey.

 Hospitality for Tongue-Tied Christians

In every opportunity of hospitality, volunteers are trained to do and say basic things. Most of us are naturally awkward and tongue-tied around strangers ... but also around people who perhaps know us all too well! So volunteers are trained to do a few things all the time.

 What do you do?               Demonstrate the “Fruits of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23)

 Smile; relax; be pleasant; recognize people of all kinds and ages; anticipate their needs; show them what's next; introduce them to someone else.

 What do you say?             Memorize and readily share the mission statement or vision of the church.

 "Welcome to the church! I hope God will bless you today!"

"Please stay for refreshments and meet some of our spiritual leaders personally."

"Is there any way I can pray for you today?"

"Is there anything the church can do for you this week?"

"Please accept this small gift (for you or your children) in appreciation of our new friendship."

 Always remember that hospitality for seekers is their first step into a companionship with Jesus Christ. And hospitality for members is their constant encouragement to go deeper and further in Christ.

 Planning Hospitality

 More than what people expect!

Better than what people normally experience!

More joyful than their usual experience in the world! 








Comfort Zones




Personal Preference









 Measuring Success in Hospitality

                All congregational ministries should develop concrete ways to measure success. At the end of the year, the Hospitality Team must be able to assess whether or not they have accelerated church growth. That is to say, have they help seekers and disciples go deeper into the mystery of Christ and further in the mission of Christ?

  • Statistics: There are several ways to statistically measure the success of the Hospitality Team. What percentage of newcomers return a second or third time? Is the number of people lingering for refreshments increasing, and by how much? How many newcomers subsequently participate in a small group?
  • Stories: Great hospitality always creates a “buzz” of conversation in the church and community. Do you overhear positive comments on Sunday morning (or during the week) praising the behavior of Hospitality Team members; celebrating their sensitivity; and complimenting refreshments? Are these stories increasing in frequency?
  • Feedback: Periodically invite 2nd and 3rd time newcomers to participate in a focus group. Invite them to lunch at a nearby restaurant, and ask them to rate your Hospitality Team and their tactics. Invite them to offer suggestions to do hospitality better.

 Hospitality Teams take their mission just as seriously as a five-star restaurateur. Indeed, since God’s mission is at stake, they should take it even more seriously. They are the “first impression” seekers have of the life and mission of the church. If you don’t succeed in welcoming them, they may never experience the healing, friendship, guidance, justice, hope, and transformation for which they yearn.

 Building a Hospitality Team

Choosing the Hospitality Team Leader

                If hospitality is like a wedding feast, then every church needs a "wedding planner". Hospitality is so important that it requires a designated leader. It cannot be left to chance or even be managed by a committee. Someone takes authority and responsibility to train people to do it, coordinate it, and evaluate results. What kind of leader are we looking for?

  • Accountable to the pastor: This leader is loyal to the pastor's leadership. (S)he is ready to be trained, coached, and evaluated; articulate about the values and beliefs of the church; focused on the goal of significant conversations about God in daily life.
  •  Partner with other leaders: This leader is a team player with other leaders. (S)he understands the discipling process and works cooperatively with others to change, gift, call, equip, and send mature Christians into mission.
  • Regular spiritual habits: This leader both models and mentors spiritual disciplines for others on the hospitality team. (S)he worships regularly, participates in mission, and practices daily habits of prayer, Bible reading, spiritual conversation, and faith sharing.
  • Heart for seekers: This leader prioritizes seekers over members. (S)he invests more time and energy on Sunday morning with newcomers, visitors, and strangers to grace than with church veterans, members, and mature Christians.

 The Hospitality Team leader is directly accountable to the pastor, and takes authority and responsibility to select, train, evaluate, and (if necessary) dismiss volunteers from hospitality ministries.

Choosing the Right Hospitality Team

Growing churches rotate their hospitality team members at least every three years. The very success of hospitality leaders in befriending people coming to worship slowly reduces their effectiveness. Slowly but surely we begin to pay more attention, and spend more time, with the people we know than with the people we don’t know. So we are always introducing new leaders into our hospitality teams. What kind of person are we looking for?

  • Enthusiastic people: People who naturally smile when they think about God, the church, and Christian mission. They smile a lot. They are optimistic. They are genuinely happy to be at worship on Sunday morning. No matter what challenges facing the church or their personal lives, they believe God’s love is everlasting.
  • Confident people: People who have no inhibitions about meeting a stranger. They take initiative. They have high self-esteem. They model positive Christian values and basic faith convictions with anyone anywhere. They respond creatively to unexpected problems and opportunities.
  • Open-hearted people: People who are sensitive to the needs and yearnings of others. They accept the fact that people can and should be different. They respect minorities. They sympathize with young and old; rich and poor; singles and families. They value people of other cultures.
  • Trainable people: People who are open to learn something new. They are prepared to step beyond their comfort zones and acquire new skills. They will do homework, extra reading, additional workshops, or commit to coaching relationships.

Ask several longtime members or leaders with broad credibility across the spectrum of church life, to review the membership list.  Ask them to privately and anonymously evaluate individuals on a scale of 1-10 in each category. Compare the lists, and you will see certain names come up repeatedly. That’s your short list to invite people onto the Hospitality Team.

Training the Hospitality Team

               Growing churches always train their hospitality team. Training is not optional. It happens at least once a year and is required for both new team members and veteran team members. If any hospitality team member misses the training for any reason other than health, family emergency or unavoidable business trip, they are dismissed from the team. You may wish to videotape the training so that those few who do miss it can be trained. What does basic training look like?

  •  Understand the Ministry of Hospitality:

 Basic training helps team leaders see the bigger picture of the discipling process … and how they fit into it. They are not just greeting people with a smile. They are moving people forward into a disciple-making process.

  •  The Broken … looking for healing …                      seeking the healing Jesus
  • The Lost … looking for guidance …                    seeking the mentoring Jesus
  • The Lonely … looking for real friendship …          seeking the companionship of Jesus
  • The Questioning… looking for answers…                      seeking the teaching of Jesus
  •  The Anxious … looking for hope …                           seeking the promises of Christ
  • The Victimized … looking for justice …                        seeking the victory of Christ
  • The Trapped … looking for liberation …                   seeking the new life of Christ
  • The Discarded ... looking for acceptance...                  seeking the rescue of Christ

 You can learn to pray in advance for these newcomers seeking God’s grace. You can learn to quickly ask open-ended questions: What brings you to church today? How did you learn about our special service today? Would you like to know more about our small groups and outreach ministries? This information is passed on to other leaders of the church.

  •  Model the Essential Identity of the Church:

 Most newcomers today are extraordinarily sensitive to any hint of hypocrisy. They are watching every move, listening to every word, noticing every symbol, and wondering if people here really do care about their spiritual need. Therefore, growing churches carefully train hospitality teams to reveal the positive identity of congregational life.

  • Feel Safe: Core values of the church need to become a natural, unconscious habit on the part of hospitality teams. This reassures newcomers that they will be treated with consistent respect, and never be manipulated or abused.
  • Feel Assured: Bedrock beliefs of the church need to become a natural part of everyday language for hospitality teams. This helps newcomers readily understand the faith commitments of the church so that they can enter into objective dialogue.
  • Feel Motivated: The overarching vision of the church is what makes members feel like “nobility”. This joy and purposefulness uplifts newcomers. They may not understand it all yet, but they sense that what drives the church is not membership privilege but higher purpose.
  • Feel Hope: A simple mission statement or core message should be memorized by every hospitality leader and readily communicated. A great mission statement is not a list of programs or obligations that sound burdensome, but an aspiration to make the world a better place.

Notice that the emphasis on “feelings” rather than “knowledge”. The one is a necessary condition for the other. There is no time for hospitality leaders to teach the values, beliefs, vision, and mission of a church. However, they can convey the feeling of safety, conviction, excitement, and optimism. Seeker sense that these greeters, ushers, and refreshment servers have “got something” wonderful … and are willing to find out more.

  •  Be Sensitive to Diverse Publics:

 Basic training reviews in detail the lifestyle segments that are present in the primary mission field around the church. As the church grows, this mission field expands. People today are prepared to drive about as far as they would to work and shop in order to arrive at the spiritual destination that meets their need.

Knowledge of lifestyle segments includes information about demographic trends regarding age, family status, cultural background, primary language, education, occupation, income, home ownership, and mobility. Understand attitudes, lifestyle preferences, and worldviews.

Perhaps the best way to teach this sensitivity is through role playing. Create a hypothetical situation in which someone who epitomizes a certain lifestyle segment appears at the front door, at the entrance to the sanctuary, or in the refreshment center.  How do you greet them? What language do I speak? Do I shake hands, or bow, or what? What kind of refreshments will encourage them to linger? Will they prefer a visitor’s gift of print, video, or devotional object? What kinds of questions will be welcome … and what questions will be intrusive?

Hospitality teams must learn how to be comfortable and confident around people that look, act, speak, or learn very differently from themselves.

  •  Manage the Unexpected:

Finally, basic training for hospitality teams includes dialogue about managing the unexpected. Most interaction between hospitality leaders and newcomers … in the parking lot, at the door, at the entrance to the sanctuary, or in the refreshment center … follow fairly common patterns. Occasionally, however, something extraordinary happens. How you react to the unexpected often reveals “the truth” about the church to seekers who observe you.

  • Unexpected Emotion: People sometimes arrive at church, or react to worship, with unexpected tears, disproportionate anger, severe depression, and even uncontrollable laughter. Hospitality teams can be trained to comfort, calm, encourage, and focus people. They can guide them to a private place and be a stabilizing presence.
  • Unexpected Behavior: People sometimes behave in surprising ways. This may be due to a physical or mental limitation; or be a reaction to an unexpected encounter from a broken relationship; or a result of sudden illness. Hospitality teams can be trained to understand special needs, or intervene in an unexpected altercation, or provide emergency assistance.
  • Unexpected Criticism: People sometimes react with unexpected hostility to a symbol, sermon, song, or doctrine. This may happen when a friend accompanies a relative, but is unaware of moral or theological positions of the church. Hospitality teams can be trained to listen respectfully, refer questions to a knowledgeable authority, and guide critics to an appropriate grievance process.
  • Unexpected Miracles: People sometimes experience God’s power at church in unexpected blessings. They may be healed, released from addiction, gain a sudden insight, experience forgiveness, and feel born again. Hospitality teams can be trained to celebrate positive change, support people overwhelmed by joy, and introduce them to another leader to guide them in the next step of spiritual growth.

Much of this training might be done through case studies, story telling, and role playing. Experienced hospitality leaders can reflect with new team members on their own actions, and how they learned from their mistakes.

Coaching and Accountability

                Basic training is supplemented through the year by upgrade coaching. Schedule two opportunities to re-gather your hospitality team(s) for an evening or day apart. These are opportunities for both additional training and accountability. The agenda is framed around the four basic building blocks for leadership credibility:

  • Mission Attitude: Review the diverse publics of the mission field, and reflect on which publics are connecting with worship … and which publics are not. Focus the intercessory prayers of hospitality teams, and adjust tactics to reach the marginalized.
  • High Integrity: Review the identity of the church based on core values and beliefs, and reflect on the effectiveness of hospitality teams to model Christian behavior and communicate faith. Provide additional coaching for faith sharing.
  • Skills/Competencies: Review the various tactics for greeting, guiding, serving refreshments, and handing off inquirers to other small groups and leaders of the church. Provide additional coaching to help hospitality teams manage the unexpected and resolve problems.
  • Teamwork: Review the quality of cooperation and mutual support with the hospitality team. Resolve any disagreements, personality conflicts, or other obstacles that block the team from patient, generous, and compassionate service.

Upgrade coaching provides opportunities to celebrate the shared ministry, offers continuing education that responds to emerging issues, and resolves problems. All hospitality leaders are acquired, trained, evaluated, and dismissed following the same four criteria.

 Evaluation, Rotation, Dismissal

                Continued participation in the Hospitality Team should not be “automatic”. Every year there should be a mentoring moment when each team member has an opportunity to discern their next step in spiritual growth.

                Peer evaluation uses the same 4 categories of leadership credibility (above). Team members rate each other on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (perfection) in each category. This may be done anonymously, or conversationally, and it helps each team member improve themselves. Additional coaching, training, or counseling can be customized by the team leader and pastor.

                Team members may take this opportunity to rotate off the team, and into another spiritual growth or mission opportunity. As a general rule, three years is the maximum time Hospitality Team members should serve without some time away. Rotation may be a decision emerging from the “mentoring moment” of evaluation. The team leader should have a personal conversation with each member of the time, and together discern the next step of each members continuing spiritual growth.

                Occasionally, a Hospitality Team member must be dismissed. This is done objectively and fairly, and is the decision of the Hospitality Team leader (perhaps in consultation with the pastor). Use the same model for Human Resources that any non-profit organization might use.

  • Regular training and coaching.
  • Periodic evaluation using the 4 categories of mission attitude, high integrity, skills, and teamwork.
  •  Special training or counseling to improve in any category where they receive a low evaluation.
  • Adequate time for growth and change. Six weeks is usually considered fair. Then re-evaluate.
  • If improvement has not been demonstrated, then the individual must be dismissed from the Hospitality Team. The mission of hospitality is jeopardized. Many newcomers may fail to connect with congregational life and mission if the individual remains on the team.

 Practice this method for all Hospitality Teams (and for all teams of the church), and it will be respected as objective and fair. There will be less conflict. Individuals will be able to find the area of participation in which they are gifted and called.

 Relevant Resources

Mobile: 519-827-6148



Relevant Books by Tom Bandy:     


Abingdon Press                Kicking Habits                                  Coming Clean

                                             Roadrunner                                       Fragile Hope

                                             Mission Mover                                  Why Should I Believe You?

                              Coaching Change                             Christian Chaos

                                             Moving Off the Map                         Growing Spiritual Redwoods

                                             The Uncommon Lectionary              95 Questions Shaping the Future of Your Church 

Applied Demographics      See, Know, and Serve                       Worship Ways                    Sideline Church                                                              Spiritual Leadership                         Strategic Thinking    Mission Impact: Ministry Applications for Lifestyle Portraits

Chalice Press                    Spirited Leadership           Christian OptiMystics      

Wipf and Stock Press      Talisman: Global Positioning for the Soul

 Alban Institute                 Church Mergers: A Guidebook for Missional Change

 Independent (PDF)           Mentor: Helping Each Other Find Meaning and Purpose

                                             Jesus the Christ (Lenten Study)


 MissionInsite Coaching and Training:           

Tom Bandy is the official coach and consultant for

Research and interpretation of demographic, lifestyle segment, and psychographic trends for church development, church planting, and outreach. Customized for pastors and ministry leaders, denominational staff, church planters and multi-site churches, outreach and faith-based non-profits.

 Online Webinars:        1 ½  hour webinars customized for congregations and denominational groups

Coaching Covenants: 6-month renewable coaching for lifestyle interpretation and strategic planning

On-Site Workshops:    Training for clergy and laity, congregational and denominational leaders

Pastor Coaching/Mentoring

Personal coaching is usually scheduled in blocks of six months, and uses internet conferencing technology that allows dialogue and document sharing. Coaching involves a one-hour conversation per month, with additional resources and dialogue via email between sessions. We concentrate on shaping attitude, integrity, competencies, and teamwork … and focus on spiritual life, problem solving, and stress management.




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