Radical Hospitality

As I wrote earlier, Centre Grove’s Church Council is discussing Bishop Schnase’s book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. Last night, we began discussing “radical hospitality.”

We started the discussion by reflecting on and evaluating how well we are currently practicing hospitality. Basically, we concluded that while there are some good signs (i.e., we believe we’re a friendly church, not just to “insiders,” but to visitors/guests as well, based on feedback, not just our own perceptions), but we also noted that we do not have some of the basics in place (e.g., signage, an intentional/effective system for tracking/welcoming visitors or for follow-up, etc.).

Next, some of us read some statements from the book that particularly inspired, challenged, and/or got our attention. Here are a few of them …

Christian hospitality refers to the active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ. It describes a genuine love for others who are not yet part of the faith community, an outward focus, a reaching out to those not yet known, a love that motivates church members to openness and adaptability, a willingness to change behaviors in order to accommodate the needs and receive the talents of newcomers. (11-12)

I think this statement summarizes what radical hospitality is all about. It also addresses the change that may be necessary, particularly in places where the hospitality may not be radical.

To become a vibrant, fruitful, growing congregation requires a change of attitudes, practices, and values. Good intentions are not enough (27).

One of the exciting things about hospitality and fruitfulness is that …

God uses newcomers to breathe new life into congregations (14).

Here’s a statement we found quite challenging …

Churches that practice Radical Hospitality do not reduce lists, remove names, ignore inactive members, save postage, and take the easiest way. They focus on how to communicate better with greater numbers of people, and they constantly develop lists of visitors, active and inactive members, Christmas and Easter attendees, constituents, day school parents, scout families, and infrequent guests in order to invite them to special services, new ministries, or service projects. They don’t give up on anyone. (26)

We’re actually in the process of updating (and in some cases reducing) our membership record. While I think holding people accountable to the covenant they’ve made to God through the church (i.e., their membership vows) is important, Bishop Schnase’s point is well taken. We should be looking to increase the number of people on our contact lists to reach more people.

And this quote was a good segue into the group activity that followed …

Facilities speak a message to people about what church members think of themselves, how importantly they take their mission, how confidently they see the future of their church. Our buildings tell the world what our church thinks about children, senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and visitors. What message are we sending? (24)

After our discussion, we conducted a walk-through of our church facilities trying to see them through the eyes of first-time guests. Out of this activity came a list of things that need to be done: adding directional signs at the primary entrance and other key locations, getting rid of some clutter, improving lighting in some areas, especially in the children’s/infant areas, some freshening up here and there, and replacing carpet/flooring where needed.

Also, last night the Church Council approved a plan, which had been on the drawing board for some time, to replace the church’s sign in front of the building. This is a big step toward updating/improving our facilities so that they are more welcoming, inviting, and user-friendly. We want our facilities to not be a hindrance to newcomers; we want them to be as welcoming as possible so that people may find a connection with others in the faith community, and ultimately, with God!

Overall, I think there’s a solid foundation on which to build at Centre Grove. If the church, as a whole, did not actually like people (especially guests), then this would be a much more difficult process. But I think there’s an inclination toward radical hospitality. We simply need to put our intentions into action by developing and improving the basics.

At our next meeting (in April), we will pick up with a couple items, in particular: 1) training “ushers and greeters” (perhaps including a more creative name), and 2) developing a system for tracking and following-up with visitors/guests. I’ll follow that up with a report on how we’re doing in terms of our hospitality.

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