10 ways to make guests feel welcome in your church

We must do our best and prepare to offer the best of godly hospitality to those who accept our invitation to church this Christmas, says Gary Gibbs.

The Bethlehem welcome for Joseph, Mary and the impending new born baby wasn’t great. Depending on how we read the story, the Nazarene family ended up in a delivery suite which was either a shed, a cave or a top floor addition to an existing house. There are better places to give birth!

Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be inviting lots of friends, neighbours, work colleagues to come along to our church buildings to be reminded of the most significant event in history. In the words of an old hymn “God contracted to a span; incomprehensibly made man!”

My question is this: what will our welcome look like to those who come along? Will it effectively be a ‘Bethlehem welcome’ or something far more inclusive and inviting?

Hospitality is a big theme in Scripture: we are to welcome strangers. Clearly, God is the Great Hospitable One who has welcomed us into his family even though we were previously “strangers to the covenants of promise” (Ephesians 2:12).

Added to this, one of the qualities which a leader should exhibit is hospitality since it is a mark of godliness (1Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8). Taking this further, every believer should aspire to being an open, welcoming person and “practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13).

With our Christmas services just around the corner, perhaps it’s worth having a checklist of what we can do as a church to make sure guests feel welcomed and included. Here are ten tips, just for starters…

  1. Keep the nearest and best car parking spaces for guests.
  2. Have your ‘best people’ ready to welcome, but in an understated, gentle way.
  3. Make sure it’s clear where the toilets are!
  4. Given that there will be more folks there than usual, have some ‘seat ushers’ available so that guests can be seated together with the people who invited them.
  5. Keep the service reasonably traditional, with a few twists! Unchurched people come to a Christmas service expecting to sing well-known carols and hear the Nativity story. A good, short video clip and/or a 3 minute testimony is all you need.
  6. Keep the service reasonably short, say an hour and a quarter maximum.
  7. Ditch the interminable ‘in-house’ notices!
  8. I would suggest that you challenge people to come and find out more about Jesus in the New Year and invite them to join an Alpha Course in January. In my experience, it’s rare to see lots of individuals making authentic decisions to follow Christ in a Christmas service.
    If you don’t believe me, or you think I’m being faithless, look at the response statistics from last year’s Christmas services and work out how many followed through into nurture and discipleship in early 2016.
  9. Have quality refreshments at the end of the service.
  10. Have an ‘early Christmas gift’ goodie bag for guests available at the end of the service, again with something of quality and worth in it, not simply a gospel booklet!

There’s a lot more we could mention here (such as, don’t make guests identify themselves by waving or, even worse, standing up!), but the main value to underline is the need to prioritise the lost. So often, not just at Christmas, we run our services for ourselves.

Most of us will have friends or family come to our homes over the holiday period. Before they arrive, we will probably hoover, dust, plump up the cushions, turn off the television, put on some Christmas music, etc. In a similar way, let’s do our best and prepare to offer the best of godly hospitality to those who accept our invitation to church in the next few weeks!

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