A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Message from Pastor Robert - Being a Church of Radical Hospitality

Someone once told me that the most important time of a meeting is what happens immediately before and immediately after the meeting.  "But what about the agenda part of the meeting?" I asked. "Yes, the agenda part is important but not the most important part," he reassured me.

This wise friend of mine was on to something. It's all about first impressions, isn't it?  And it's all about lasting impressions.  "If you don't believe me," my friend went on to say, "give it a try with your family when you see them after work today and let me know if it makes a difference. If you offer a positive and welcoming greeting at the very beginning when you see them, it will set the tone for the rest of the evening. See if I'm not right."  He was right!  A warm and genuine greeting can turn even a bad day into a good one.

The more successful hotels have learned this important truth about first impressions. They know that weary travelers can easily be in a "not so happy mood" when arriving at their hotel destination after a long and draining trip. This is why the wise hotel staff will be very intentional to help you feel at ease when you check in.

First and lasting impressions also apply to the church.  Our church is already blessed with a very dedicated and hospitable team of ushers! Every Sunday morning as I enter the sanctuary for worship, I am greeted with a smile, a handshake, a hug, and a bulletin (ushers like to make sure I have an extra one just in case!)

One of our five core values at First UMC is to be a church of radical hospitality.  2013 is a year to build on the wonderful foundation of hospitality that we already have.  Listed below are some thoughts on how we might continue to be a church of positive first and lasting impressions.
  • United Methodist consultant, Bill Easum says that if we truly want to be a church of first impressions then parking lot greeters are the way to go.  Imagine a first time worship guest coming to our church for the first time and seeing designated people in our parking lot ready to help you find a spot and briefly greet you as you get out of your car. If it's raining, the kind volunteer pulls out a golf umbrella to guide you to the closest church entrance.
  • Our building isn't the easiest building to find your way especially if you are new to the church.  Where's the sanctuary, the nearest restroom, and the nursery?  When is Sunday School? What is the Rising House and where is it located? Imagine a greeter at each of our entrances to not only offer a second warm welcome, but to help someone get to where he or she needs to go.
  • People tend to expect someone to greet them as they enter the sanctuary for worship. Our church does this very well.  We would like to add a positive lasting impression by stationing greeters at each exit after worship to simply smile and say, "God bless you. We're glad you came."
  • We will be adding welcome stations in our parlor and narthex areas in which volunteers can provide information about our church, escort people to an unfamiliar room, and provide a gift bag for first time worship guests. Not only does this provide another way for people to find answers to any questions they may have about our church, it also helps us to reach out to our first time worship guests.  It's also an opportunity to have the worship guest provide us with their name, contact information, and any prayer needs so that we can follow-up with a friendly personal contact within 24 hours. We are finding that very few of our first time worship guests are providing their contact information in our attendance pads during the worship service.
Thanks to hospitality training sessions this past fall, we already have volunteers serving as church door greeters on the first Sunday of each month.  We are in need of more people to help with this on the other Sundays of the month.

Our next priority is to put our two new welcome stations in place (the parlor & narthex) and have two volunteers at each of those two stations throughout the morning.  The first shift would be 8:45 am to 9:10 am & 9:50 am to 10:15 am.  The second shift would be 10:15 am to 10:40 am & 11:10 am to 11:35 am. Both of these shifts will allow for the volunteers to be in worship for most of the service.

Once we have our exterior door greeters and welcome station greeters in place for each Sunday, we want to add the parking lot greeters. Our radical hospitality goal is a big challenge for us this year.  It will take a lot of people who are willing to give some of their time, their smiles, and help people feel at home in our church.

We are already known as a church that is friendly and welcomes all people. Let's continue to help people have a positive first and lasting impression of First UMC. 

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Robert

To sign up to help serve at a welcome station, contact the church office, 740-653-3330 or church@lancasterfumc.org

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