An epidemic of loneliness
The Christmas season is a time for celebrating God coming to Earth to redeem fallen mankind, but for many, it is a time of great loneliness. In January of 2022, a study was released that stated 55% of Americans were experiencing “Holiday Loneliness.”
At the same time, Lifeway recently released a survey that stated the Christmas season is the most popular time to attend church, with Christmas Eve being the pinnacle time for attendance. It is a season for visitors, and local churches need to be ready for the influx of guests that come through the doors.
We need to prepare our people for extending hospitality.
Leaders in hospitality
Often, we think of hospitality as something left up to the ladies of the church, and we lean on them to provide it. But hospitality is first the job of the Pastor. In speaking of the qualifications of a pastor, Paul tells Titus to appoint elders who are “hospitable.” The Greek word used here conveys the idea of caring for strangers. Paul shares a similar instruction to Timothy in 1 Tim. 3:2.
The point is clear, the leaders of the church should consider how the church cares for strangers. As the Christmas season quickly approaches, I want to encourage you to lead in hospitality by offering some practical steps for how you can welcome strangers to the church.
Practical expressions of hospitality
1. Genuinely welcome people from the pulpit
It is easy to get into the rhythms of “just doing” the announcements and include an obligatory welcome to visitors. This season, I would strongly encourage you to think about the epidemic of loneliness that exists in our culture and work to make your greeting heartfelt by expressing that you personally would like to meet those who are visiting for the first time, if they would be willing to stick around after the service.
2. Offer ways to connect
For many people, meeting the pastor can be very intimidating. Some even have a history of hurt with a past church leader. One way to extend hospitality to visitors is to offer ways for them to connect to the church body. In your greeting, mention your small groups, Sunday school fellowships, or other social events that the church is hosting and instruct visitors on how to connect with those opportunities for community.
3. Spend time with your Welcome Team & emphasize hospitality
Most people who visit during the Christmas season will connect with someone not on stage. If you have a Welcome Team, it’s a great time of year to meet with them and impress upon them the importance of making people feel welcome. Let them know they are an extension of pastor’s heart for hospitality. Peter calls for the church to show hospitality to one another. In so doing, the Welcome Team is bringing glory to God and caring for people.
4. Encourage your congregation to engage new faces
Most people who have been around the church long enough know there is a significant influx of visitors during Easter and Christmas. Use your church-wide communications to remind them to be on the look out for new faces and to introduce themselves to people they do not recognize. It means a lot for a visitor to have others notice them and reach out to say hi.
5. Have a meaningful gift for visitors
It is customary to visit a church and get a free coffee mug with the church logo on it. And while that isn’t a bad idea – who doesn’t love coffee? – might I suggest having an additional gift, like What is the Gospel by Greg Gilbert? We give this book away to every visitor at our church because we want our visitors to walk away with a resource that clearly explains the soul-saving truth of God’s word. I highly recommend this resource to you.
6. Follow up with a handwritten note
Even in the digital age, people still love receiving a thoughtful, handwritten card. I would encourage you to have a process to gather the contact information of your visitors, so that you can send them a handwritten card thanking them for visiting the church. You can even make a point of stating that you would like to meet them in person if you haven’t yet met them directly.
While this list is not exhaustive, I hope it gets you thinking through the best ways to show hospitality to visitors in your context.