By Eddie Pipkin

When we talk about the importance of hospitality for local churches, we can easily get caught up in the discussion of welcome systems and welcome centers and welcome training and welcome gifts.  A good process and a clear vision are important if we want to make guests feel appreciated when they come through our door, but if you ask a person (or a couple, or a family) to tell their story of how they came to call your church home, they will almost, without exception, focus on the one person who showed them around, engaged them in lengthy conversation, became an instant friend, and made them feel at home.  They will be describing The Connector.

The Connector is that socially enthusiastic, glad-handing, happy-to-meet-you-let-me-show-you-around person who is part of every local congregation.  This is true in large congregations and tiny congregations.  They have a way of making guests immediately feel warmly welcomed to the party.  They are an excellent example of the way that local church leadership should embrace and empower people who are naturally gifted for specific roles in ministry.

If you have a Connector as part of your membership (and most of you are even now vividly picturing this person at work), they should definitely be a part of your hospitality package.  God has placed within our context people of specific gifts, talents, abilities, and interests (you know this – it’s biblical leadership 101), but we sometimes miss the obvious, organic nature of the resources God has generously provided us.  To take the organic metaphor further, here’s what I mean: we are given a beautiful, wildly enthusiastic plant, glorious to behold if nurtured and allowed to reach its potential in the garden, but we plop it in a pot that binds its roots and stunts its growth so that it becomes a pale facsimile of what it might have been.  How does this happen?  Because we take the raw talent with which God has gifted us and too often confine it to a pre-determined fixed structure we’ve already created on a spreadsheet and approved in a meeting.

Think about this: Here’s how we most often function once we get serious about a topic like hospitality: We form a committee; we devise a plan; we write a report, we create a flow chart for the process and structure we’ve designed, then we go recruit people to fill the roles we have designated.  Generally, the next step is that we are frustrated that people don’t immediately jump in with enthusiasm to fulfill our obviously brilliant plan.

Consider this alternative: What if we did one these two things (or both simultaneously).  1) What if we identified the persons among us who already exemplify the qualities we are looking for in hospitality?  2) What if we put out a general call for people who are interested in hospitality?  (Not people who are interested in filling a specified role, like “greeters” or “parking lot attendants” or “handers out of bulletins” or “communion servers” but just “people interested in exploring or providing hospitality, and we left the description generically open in that way – this could include all of those traditionally understood hospitality tasks, but it could also include bakers or artists or prayer warriors or something nobody has thought of – it also doesn’t limit folks by age or experience level, etc.).  Then, what if we got all those people together to brainstorm what hospitality ministry will look like – not just a scientifically sealed perfect version of what hospitality will look like, but a vision of hospitality based on the “personality” and “context” of the people in that place in that time.  This honors the gifts and abilities, passions and enthusiasms present in the room, while it maximizes the potential of all the players in the mix.  It honors the unique contributions that each individual has to make.

This approach can be effective for hospitality (which is what we’re discussing today), but it is effective in approaching all sorts of ministry.

The old-school formula for creating a detailed scheme for hospitality and then recruiting an obvious Connector to run it, sometimes smashes up against these problems:

  • The Connector is not a leader. We confuse being really good at something with being able to lead other people in that area (a mistake that we make again and again, across the board, in recruiting leadership positions).  To compound that mistake, we rarely teach “leadership.”  We are too busy focusing on specific issues, theological and logistical.  There is a unique flavor of misery that is the misery in which you just want to be free to do the thing you are really good at, but you’ve been forced to wrangle and direct other people (which you don’t enjoy and aren’t good at).
  • The Connector does not fit in any of the designated hospitality slots you have created in your flow chart. They want to do what they’re good at, but you keep chiding them for being too slow at handing out bulletins or wandering off from the designated place they are supposed to stand.

On the other hand, a Connector empowered to do his or her own thing is beautiful to watch.  Even so, having freed up these hospitality artists and given them some training and direction, so they can do what they do effectively and efficiently, follow up in these ways:

  • Be sure you’ve reviewed with them the best thinking on how to make people feel warmly welcomed without coming on too uncomfortably strong.
  • Make sure they know how to “connect” people with resources that can answer their questions and ministry individuals who can get them plugged in. The goal is not to connect them to the glorious personality of The Connector but to connect them to the congregational family and the ministries with which they’ll fit.  There’s a real difference between the sweet, grandma type that hugs people at the door (and you need her, too) and the power of The Connector to transition people from welcome to engaged.
  • Use the passion and skills of The Connector to inspire and instruct the other components of your Hospitality Team. They can naturally share the techniques they use to engage guests and the attitudes that empower their positivity.
  • Take that last point a step further by making The Connector the poster child for hospitality in your congregation. Most Connectors (who are social butterflies at heart) will love this role.  Put them in front of the congregation to be the spokesperson for hospitality and teach the skills of welcome to everybody out in the pews/chairs.  Use them as the star of your social media hospitality campaign.

This is a natural approach to upgrading hospitality, and as I wrote earlier, it is applicable in congregations of 500 or 50.  It works in conjunction with other basic hospitality thought shifts that we’ll explore in future blogs, such as these:

  • We should be using the term “guests rather than “visitors,” because the attitudes that underlie those two terms can be critical in determining how we think about and treat the people who come through our doors.
  • What if we took the attitude of those guests being gifts sent by God, rather than a person just randomly walking through the door? What do they have to share that God has deemed right for us at this moment?  What are they needing at this moment that God has placed them in our orbit?  If we think of this interaction as divine, what possibilities does it open up?

Share your Connector stories and other challenges and opportunities that are presented by working with them.  Thanks for being our guest in the blog!  We love connecting you to all the possibilities and resources of the Excellence in Ministry / emc3coaching website!