Stuff Christians Like: Hospitable Churches

I cheated on my church a few weeks ago.

I didn’t even have a good reason, like traveling for business or being on vacation. The opportunity presented itself, and without thinking, I just went for it. I had a one-Sunday stand with another church. And the worst part is, I dragged other people from my church down with me.
I know, you thought better of me than that. But I’ll try to salvage my tattered reputation by playing the authenticity card. (The only thing that looks better than a perfect person is an authentic person.) So I’ll *authentically* tell you all about my church-cheating experience and what I learned from it in the hope that my pastor will forgive me – maybe he will when I implement some of these hospitality lessons at my home church.
So a few weeks ago, one of my favorite writers was in frigid New England all the way from the friendly South. Jon Acuff blogs at StuffChristiansLike.net, where he writes satirically about western Christianity, trying to clear away the clutter of culture so that people can see Christ better. Stuff Christians Like, or “SCL” as it will henceforth be called herein, has encouraged me a ton since I started reading it last fall. When I heard Jon was going to be preaching at a church outside Boston, about an hour away from where I live in Providence, I jumped at the chance to hear him speak live. I brought three carloads of good girlfriends, fellow SCL fans, with me.
The whole experience was fantastic, and most of that is due to the hospitality shown by the host church, Fellowship in Holden, MA. Here are ten things they did so, so right.
1. Website. Their site, www.fellowshipholden.com, is easy to navigate AND easy on the eyes. No Comic Sans or Papyrus in sight. It was easy to find the SCL event on the church calendar, find a way to contact the church (contact form), and find directions. They kicked it up another notch by linking the church address on the contact page to the Google Maps street view of the church building. How amazing is that?!? (Answer: so amazing.)
2. Responsiveness. The pastor himself emailed me back regarding my questions, and quickly. He answered my inquiry about nursery for the little ones, gave more details about the event, and reiterated the service time.
3. GREETERS EVERYWHERE! I had no trouble finding and recognizing the church thanks to the Google Maps hookup from the church website. There was ample parking. Greeters standing outside the door showed us where to enter and handed us off to the inside greeters, who welcomed us and handed us off to floating greeters who showed us where the nursery and children’s classrooms were. Whoa. I never felt lost for a moment. (And this is big considering my ability to get lost anywhere, anytime, WHILE possessing maps AND a GPS unit.)
My little Metrosexual Worship Leader in the nursery

4. Excellent childcare. Knowing her kids are well taken care of is key to a mother’s comfort in a new situation. The childcare workers were friendly, the facilities were clean and looked fun, and the electronic check-in system, even though it took a little time to get us registered, helped me know my kids were safe.
5. Ushers. We walked in to the sanctuary after the service started. The usher helped the large group of us find seats all together – right in the front! There were pros (being closer to the pop-n-lockin’ action) and cons (everyone could see us live-reporting the whole service to Twitter and Facebook via our phones).
Don’t these ladies look HAPPY to be at this church?
Cool story: See the first girl there, with the dark hair? That’s Alicia.
I actually met her through the SCL Prayer Day, and only later found out
that she’s real-life friends with the blonde girl next to her, my hair stylist and
friend Meghan. This was the first time Alicia and I met in person!

6. Worship eagle. Was the eagle on the PowerPoint during worship intentional, or just a hilarious coincidence? Either way, it added an inside-joke welcome to the SCL fans.
Cornelius‘s friend?

7. Meaningful content. If you’re going to invite someone to something, make it worth their while. Jon gave a funny, though-provoking, encouraging sermon which I think resonated with long-time SCL fans as well as with those who had never heard of him before. (And he was remarkably calm in spite of his barely making it there due to car problems.)
Mustard ice cream (link is to a video of Jon speaking at a different event)
8. Fellowship facilitation. The church offered coffee and pastries outside the sanctuary, giving people a place to mingle after the service. One nice woman even noticed our thirsty kids and served them all juice. The church was selling copies of Stuff Christians Like, the book, in the back of the sanctuary, which was great for a couple of my friends who wanted to have Jon sign books for them but hadn’t brought copies with them. There was plenty of room around where Jon and his wife, Jenny, were standing to allow people to chat with them and get their books signed.
9. Free stuff! This was due to the Acuffs, not the church, but walking out with SCL-themed buttons left me with a mememto that reminds me not only of meeting Jon and Jenny but also of the church. Post-sermon-giveaways, or tangible sermon reminders, if you will – if they’re nice things – can be good marketing. (Just like good party favors.)
Getting buttons from Jenny Acuff
10. Accessible pastor/host. Pastor Marty stood near the sound booth afterwards, which gave me a chance to talk with him and thank him for his church’s hospitality. Pastors, when you are someone’s first and last impression on their visit to your church, and when that impression is positive, you have begun a great relationship as pastor/shepherd/friend with that person.
Bonus: Side hugs. What’s hospitality without a little Christian love and affection? Appropriately expressed in a side hug, of course.

Yes, that IS Wonder Woman standing to Jon’s left.

Thanks to Jon and Jenny for a wicked good time, and thanks to Pastor Marty and Fellowship Church for the excellent hospitality. We felt welcome and comfortable from start to finish. Two of my friends even said, as we drove away, that if they lived closer, they would definitely attend Fellowship.

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  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/nicholelnelson nicholelnelson

    Great post! I agree on all the points and think you covered them pretty well. I was really impressed with the childcare; I don't often leave my son in nursery but I got to enjoy an entire service. They took good care of the kids, changing their diapers and feeding them snacks. I also felt assured that I'd be easily reached if he did me — since they gave us numbers corresponding to our children.
    I was also pretty impressed with the fellowship food — not just cookies and corn chips! But fresh bread, fruit and other healthy options.
    I think being child-friendly and having good refreshments are huge factors in hospitality. :) I felt like the church was truly concerned for our comfort, but they also made it seem easy — because they do it all the time!

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  • Bekki Lagergren

    Very Nice post, I agree Fellowship Church was a very welcoming place and I felt comfortable there. Not an easy thing for an introvert who hates situations like that. I am also usually nervous to leave Bettie with strangers, but I had no qualms about their Sunday School program. Bettie enjoyed her visit there and so did I. I have been quoting Jon's sermon to anyone who will listen ever since.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/sblumer sblumer

    Thank you for writing this post and boasting about us. As the Family Ministries Pastor there, we really do strive week after week to be consistent in making everyone feel comfortable, welcoming, and assured that their kids will enjoy church as much (if not more :) ) as their parents. Thanks again, it was an honor to have you as our guests.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/miller_schloss Becky Miller

      You guys do a great job of making your church welcoming!

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/nicholelnelson nicholelnelson
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  • http://dontcloseureyes.tumblr.com Alicia

    Sorry it took me so long to read — but so good! And I'm in it :)

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