Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lessons in Hospitality

"Tell me, what do you like about your new church?" I asked him. "Everyone is excited to see you when you walk in. They all go out of their way to welcome you. It makes me look forward to going each week."

I had a similar experience of being welcomed and received recently. But it was not in a church. Rather, it was in a restaurant.

Craig and I arrived ten minutes before our reservation, but the restaurant staff was still waiting for us, ready to receive us and show us to our table. When we sat down, we were quickly greeted by each staff member passing by. Our server then came to the table to introduce herself and describe the evening specials in a way that assured us she would be caring for us. But everyone - the entire staff - kept serving us. No one was assigned to a specific area in the restaurant. Rather, our water glasses stayed full the entire time as every staff person was looking out for the entire restaurant instead of keeping to his or her assignment or assigned area. When a large table behind us was ready to be served, ten staff members surrounded the table so each guest could receive their sizzling steaks at the same time. When it came time to leave, each person we passed said "Thank you for coming." The restaurant owner then saw us and immediately remembered that Craig had checked a jacket. He brought the coat to us and said, "Can I treat you to one more thing. How about a shot?" And three days later, when we returned home from our vacation, the photographed note was waiting for us in our mailbox - a thank you - from our server!

I've long been convinced that the hospitality industry has much to teach the church. I once questioned what might happen if our churches were reviewed on TripAdvisor. But now I'm wondering what we can learn from this specific restaurant. I'd recommend any business working on building a team go at least once. But even more, what are the lessons for the church?

What if every member of the congregation saw that part of their responsibility was to greet each person they see inside the church building and express hospitality in a way that makes every person know they are cherished? What if we did not rely upon the greeters to say "Hello, I'm so glad you're here" but all saw ourselves as greeters?

What if every member of the congregation went out of their way at the end of worship to look for someone new and say, "Thank you so much for coming today. Want to join me for coffee hour?" instead of concluding that the new people don't really want to go or can find their way on their own?

What if every member of the congregation stopped to pick up the piece of trash just outside the door or tell someone that we're running low on paper towels in the men's room instead of assuming someone else will take care of it?

And what if we all sought to make a meaningful connection each week that led to our getting the email address of someone so we could follow-up with a message, "It was so good to meet you on Sunday. I'm involved in a small group that gathers on Wednesdays. I'd love to have you come."

It is the little things that make the largest difference when it comes to building the church or getting a person to return to a restaurant. My friend who told me about his new church shared how the pastor didn't really preach that day. The elements we pour so much time into are not always enough to hook someone or lead them back into your doors. But the people in the pews are. We are all craving meaningful relationships. We all long for proof that places still exist where everyone knows our name.

I'll go back to Hall's if I'm ever in Charleston again - not because it was the best steak I've ever had. I'd go back because I've never been so welcomed in a restaurant before.

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