Seasoned for Hospitality
Sycamore Creek Church
November 27, 2011
It’s the season for hospitality. Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Years. Anyone throwing a party or invited to a party? I would guess all of us will at least get together with some family or friends at some point in the next month or so. Sarah and I went down to Indianapolis for Thanksgiving and a good portion of our family met for a meal at my dad and step-mom’s house. Or perhaps you’ll be having a couple of office parties. Whatever the situation, in each case hospitality will be a big part of what makes or breaks the moment. Hospitality is like seasoning. It makes or breaks the meal. As Christians, we are to be people seasoned for hospitality. This is true whether we’re with family, friends, co-workers, or even here at the worship.
Sarah and I recently went to a worship service while we were on vacation. We got the whole experience of hospitality. Too much seasoning. Too little seasoning. And just the right amount of seasoning. The moment we walked in the door we were greeted by a very enthusiastic greeter. He realized we were new to the church, and he was a little too eager to make sure that we knew we were welcome and wanted. He told us about all kinds of things and said that after the worship service he’d introduce us to all kinds of people. Way too much seasoning. What I really wanted to know was, where is the bathroom? And you can bet that after the service we did our best to avoid this over seasoned greeter.
After going to the bathroom, Sarah and I regrouped and headed into the worship area. We found ourselves a row of seats that had plenty of room between us and the person further down the row. You know. The comfort zone seats. You never really want to sit right next to someone, so we left a couple of seats between us and them. A moment after we sat down, a lady who was standing in the aisle turned around, saw us and said, “I was saving those seats.” We looked around to make sure she was talking to us. Then she said, “Well, you can just move down.” We imagined the safety seats we had left between us and the next person down the row disappearing and said, “We’ll just move to another row.” So we got up and moved. OK, I have never had this happen to me in my entire life of visiting churches. You always hear about stuff like this, but it always seems a little bit like an urban legend. Are church people really like this? Way too little seasoning. (To the credit of this woman, she did come up to us afterwards and apologize. She said that her grandchildren had been sitting where we were sitting, and when she turned around, she was startled to see us rather than her grandchildren. Makes sense, and easy enough to understand, but had we really been guests looking for a church, it is highly unlikely that anything that happened that morning could have made up for the awkwardness of that moment. We found out later that she and the guy who greeted us were married!)
So we got up and moved. When the worship service began, we joined in. They came to the moment in the service when we were asked to greet our neighbors. We found ourselves in a handshaking assembly line. Almost everyone simply said, “Hi” without really looking us in the eye and gave us a quick hand shake. The only person who didn’t do this was the guy in front of us. He turned around and introduced himself. He seemed to be a little introverted himself and not particularly fond of this part of the service. But he was kind and friendly and brief without making us feel like we were part of someone’s to do list. After the service was over (here’s the key part), he turned around and complimented us saying, “I’d like to sit in front of you two singing any day.” Compliments go a long way in greasing the wheels of conversation. Soon we were into a conversation about all kinds of things. He singlehandedly saved our first impression of this church from being a major disappointment. Just the right amount of seasoning.
Scripture is chock full of references to being people seasoned for hospitality. Here are some examples:
Rom 12:13 TNIV – Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Rom 16:23 TNIV – Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings.
Heb 13:2 TNIV – Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
1 Peter 4:9 TNIV – Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
1 Tim 3:2 ASV – The bishop therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, orderly, given to hospitality…
I want to stress that when scripture talks about hospitality, it almost always means providing a roof, bed, and meal (and perhaps even clothes). Whatever is needed. Motels and hotels weren’t anything like they are today. When people traveled they were dependent upon the hospitality of strangers or acquaintances or friends of friends of friends (and all this without Facebook!). But there’s a basic principle at work here: when someone new shows up, make sure their needs are met.
I’d like to suggest this morning that there are three basic ingredients to hospitality: invitation, welcome and connect, and the meal.
It’s hard to offer hospitality if you haven’t extended an invitation. How are you at extending the invitation to come and join us at Sycamore Creek Church? How many people have you invited to SCC this season? We’re encouraging you to invite three people. Write their names down. Pray for the opportunity to present itself. Then invite.
I think watching for the opportunity for an invitation begins simply with listening and asking questions, being sincerely and genuinely interested in someone. Jeremy and I have been hanging out on MSU’s campus more and more lately. We tend to bring free coffee with us. Coffee helps get conversations going. Then we simply ask questions. We are curious about the lives of those people we’re talking with.
A couple of weeks ago we met dozens of students but had significant conversations with four different people. We met Brenda who is a first generation college student in her family and is studying humanities and packaging. Her family is from Mexico, but she grew up in Michigan. We met Todd, a liberal arts student who is interested in everything. He was particularly focused on keeping corporations and the government in check. We met Baho, who is from Uzbekistan. He studied English for 10 years in his home country, and when we told him we were with a local church, he wanted to know if our church had an ESL class. We spent a lot of time discussing religious laws in Uzbekistan and the rationale behind them. Lastly, we met Yuna, a freshman who is still looking for a church. At the end of the conversation she gave me her email. In each instance, we simply listened and asked questions. It was only as the opportunity came up (they usually asked us why were handing out free coffee) that we even brought up Sycamore Creek Church and handed them an invite card.
Speaking of invite cards…those cards we’re passing out to you each week aren’t for you. They’re for your friends. Those three friends (or more!) that you’re going to invite to SCC this season. We’ve also created posters for you to take to your work place, community hang outs, school, or wherever to hang up. And to support all the work you’re doing, we’re mailing out thousands of these cards to families in our immediate community.
Another very simple way to at least make people aware of SCC is through Facebook. We’ve created an updated page about SCC and invited you to “Like” it. So far we’ve got 38 people who “like” our page, but there are surely more of you out there who can push a simple button. Do you know that through those 38 people who have already liked our page, we have the potential of reaching almost 9000 people. The more you interact (comment, like, or share) with the content we post (and we’re trying to post something every day), the more your friends will see and hear about SCC.
The recipe for hospitality begins with a very simple step: the invitation.
Welcome and Connect
So you show up at a party and you don’t know anyone. How do you feel? Awkward? Overwhelmed? Excluded? For most of us, we generally don’t have a positive initial experience of being the new person. Every time a guest walks in the door of SCC, that’s what they’re experiencing. I’d like to teach you a simple technique that you can use to help people feel welcome and connect with others. This works whether you’re at church, home, work, school, or anywhere. It’s called the 5-10-Link rule.
5 = five minutes before the service and after the service focus less on the people you know and more on the people who you don’t know. It’s not a bad thing to want to talk to your friends, but too often we let that desire to connect with friends overwhelm the need of the guest around us. So give the guest among us the first five minutes before worship begins and the first five minutes after worship is over.
10 = ten feet around you. You don’t have to hit the whole room. That would be overwhelming. Just pay attention to a ten foot radius around you. Who don’t you know that is within ten feet of you? Focus on those people.
Link = connect them with someone else. This is super simple. You go up and introduce yourself. You begin a conversation. Then you see another friend of yours standing behind them. Say, “Hey, let me introduce you to my friend.” When you introduce them, give a brief introduction. If you noticed something they have in common—they both like the Lions—make sure you point that out. Prime the conversation pump.
The person who introduced me to the 5-10-Link rule was a master at doing this. I was at a conference in Dallas and barely knew anyone. He found out that I was at a relatively new church, so he brought me over and introduced me to some other pastors who were in new churches too. He told these other pastors a little bit about me and my church (what he knew) and got the conversation going. Eventually he moved on, but we kept talking. It was awesome. I made some new friends with people who were in very similar situations that I was in.
Too often we don’t offer this kind of welcome and connection because we’re afraid of forgetting names. Let me give you a couple of tips for how to get around stick situations where you’ve forgotten names. It’s not a sin to forget someone’s name. It is a sin to avoid them because you think you should know their name, but you don’t. If you’ve forgotten their name, simply say, “Help me with your name.” Everyone likes to be helpful and everyone understands that names are easy to forget. They probably forgot your name too. Then say you’re introducing someone new to someone else and by the time you get to the “Link” you’ve forgotten their name. Simply say, “Have you two met?” Then wait. There’s a script in our culture and soon they will shake hands and introduce themselves. Pay attention and you’ll hear their name again. It’s that simple.
Hospitality continues with the 5-10-Link rule.
The last part of hospitality is the meal. It would be a little awkward to invite people over and not have something to eat or drink. When you’re at worship, the “meal” is the music and/or message for the day. I’d like to give you a little behind the scenes look at how we organize the “meals” here at SCC. While we try to make every Sunday accessible to the guest, there are some Sundays that are particularly geared to the guest.
Throughout the year we have several categories of series. Here are some of them and examples of those series:
- Buzz Series (engaging, fun, felt-need based, relational) take place in October, Christmas, February, Easter, and once in the summer. These are series that are particularly aimed at being guest friendly. Here are some examples: Clearance, Chipped, Courage, and Questions.
- Bible Series (an Old or New Testament book) in the fall and spring. Some examples include: Revelation, Exposure (Song of Solomon), and The Downfall of Kings (1 & 2 Samuel).
- H.A.B.I.T.S. Series (the habits and practices of the Christian life) in the fall or spring. Here are some examples: H.A.B.I.T.S., I Like Your Style (Evangelism), The and Elements of Worship.
- Belief Series (basic beliefs and Christian doctrines) in the fall or spring. Some examples include: Off the Tracks (Sin), I Believe (The Apostles Creed), and Life (Baptism).
- Vision Series (where we’re going and our mission, vision, and core values) in the fall and spring. Here are some examples: Mixin’ It Up (Missions and Small Groups), So Many Reasons (Our Annual Stewardship Campaign), 20 Years Deep (Our Capital Campaign).
Seasoned for Hospitality
When all of these ingredients are blended together in the just the right amount the end result can be incredible. I’d like to give you one example of how I’ve seen this work in our church at its best.
Daniel Storer was shopping one day at Hidden Treasures when he bumped into Keith Cantrall. They started a conversation and Keith invited Daniel to try our church. Daniel biked to church that next Sunday. He showed up early and was a little sweaty. Martha Trout greeted him warmly and offered to show him the school showers. Bob gave him a ride home. Several people did the same over the next several weeks.
Daniel isn’t one to sit for an hour, and when he got up to walk around, he found that no one treated him as though he shouldn’t be doing that. He was connected to Mark Aupperlee who invited him to a small group. He began attending regularly. He met some other people and found more rides to worship.
He met Jeremy Kratky, our worship leader, and Jeremy found out that Daniel could really sing (he actually taught choir at one point), so he joined the band. Daniel was looking for a job. He eventually met Carol Hazel in the band, and Carol introduced him to a friend who needed a handyman and chef. Daniel was both, and he has recently been hired at Charlar’s Place.
Daniel then invited the people he lived with to church. One of those people is in a wheel chair. Mary Ziegler noticed this and offered her wheelchair accessible van to this family. She had not needed it since Ken died.
Did you notice that I barely showed up in Daniel’s story. Yeah, I’m the pastor, but it wasn’t me who made Daniel feel welcome. I wasn’t the primary person who connected him to other people. A guest won’t experience our church primarily through me, the pastor. Their experience will be based on the people they meet here. Daniel’s story is a story of meeting a people who are seasoned for hospitality. It is my hope and prayer that every guest who walks in the door will experience the same thing that Daniel experienced. Will you make that hope and prayer a reality?Share on Facebook