If there is a struggle to be found in guest services within the local church, it’s the “here” factor.
First impressions happens here. When we park a guest’s car, they first have to show up here. When we help them find a seat, it’s because they’re here. We take care of their kids here, show them hospitality here, and hope that they’ll come back here.
And if you say it enough, you’d think that first impressions is all about here. You’d believe that it’s about what happens inside the walls. And you’d be right. Guest services is about here. If guests don’t show up here, we can’t very well serve guests.
The problem with here is just what you’d think: it sounds very orbital, very confined, as if people have to come to us in order for ministry to really happen. If there is an objection I have to the ministry that I lead, it’s just that. There’s massive tension in overseeing a “come and see” ministry in a “go and tell” church.
That’s why we have to fight like crazy to connect here to there. Serving our guests is the right thing and the good thing to do, but it can’t be an end unto itself. If we’re kind to the waitress when she shows up at church but we talk down to her when we’re at her restaurant, we’ve missed the point. If we roll out the red carpet for our neighbors on the weekend but seal ourselves inside our homes during the week, we’ve failed.
Guest services can be outwardly-focused, but not without a struggle and not without connecting those dots. Hospitality isn’t just something we should hard-wire into our church services, it’s something we should live out in our everyday lives. When we train our volunteers to demonstrate the gospel with generous hospitality, we are teaching them to reorient their hearts from being self-centered to being others-centered.
So indeed, pursue a great first impression. Knock it out of the park when it comes to the guest experience. But don’t stop there. Treat your Starbucks barista at least as kindly as your first time guest. Seek to honor and serve your unchurched neighbor as much as you do your newly-churched friend. “Come and see” is actually a training ground for missionaries who “go and tell.” Connect the here to there, and you might find that those still out there will show up in here.
Special thanks to Clayton Greene for helping me clarify some key points above!