Hinson Baptist Church (Portland, Oregon)
Each month, we revisit a series of posts called Guest Services Road Trip. We’ll travel the country from the comforts of our couches, interviewing leaders who are in the trenches of ministry. Do you have an idea for GSRT destination? Have a leader I need to talk to? Want the inside scoop on churches that seem to be doing this hospitality thing really well? Let’s talk.
Neal Woollard is the Associate Pastor for Worship and Discipleship at Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon. Prior to COVID, Hinson had a weekly attendance of 425. It’s a church in the heart of Portland, committed to making disciples through preaching and living out God’s Word in covenant community to fulfill God’s purposes.
Neal began on staff in January 2017. Get in touch with him via email.
What is the top book you’ve read on the topic of guest services and/or volunteer culture?
The Trellis and the Vine (Colin Marshall and Tony Payne)
What does your training process look like for your Welcome Ministries volunteers?
It begins with a conversation between the ministry leader and the new volunteer, covering the ministry’s aim and resources they need to welcome visitors. The new volunteer observes the role, does the role while being observed, then does the role unobserved once they understand the position.
Some positions that require more knowledge, like our Welcome Desk, spend more time observing and being observed before they are on their own.
For ongoing training, ministry teams meet together once a year. There are personal check-ins every couple of months and updates as needed over email. There have been more email updates than usual over the past year with the changes stemming from COVID-19.
How is your Welcome Ministry structured? Do you ever release guest services volunteers to lead in other ministries?
A staff pastor ultimately oversees the ministry. He works with a Deacon of Welcome Ministries who helps organize, train, and support the ministry week in and week out. The deacon’s goal is not to do all the work, but to raise up volunteers to lead the usher and welcome desk teams on any given weekend.
Visitor follow up is spread between staff, elders, and church members.
We are happy for a Welcome Ministry volunteer to be released into other ministries if needed! A person might demonstrate character and leadership and be asked to serve or lead in another capacity. When that happens, we know our ministry is working right!
Talk about your assimilation process. What specific steps do you have to move someone from a first-time guest to a follower of Jesus?
While a deacon helps organize our Welcome Ministries, we believe it is the ministry of the whole church to welcome visitors. Broadly speaking, this means public teaching on discipleship and hospitality. More specifically, ushers don’t just seat someone in an empty seat, but introduce them to someone.
Before COVID-19, often visitors had already been invited to multiple homes for lunch and to a Small Group by the time they talked to a volunteer or staff person. For our process, we do our best to put in a place a process that gives this ministry to the church, but also keeps people from falling through the cracks. We try to do two things in our process to bring visitors in: have a clear “on ramp” and make sure each step leads to discipling relationships in the church.
Practically, here’s what our on ramp looks like:
First Meeting: We make sure we get their contact information, the reason why they are visiting, and give them information about the church. The visitor is placed in a workflow and assigned to a staff member.
First Follow Up: The staff member sets up a meeting to get to know them, answer questions about the church, explain what joining Hinson looks like, and introduce them to other members in the church if they haven’t already met some. If they are not a believer, we share the gospel and offer to do a bible study with them.
Further Follow Up: Within the first two weeks, the staff member follows up as needed. There are specific follow up points we have the first year someone visits if they haven’t joined or gone to another church.
Joining the church: Once they are ready to join, we set up a membership interview. The goal is to confirm they are a Christian by hearing them explain the gospel they believe, hearing their testimony, and finding out how to best care for them. The elders then recommend their membership to the congregation who then votes to welcome them in mutual covenant care in Christ.
Is guest services a silo ministry in your church?
Thankfully, our Welcome Ministry is not a silo ministry doing a “Lone Ranger” thing. The church as a whole, including other ministries, understands and values the role of our welcome ministries. We want all ministries working together to make disciples in covenant community.
While there is always more work to be done, here are a few ways we intentionally lead to help prevent our ministries from being silos:
The first is having meaningful membership which understands commitment to the whole body, not just a part. With membership as a first step, a view to care for the whole body is quickly established. Ministries are understood to be a way to tangibly serve the whole church, therefore the whole church values the ministry.
Related, we tell new members to pursue people, not ministries. We encourage them to just “be” a part of the church. It naturally also shifts the focus to the whole. Structurally, Welcome Ministries are organized by a deacon, but the load is shared by the whole church. The ministry leader and volunteers don’t shoulder the burden alone. They bring the church into the work by trying to create a web of relationships for the visitor. This happens naturally when we are able to gather, but has had to become more structured through COVID-19.
Finally, we are a simple church. We intentionally keep ministries bare to keep our volunteer’s schedules open for discipleship and evangelism. Many of our volunteers spend more time in discipleship relationships than they do serving, which helps keep the ministry in perspective.
What is one of your best practices / ministry hacks that you’re especially happy with?
Helping new members understand on day one that it takes the whole church to disciple the whole church. I’ve found most members connect with this idea quickly and concretely and take ownership of the church as a whole – visitors included!
What is a challenge you’re currently facing in your Welcome Ministries?
COVID-19 has made everything harder. Everything takes more work…including welcoming visitors. The natural organic times to meet people after a gathering are limited. Thankfully, most visitors understand the unique difficulties that come with finding a church during this era. We are still working through how to build deep relationships in the gospel during a fractured season.
What has been one of the biggest mistakes you’ve made in leading your team and / or implementing a guest services culture?
Too much change too quickly. There is a certain way things should go in my head, so I tend to make changes too quickly sometimes. God has continued to teach me the beauty of patience in community. As someone said, we overestimate what we can do in a year and underestimate what we can do in five years.
How do you define success on a weekend…either personally or professionally?
Faithfulness. Were our good works full of faith? Did our faith lead to the good work of pursuing people? Practically, that means thinking about how we did pursuing people in service and after. We usually take time in our staff meeting to follow up on our visitors and how to best care for them.
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