Why Smaller Churches Are Uniquely Positioned for Hospitality
This is the next installment in our ongoing “Small Church” series, which looks at guest services through the lens of the smaller congregation: those with 150 or fewer people in attendance each week. See the entire series here.
Over the last few posts in this series, I’ve been looking at how smaller churches struggle with hospitality. I laid out five myths that tend to hold congregations back, and then spent some time tackling each one.
But before you get too into your own head on why hospitality can be a struggle, I want to present a few reasons why the smaller congregation is uniquely positioned to welcome new people especially well:
1. It’s easier to spot the new people.
In a large church, anonymity is the rule, not the exception. But anonymity doesn’t exist in the smaller church. If you’re new, you’re known. Now, a caveat: known can simply mean spotted across the sanctuary and ignored. There can be a lot of staring at the stranger, but no steering of conversations. A lot of friendly nods, but no intentionality.
On the flippity-flip, there’s a balance between a genuine welcome and garish desperation. When we overwhelm a new guest, it can be just as offensive as ignoring them altogether.
But let’s keep this on the positive side: if new faces are easier to spot in a smaller congregation, it’s easier to remember them and lay the groundwork to cultivate meaningful relationships with them.
2. Smaller congregations can be more nimble in their hospitality.
I stress the word can, because #2 has to be an intentional decision. If we’re focused on protecting the status quo, if we’re so busy caring for the existing flock that we inadvertently ignore the new sheep, then hospitality simply won’t happen.
The smaller church doesn’t need loads of tech to keep up with new guests. A face-to-face greeting trumps a QR code. A personal conversation is better than a digital info card. And when you have fewer guests over the course of a given month, it’s easier to craft the journey for them. Which brings us to…
3. A smaller church can customize a guest’s next steps.
I’m all about a spreadsheet. For a number of years, I tracked our guests’ current status and potential next steps through a complicated Excel sheet with multiple tabs and columns and color coding and you name it. We’ve now moved that system into our database.
But a smaller congregation doesn’t risk those guests being a row on a spreadsheet. Because they’re not just a row…they represent a relationship. And when we know someone, we can more easily know what their next step should be. It’s less herding and more hearing. Less bully pulpit and more allied conversations.
4. The transition from corporate hospitality to personal hospitality is easier.
A small congregation often feels like a large family. Sure, we all have our crazy uncles, but family is less formal. And less formal translates to more cozy and more real. While there’s still a barrier to entry in moving from the outside to the inside, it’s a bit easier to navigate the cultural context of a smaller group of people rather than a large crowd where it takes months … or years … to learn people, if you ever learn all of them at all.
Special thanks to my “small church series” advisory board who spoke heavily into this post, particularly Terri Durham of Texas’ Concho Valley Baptist Association and Aaron Smith of Kenansville Baptist Church in North Carolina.
Do you have an idea or question for the Smaller Church series? Reach out to me directly or comment below.