Monday, 3 June 2013

"Our congregation is great at hospitality!" (Or is it?)

I've heard people in congregations of all denominations - and, indeed, of all faiths - speak about the extent to which their congregation excels at hospitality.

Now, I've experienced some congregations which absolutely excel at hospitality.  (Two brilliant Australian examples, in my experience, are the Mount Martha Uniting Church in Mount Martha, Victoria, and All Saints' Anglican Church in South Hobart, Tasmania.  And I know there are many others.)

I've also known churches where, while the people say the congregation is very hospitable, I've struggled to find signs of that hospitality in evidence.  (Obviously, I'm not naming names here.)

Is your congregation all that good at hospitality?  Here are a few questions to see how hospitable it really is.  (By the way, as a Christian, I'm speaking here in Christian terms.  Any readers from other faiths - Jews, Muslims, Baha'is, etc - are invited and encouraged to translate these questions into their own context.)

1.     What's the quality of the coffee or tea on offer after the worship service.  Is it of the quality you'd serve at home?  (In Australia, there's a brand of cheap instant coffee - with the same initials as the phrase "Industrial Relations" - which I'd swear was kept in business mainly by congregations of the Uniting Church.)  Good coffee and tea is a necessary starting point.  (Please disregard this one if your congregation is Latter-Day Saints).

2.     While I'm on the subject of coffee and tea, is it Fairtrade?  Hospitality is a global thing.  Let your hospitalty reach out to the world.

3.     What does your congregation look like?  Are there people from a variety of racial and ethnic groups?  A variety of income levels?  A variety of educational levels?  A variety of  political viewpoints?  A variety of sexualities?  A variety of theologies and spiritualities (at least within the context of your tradition)?  That sounds pretty hospitable.  Is everyone pretty similar to everyone else?  Maybe a bit less hospitable.

4.     (Please disregard this one if you are from a Muslim, LDS, or Salvation Army background:)  When was the last time the popping of champagne corks was heard during the social hour after a worship service?  Hospitable congregations celebrate in style.

5.     During the week, between regular worship services, how many of your congregations's regular activities are gender-specific, age-specific, marital-status-specific, etc.?  The more events between services to which ALL are welcome, the more hospitable your congregation is.

6.     How many active members of your congregation got involved in your congregation within the last 3 to 5 years?  The more the better.

7.     How many of your congregation's key leadership group are the sons, daughters, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, or even grandchildren of key leaders in your congregation's past?  If your answer is "most", does this mean that it's particularly hard for newcomers to become part of your congregation?

8.     Think of the people who've left your congregation to go to other congregations in your area.  (Every congregation has them.)  Some would go to congregations with different approaches to faith.  That's OK.  Some would go to congregations with different worship styles.  That's also OK.  How many went to congregations with a similar faith stance and a similar worship style?  What were their reasons for leaving?

9.      How hard is it for people who are newcomers or infrequent worshippers to have their child baptised in your congregation?  (Or whatever is the usual rite of welcome for small children in your tradition?)

10.    If your tradition celebrates an "open communion" (or at least a rather broad eucharistic hospitality) is that fact emphasised at your eucharistic celebrations?  Conversely, if your tradition doesn't celebrate a broad eucharistic hospitality, is that fact played down a bit in your services?"   (In faiths other than Christianity, please translate this question in whatever way makes sense for your tradition.)

I really hope your congregation is as good at hospitality as you believe.  In any event, I hope these questions may help your church, synagogue, mosque, corps, etc., to be as welcoming and hospitable as your community deserves its communities of worship to be.

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Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.