Creating a Church Belonging-Culture

We’re in week 3 of a series of blogs pertaining to the role of hospitality ministries in a local church. First, we talked about the role of hospitality ministries, and why they are to exist for more than a transactional response for attendees to come back. Second, we talked about why hospitality ministries should exist, and what it means to create belonging for a world that needs community from a church more than ever before.

This week, we move on to the tactical stuff: What needs to happen to fulfill the why of a hospitality ministry? What are some strategic actions hospitality ministries can do to create belonging for a lonely America? This varies from church to church and ministry to ministry, but it boils down to answering three key questions.

Key Question #1: What makes you feel like you belong somewhere?
Identify a group, church, team, or some other community to which you felt like you belonged. Was it a warmth with everyone around you? Was it a commonality you shared? Did someone take a deep interest in your story? Were people excited to have you there? Did someone learn your name and remembered it? Was there an experience that made you come alive? An action that showed you were valued? 

Whatever your answer is to this question determines the type of belonging-culture you’re trying to create. That gives you the target to aim all your efforts towards, so you can begin to view your local church through the lens of what it means for you to belong. Which brings us to key question #2:

Key Question #2: What could belonging at your church look like?
Translate the characteristics of belonging you listed to how that applies to your church. 

Do volunteers feel like they belong to their team? Is there a moment in the service that strategically notices and welcomes those looking for belonging? How about a warmth and authenticity about your culture that makes people feel like they can be themselves without putting up a front? Is there an emphasis in volunteers asking for attenders’ names and using it in conversation? Are there clear next steps to helping someone discover belonging? 

You may already notice the direction we’re heading. You start broad with a general vision of what a belonging-culture looks like, to articulating specifically what that looks like at your local church. Then we move to the third, and hardest, key question:

Key Question #3: What does the hospitality ministry need to do to form the envisioned belonging-culture?
This isn’t as revolutionary of a question as you might think. A lot of the same activities will remain the same, such as having parking lot teams, greeters, a first-time guest gift, free coffee, and so on. But how team members go about their role through these activities can change quite drastically, even in some of the most simple ways. Let me provide an example.

Before having a vision of a belonging-culture, a parking lot team member would guide people to their parking spots, and maybe wave occasionally and say hi. But their job description has always been to help park cars because it’s a nice gesture towards creating a good church experience. Which is fine! But remember, a hospitality ministry doesn’t exist just to provide a good church experience, but to help people find belonging. Good customer service doesn’t always equate to creating belonging. 

Now let’s take this same parking lot team member who has a vision of contributing towards a church’s belonging-culture. As a parking lot volunteer is parking cars and waving, they’re intentional to wave, say hi, and if they’re in close enough proximity, say, “Good morning! I’m Joel, what’s your name?” Immediately he introduces himself. When appropriate, he asks if they’ve been here before. If someone identifies as a first time guest, the volunteer expresses just how excited he is to have them here. That’s what happens when you go somewhere you belong to, right? People are excited to have you there. Your nonverbals and emotions communicate more than your words ever will.

But he doesn’t stop there. The team member will intentionally leave his post and walk alongside the new guest, getting to know them, until he can pass them off to the next parking lot attendant or the greeter at the door, and introduces them to the next team member. 

“Hey Katy,” Joel says to the new guest. “This is Monica, who’s a greeter here and has been attending the church for awhile.” Monica reacts just as excitedly, using Katy’s first name, and then asking Katy some brief, personal questions. From there, Monica could guide her to the new guest center, to the place where they get coffee, or into the worship center, where she introduces her to new hospitality team members each time they pass. So before Katy even sits down, she has already met 2 to 5 people with names, who each had asked just enough questions to get a snapshot of who she is and her story. 

Do you notice the difference? All of a sudden, this person’s great church experience she received wasn’t from nice gestures or an excellent worship service with charismatic preaching. 

This person’s great church experience was she made friends. She felt like she could belong. 

And when she comes back, it’s not because of the great service she received, but the new friends she has started to cultivate. Then, each next step along in the process will continually invite her into deeper belonging for Sunday worship and weekly discipleship that grows her spiritual friendship with the Holy Spirit and the rest of the church body.

The greatest service a hospitality ministry can provide is to invite attenders to belong. Statistics continually show that the number one reason why someone comes to a church and stays at a church long term is they have at least 5-7 friends within the first 6 months of attending. It’s not about flashyness. It’s not about a transaction for attendance. It’s not even about giving them a good experience.

It’s about friendship.

And this is just one way a local church can utilize an incredibly common ministry to uniquely address the deep humanitarian need of longing for community. If you serve on a hospitality ministry of any kind at a local church, know that your role is of utmost importance to the kingdom. 

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