Are you trying to brainstorm on how to improve church hospitality?
As you step through the doorway of this Austrian church, a fellowship of people will greet you with open hearts and minds. We invite you to experience the warmth of loving people who have much to teach us about church hospitality.
By Evangeline Samuel
Christian discipleship and parenting blogger
It was on a cold winter night in January when I first set foot in Austria. I had left behind the familiarity of home and the sweet fellowship of friends and family to join my husband here. Although excited for the adventures that lie ahead of us, I was a bit apprehensive. I knew no one and could not speak a word of German.
Church hospitality is a culture of welcoming
In that very week, we attended our first church service together as a family in Austria. It was a relatively small church back then. A handful of international people sat huddled in a corner, an area designated for the language translation service.
To be honest, I felt a bit deflated sitting in that lonely corner. It was difficult for me to comprehend how different the church here was compared to the loud and spirited church services back home in India.
Lost in my thoughts, I was startled when I heard my name said over the microphone.
Before I had a chance to understand what was happening, the projector screen lit up with pictures of us on our wedding day. My husband had uploaded the photos to Facebook a week before! We stood up to introduce ourselves as the church broke into loud, welcoming applause.
Church hospitality is a team effort from all members
After the service, I was still reeling from the unexpected attention and acceptance when an older woman approached us. She smiled warmly – it was apparent that she didn’t speak much English. She pressed a hundred Euro note into my palm and whispered: “Enjoy.”
To say I was moved by her unwarranted generosity would be an understatement. I could not believe that a stranger would go so far to make me feel welcomed. It would be the first of many lessons I learned on the value of having a “church family.”
In our second week, a young Austria couple, who spoke English, invited us to a potluck dinner. Once there, we were introduced to other internationals who attended the same church. We met people from all over the world – Portugal, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Australia, the United States of America, South Africa, South Korea, the Philippines, and the United Kingdom.
That was six years ago.
Church hospitality is what establishes the community
Since then, the church has played an important role in our process of adopting Austria as our home. We’ve spent many hours bonding over bottomless pots of stew, adobo chicken, fragrant lamb curry, spicy jollof rice, flavorful biriyani, flaky scones with cream, and decadent sticky toffee pudding.
We’ve grown to love them as individuals as we swapped life stories, celebrated the good times, and wept during the bad. We stood by each other in prayer and spent many hours studying the Word of God.
Getting acquainted with the international group also opened the door to meet local people. After the first few tentative exchanges, we were welcomed with open arms into their hearts and homes.
I quickly learned that the kind of love the Bible talks about truly requires no language.
A dear old lady from our church invited us to her home for lunch once every three months and spent the whole time making small talk in German although she knew our understanding of the language was rudimentary at best. She smiled at our attempts to reply and responded by filling our plates with seconds and offering us fresh produce from her garden to take home.
Because we live in a small Austrian town, language can be a barrier. English is not widely spoken. German is the sole language of communication and not being able to speak it all in the early days posed a real challenge to us. This is why I was pleasantly surprised when the church we attend provided a translation service.
Although local church members had to adjust to seeing so many international people make their way into the church, we were never made to feel anything but welcome.
Joining the worship team also helped our integration into the church. Singing praises to God in a language unfamiliar to us helped establish the fact in our hearts that people from all tribes and tongues are a part of God’s family. Furthermore, seeing us on stage – singing worship songs in German – really helped the locals open up to us.
Today, we are deeply rooted in the church that God has planted us in. We are grateful to be a part of the local church where we can use our talents and spiritual gifts to serve God and others – to be a part of a plan that is bigger than us.
Although we come from different cultures and backgrounds, the love that we exhibit toward one another serves as a reminder to the people around us about the love of Jesus. Being a part of this God-appointed family allows us to represent Christ on Earth, to establish His Kingdom, and to reflect the love that He has so richly lavished on us.
Hospitality is needed in all churches
Church to me means much more than seeing a bunch of people every Sunday. It is more than a passing smile or a nod of acknowledgment. It is more than getting to know others and developing relationships. It is also much more than deep conversations and delicious food.
At the core, the church consists of people encouraging and challenging one another to grow more like Christ each day. Everything else, although necessary and appreciated, only serves to execute that important purpose.
There are still days when I think of our church in India and sigh in longing. However, that is chiefly because I grew up among those people. Although it will always hold a special place in my heart, my prayer is now to bloom where I am planted.
I thank God that we are here for a cause fully known only to Him and that He will fulfill His purpose in our lives in due time. Until then, Austria is home.
Want to up hospitality in your church? Here are 7 Church hospitality tips:
Tips courtesy of Jessie at Christian Social Media Marketing LLC
- Make your website welcoming. Most people will be searching your church before walking through the front door. Have someone who does not go to your church go to your website and try to navigate it as if they were thinking of trying out your church. Get their feedback.
- Address the guests without the spotlight. Most people that go out of their way to attend a church for the first time would love to be recognized for that. However, many people are afraid of going to church for fear of being called out and asked to speak. Find a happy medium of welcoming guests in a way that both extroverts and introverts would be comfortable with.
- Church hospitality is all-around, not just from the leadership. Make sure you speak to all volunteers (and possibly even have a training) of ways they can be hospitable to newcomers and those that attend regularly.
- Never ask a person if it is their first time. This can be crushing for a person who has attended multiple times and is wondering if they belong. Instead of asking someone if they are new, you can ask “Have we met yet?”
- Avoid “Christianese.” Some terms you may be comfortable with may be foreign to someone. Part of hospitality is making sure you explain all terms used.
- Provide as many service examples as you can online. Most people may only watch a minute or two, but it will be enough to help them feel welcome in a church because they will be more comfortable when arriving.
- Love people genuinely. This one may sound like a given, but it is so important. In Evangeline’s story above, they were the most welcomed by genuine hospitality. The genuine gift, the warm welcomes, and the opening of homes were the things that stuck to her. A church becomes more than a steeple when we open arms to all who enter.
My name is Evangeline Samuel. I am a disciple of Christ, married to Paulsam and the mother of two young children. My prayer is to encourage, strengthen, and comfort others who, like me, are on the journey to becoming more like Christ.