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Entertaining Angels: Becoming a truly welcoming church

Coming out of our Divine Renovation read-along, we put together a pair of workshops focussing on welcome and hospitality as a strategic part of our outreach.  After all, there’s no point in us inviting people to our churches if they feel lost and lonely when they arrive.  Through these resources we look at all aspects of hospitality, from websites and signage, to forming a hospitality team, to making welcome a whole church activity.

Here is the video from our first session:

 

You can book for the second workshop on 12th June here: https://pastoralministryoffice.org/event/entertaining-angels/

 

Entertaining Angels Training Session – week 1

1. What is Christian hospitality and what does it feel like to be made truly welcome?

 

Of all the recommendations in Divine Renovation, improving our welcome is the single easiest and most straightforward change to make.  After all, we all know what it is like to be made welcome into someone’s home and we also know what it’s like to be made to feel unwelcome.  No-one wants this for our churches, but sometimes we can get too comfortable and forget to look out for newcomers – or perhaps we should call them guests?

 

If we are to do this properly, there’s a lot to think about.  At one end of the spectrum, we could give out hymn books with more of a smile, but if we’re to take this seriously, we really need to be strategic and think about how welcoming fits into lots of aspects of parish life, from websites to car parks, from Mass on Sundays to everything else we do.

 

Friendly and welcoming churches:

Give your church a mark out of 10 for being friendly.

Give your church a mark out of 10 for being welcoming.

What’s the difference?  Have a look at this video.  It’s really an advert for the book we’ve used to create this course, so excuse the hard sell at the end, but it makes a very good point:

 

Revisit the friendly and welcoming marks you gave your church.  Would you change your marks at all?

 

2. Biblical hospitality

It’s important that we recognise that hospitality isn’t an add on, but central to our sense of community and who we are.  We can start by reflecting on two very different examples of hospitality in the Bible.

Our title, Entertaining Angels, comes from this quote in the Book of Hebrews :

 

“Remember always to welcome strangers, for by doing this
some people have entertained angels without knowing it”
Hebrews 13.2

Hebrews is a long reflection on the Old Testament, and this verse is referring to a number of encounters with angels that appear in Genesis and Judges, of which this one is the most famous:

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.  Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.”

Genesis 18:1-5

What qualities of hospitality can we see in this passage?  What can we draw on for ourselves?

  • Enthusiasm and joy – Abraham rushed from the entrance of his tent to the visitors
  • He reverenced them -bowing down to the ground – showing great respect
  • Hospitality – He encourages them to stay – offering food and drink

An alternative approach:

Matthew 19:13

13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.  14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

Does this feel familiar?  How welcoming are our churches of difference?

 

What does good welcome look like?

We can see from this that hospitality isn’t an add on.  It’s absolutely central to our communities.  But when we think about the teams that we need at Mass on Sunday, eg Eucharistic Ministers, readers, children’s liturgy, coffee, where do the welcomers come?  It feels like an optional extra.

Actually, it’s a ministry of skill, welcome and tact, as Fr James Mallon says:

“The question of how the marginalised feel when entering our churches is one that haunts me.  How welcomed does a person feel who does not look like us, sound like us, dress like us and smell like us?  How does the person who is struggling with mental illness feel when entering our churches?  How does the person living an alternative lifestyle or struggling with sin and brokenness feel?… It’s not just a question of treating “these people” the same as everyone else; they are the guests of honour.”

How does this make you feel?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

3. Mystery worshipper – how to find out what it’s like to come to your church as a stranger

Thom S Rainer, in his book “Becoming a welcoming church” surveyed and interviewed hundreds of people to find out why they did not return to a particular church.  Here are the top ten responses:

 

  1. Greeting time in church was unfriendly- church members were good at greeting each other but not so much new people.
  2. Unfriendly church members – don’t speak to guests because they don’t know them, and prefer to withdraw into holy huddles
  3. Unsafe and unclean children’s areas
  4. No place to get information on the church
  5. Bad church website
  6. Poor signage
  7. Insider church language
  8. Boring or bad church services
  9. Members telling guests they were in the wrong pew or chair “you’re sitting in my pew!”
  10. Dirty facilities

 

On the other hand, the positives were:

  1. Someone asked the guest to sit with her
  2. People introduced themselves to the guest
  3. There was clear signage
  4. There was a clearly marked welcome centre
  5. The kids loved the children’s area
  6. The children’s area was secure and sanitary
  7. Guest parking was clearly visible
  8. Church did not have a stand-and-greet
  9. Members were not pushy
  10. Guest card simple to complete

 

Take a moment to consider:

  • What are the characteristics of your church, good or bad?
  • Have you ever spoken to a guest about their first time visit to your church?
  • How do you think a guest feels in your service?

Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

Signs, signage and sites – is your church top secret?

3 Myths about signage and websites:

#1 Everyone knows where our church is

#2 Everyone knows where everything is in our church

# Church websites aren’t that important

 

What is your reaction to these myths?

Website

If someone moved into your town, and wanted to find the Catholic church, how would they go about it?

If you google “Catholic church” in your town, does your church come up? When you’re on the website, is it easy to find times of Masses?  Can you easily find the address?  Are there parking instructions?

 

Try it now.  Google  your parish website, and answer those questions.  Think about what needs to be different to make it accessible to newcomers.


Signage

Can you find your church from the road?  Is it clear what the car parking arrangements?  Are your toilets signposted?  Is there any signage for families, eg when children’s liturgy is on, where the baby change toilet is?  Finally, if you have coffee after Mass, how easy is it to find?

Jot down what the main “Aha” moments are from this?

 

Next steps

Before you do anything else, become a mystery worshipper:

  1. Form a team – get some other people involved

  2. Mystery worship (even if online) at a parish or alternative church near you

  3. Try and look at your own community with fresh eyes – even better, ask someone to mystery worship you

 

 

Download an Entertaining Angels handout here:  Entertaining angels handout

 

Case Study 1: Quick Wins
Sacred Heart & St John Stone Church, Ainsdale

  1. Welcomers in the car park… guiding newcomers
  2. Some people don’t want to engage with others before services because their circumstances are all-consuming, or they are introverts, or or or
  3. People may NEED to see the priest – either before or after services – to ask for prayer / give an update on their situation
  4. Welcomers need access to resources/info about signposting if people have a need they can’t address
  5. Someone was once told RCIA means “Roman Catholics in AGONY” – do we explain acronyms
  6. Are they strangers? newcomers? guests? angels? how you label people guides your thinking
  7. Continue the care calling group for people who need to talk?
  8. Stewards could write (new) next to contact info to flag for welcoming next time?
  9. Poor signage to one church — ask Councillor to help get this renewed
  10. Update the new parishioners pack, also have it in the club / hall … tell people where it is … parishioners to please flag up when more packs needed
  11. Can someone put our churches into “What Three Words” app?
  12. We need to include on the website and on invitations to events: directions / parking info / disabled facilities info / which service includes children’s liturgy
  13. Tell Estate Agents about us so that they can tell their clients
  14. Ask a friend from another parish to be a Mystery Worshipper, so that we get real feedback on their experience of coming to our churches
  15. Have a “gifting” Sunday, asking people to try their hand with at least one thing until they find what they enjoy helping with – no obligation

Case Study 2: Strategic Approach
St Gregory’s Parish, Northampton

 1. HOSPITALITY TEAM
Because the church renovations are not just a few, once off tasks but an ongoing commitment of many tasks, it is suggested that you create a team of passionate, friendly, loving, willing, enthusiastic and committed members, who can work together as a team to drive the ‘renovations’ that are needed within your parish.  We at St. Gregory’s have now formed a ‘Hospitality Team’, with 10 members, who are inspired and ready to make a difference!
So, as a start, form your own Hospitality Team.

 

2. IDENTIFY WHAT RENOVATIONS ARE NEEDED AT YOUR PARISH!
After each Monday Divine Renovation seminars (find the series here: https://pastoralministryoffice.org/summer_webinars/), we had a follow up meeting to discuss that week’s chapter, and what issues expressed in that chapter are found to be part of OUR PARISH. This is important. What might be an issue at one parish might not be an issue at another parish, and changing something that is already working well, might be damaging to that parish.  So, within your Hospitality Team, identify what renovations, YOUR PARISH needs!

 

 3. PERFORM AN ON-SIGHT INSPECTION AT YOUR PARISH
Sometimes we walk into our parish with blinkers on, especially if we have been attending that parish for years. Our eyes have become used to seeing things that are wrong or need fixing, and over time, we just accept them as is.
Our Hospitality Team have planned an on-sight meeting at our parish on Saturday, at 1pm, where we will start in the PARKING, then move to the FRONT of the Church (the welcoming point), then to the ENTRANCE, then the INSIDE the church, then the COFFEE/TEA hall, and the TOILETS etc.  With the understanding that the Church is the foundation and the first point of call to a Christian faith, we need to have these issues addressed. It is no good, inviting someone new to the Church, but having it presented to them in an ‘unwelcoming way’. We will never see that person again!
So, I suggest your Hospitality Team meet at the church and walk from the front to the back, covering the entire church, and look with fresh eyes, identifying what renovations need to be done to make the church presentable and welcoming to ALL.

 

4. START SMALL AND SLOWLY (Rome was not built in a day)
Once the Divine Renovation’ seminar is complete, and you have fully completed your on-sight ‘autopsy’ on the church, sit down and list all the renovations that needs to be done for your parish. Then jointly decide which TWO or THREE (no more) points are in urgent need of renovation and start there! Don’t try attempt to renovate all at once and don’t rush through them.  As I mentioned, Rome was not built in a day.  When these are complete, only then take on a few more renovations and continue.
So, my suggestion is START SMALL and SLOWLY!

 

5. REVISIT YOUR COMPLETED RENOVATION
As I mentioned before, these renovations are ongoing, and need continuous revaluation. As a team, keep reviewing your past renovations and see if they continue to work well or need tweaking. You don’t want parishioners to say, “I used to love that but it’s no more”.  At St. Gregory’s we are committing to follow up meetings, to ensure our ‘good work’ continues to serve the community.
These are just 5 suggested guidelines which may assist one with the start of your renovation.

 

Implementation

  1. Within point 2 above, I mentioned to the group, the issue of WELCOMING with particular focus to the front of the Parish. Do we have a parish which welcomes EVERYONE?
  2. At St. Gregory’s we were looking at a young team of GREETERS, who would each wear a blue sash, saying “welcome” on it and would also hand out the leaflets. Any new members, would get a warm welcome and would be able to get the assistance they need to ensure they are looked after, including an invite to coffee and tea afterwards.
  3. We are looking at having a ‘welcome sign’ erected, in many languages.  This would welcome any new foreigners in their   language, making them feel at home.
  4. We are also looking at adding fresh colourful flowers at the front in baskets, just to brighten up the front of the church.