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:
And the second week here:
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 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.”
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:
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?
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:
- Greeting time in church was unfriendly- church members were good at greeting each other but not so much new people.
- Unfriendly church members – don’t speak to guests because they don’t know them, and prefer to withdraw into holy huddles
- Unsafe and unclean children’s areas
- No place to get information on the church
- Bad church website
- Poor signage
- Insider church language
- Boring or bad church services
- Members telling guests they were in the wrong pew or chair “you’re sitting in my pew!”
- Dirty facilities
On the other hand, the positives were:
- Someone asked the guest to sit with her
- People introduced themselves to the guest
- There was clear signage
- There was a clearly marked welcome centre
- The kids loved the children’s area
- The children’s area was secure and sanitary
- Guest parking was clearly visible
- Church did not have a stand-and-greet
- Members were not pushy
- 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?
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?
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.
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?
Before you do anything else, become a mystery worshipper:
Form a team – get some other people involved
Mystery worship (even if online) at a parish or alternative church near you
Try and look at your own community with fresh eyes – even better, ask someone to mystery worship you
Download the first Entertaining Angels handout here: Entertaining angels handout
Entertaining Angels Training Session – week 2
Pope Francis preached very powerfully at the Mass for Corpus Christi on the welcoming church. This is part of what he said:
“The Church too must be a large room. Not a small and closed circle, but a community with arms wide open, welcoming to all. Let us ask ourselves this question: when someone approaches who is hurting, who has made a mistake, who has gone astray in life, is the Church a room large enough to welcome this person and lead him or her to the joy of an encounter with Christ? Let us not forget that the Eucharist is meant to nourish those who are weary and hungry along the way. A Church of the pure and perfect is a room with no place for anyone. On the other hand, a Church with open doors, that gathers and celebrates around Christ, is a large room where everyone can enter.”
Let’s spend some moments reflecting on this.
What surprises you the most?
What gives you heart?
What challenges you?
This week we are really going to get into the nitty gritty:
- What is the role of a welcoming team: who to recruit and what they can do.
- Resources to make our parishes more accessible for people with disabilities.
- How to engage the whole congregation in welcome.What practical steps should we be taking to get everyone involved?
- Making plans.
Firstly before we kick off, did you manage to mystery worship another church, or have someone visit your own?
Was there anything you noticed just having done the last workshop?
The role of a welcoming team
“Parish hospitality is more than simply a spontaneous welcome. It is an intentional and strategic plan that begins long before the sun rises on a given Sunday morning.” William Simon Jr., Great Catholic Parishes
Hospitality takes strategic organisation behind the scenes, with extensive preparation and planning. Volunteers need to be recruited and trained with a clear sense of how hospitality contributes to the mission of the church. The whole parish shares a common sense of welcome where everyone is made to feel equally at home.
Why have a welcoming team?
- They make time to welcome people.While the whole church has a part to play, these are people who have a distinct purpose to be hospitable. In England, where we really worry about stepping on toes, this is a great help.
- It’s too important to be left to chance.We’ve already seen that this ministry is key to our Gospel values. Having a team tells the whole congregation, and especially our guests, how important welcome is.
- It puts people in strategic locations, and gives them a clear role to do.These places include
- The car park – smile and wave, help anyone who needs assistance, help with parking
- All the entrances..Outside is better than inside.
- Roaming greeters – to show people to their places, watch out for anyone who looks unsure, pass on details of children’s liturgy, disabled toilets, kids books etc
Mistakes of welcoming teams
- Holy huddles – if the greeters are chatting to each other, they are already excluding guests.Better to have no greeters at all than greeters who only talk to people they know.
- Arriving too late.Greeters need to be there before the guests. If they see their role as building the kingdom, it will give them the passion they need.
- Calling the bulletin-hander-outer a greeter.They’re not – they don’t have time to greet people properly.
- Not introducing yourself.Greeters are people, and so are guests. It’s lovely as a new person to know someone’s name – and we are terrible about this in Catholic churches!
Reactions to this:
What difference does this make to people visiting our churches?
What’s the state of our welcome currently?
Who should be a greeter?
You really want people with a servant heart for this role – to see how it fits in strategically, and how it is really profound outreach. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves.” Phil 2:3
What would it be like to have a group of greeters who treated every guest in that way?
Who are those people in your church?
Thom Rainer says that all churches should have welcome centres, even if it’s just a table. What should be on a welcome table?
- leaflets and church info (about the most likely topics that people will want, like the local Catholic school, sacraments, becoming a Catholic).
- Pens with the church name on (people will take it home and remember you)
- Gifts – maybe a prayer card with the parish/pastoral area prayer on?
- Gift bags, with all this in and some chocolate?
Greeters and welcomers don’t just say “We’re expecting you,” they say, “We want you here”. And a guest who feels wanted and welcomed is a guest who will likely return. It really is that important.
Welcoming people with disabilities
In our last session we touched on welcoming people with disabilities. There were some great ideas shared, including having large print or differently coloured newsletters, or having a wheelchair friendly space in your church. Disability is such a broad term that sometimes we get overwhelmed just thinking about it, but Pope Francis reminds us:
“The church cannot be ‘mute’ or ‘tone deaf’ when it comes to the defence and promotion of people with disabilities.
Words and gestures of outreach and welcoming must never be missing from any church community, so that everyone, particularly those whose journey in life is not easy, can encounter the risen Lord and find in that community “a source of hope and courage,”
Pope Francis speaking to families, carers and disability professionals on 21/10/17.
CSAN have produced an excellent “Parish Guide to disability” https://www.csan.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/200815-Parish-Guide-to-Disability.pdf If we look at their main recommendations, we can see that we’ve covered a lot of it already in thinking about a general welcome, it just needs that thoughtful perspective to make sure everyone is included.
From the Parish Guide to Disability
General Tips for Welcome and Inclusion
It is helpful if YOU…..
- how a welcoming manner, a smile, welcoming words such as “good to see you”
- speak directly to the person with disability, not only to their companion or interpreter
- focus on the person, not the disability
- treat adults with disabilities as adults
- use a normal voice and volume, unless instructed to do otherwise
- offer to shake hands when introduced
- ask for instructions before providing assistance; don’t assume you know the need
- recognize that the person may have multiple disabilities and, therefore, multiple needs
- relax; we are all people with gifts and challenges
It is helpful if THE PARISH…
- has prominently displayed WELCOME signs outside the church and parish centre;
- provides reserved parking spaces for parishioners with physical disability;
- ensures that the church and parish centre are easily accessible to wheelchair users;
- has a team of trained welcomers, on a rota, at all weekend Masses and main parish events;
- ensures that the church and parish centre are warm, well lit, clean and attractive;
- has an easily accessible toilet, which includes adaptations helpful to people with disability;
- has a good ‘loop system’ in place for the use of those with hearing impairment;
- displays appropriate and clear signs in all parish facilities;
- provides respite facilities and opportunities for families and children with disabilities;
- asks what other accommodations and facilities parishioners need;
- recognizes that people with disabilities have talents and skills that are useful to parish communities;
- includes parishioners with disabilities in liturgy, ministries, etc.
- asks persons with disabilities to evaluate facilities, such as toilets and respite areas;
- forms a ‘Disability Support Group’ and trains volunteers (adults and youth);
- has a ‘disability contact person’, named on notice board and newsletter, to be informed if any persons with disability, or their carers, experience problems (e.g. with a hearing loop);
- includes (in the parish library) copies of this Guide, with resource information, signposting to specialist resources, with contact details for relevant services/societies in the neighbourhood;
- makes provision for house-bound parishioners, by arranging for social visits, Eucharistic ministers to call, arranges availability of transport suitable for wheelchairs to convey some to church and parish events, where possible;
- where necessary, provides facilities for ‘streamed’ services, allowing house-bound parishioners to follow the Mass on their TV, computer, or tablet;
- invites all house-bound parishioners to become members of the ‘Apostleship of Prayer’.
What are your experiences of this?
Feedback – what steps could parishes take straight away?
Becoming a welcoming community
The power of the smile: Colgate dental floss campaign https://www.nedmartin.org/v3/amused/colgate-dental-floss-advert.
What would it be like if our whole congregation became known for its friendly smile?
- “Rejoice in the Lord always” Philippians 4:4
- “An evangeliser must never look like someone who has come back from a funeral” (Evanglium Gaudium, 10)
- “If Jesus is in your heart, please notify your face”
Welcome has to be a priority of our church communities. The Bible says so, Pope Francis says so. If welcome is about more than greeters, it needs to be a golden thread that runs through the whole parish.
Firstly – speak to the whole church about welcome. Ask your priest to preach about it, institute name badge Sunday or something similar. Ask everyone to think about when they have been made to feel welcome and what difference that made to them
Where other opportunities are there for welcome?
Welcome begins with the welcoming team, but extends to everyone who has a liturgical function, including music leaders, children’s liturgy, Eucharistic Ministers, those doing the announcements.
- Children’s liturgy – could someone be the welcomer for late comers each week?
- Baptism programmes – is this a new family?We often hope that people will return at this point
- First communion and confirmation – again, what is our attitude to families that we haven’t seen before
- What about screens in church with words of hymns and prayers so everyone can join in?
- How does coffee after Mass fit in? Is it ever announced? Is it clear where to go?
- Strategic – look across the whole experience of coming to church. What are the glaring/stand out issues right now?
Planning next steps
Firstly – do not do everything!
- Find a team – some people who share your thoughts that welcome is actively building the kingdom
- Share the vision – get them to watch the videos/read through the resources
- Do your homework – mystery worship other churches, look at your own church with new eyes
- Find 3 things that you can easily do
“May we become a Church with pitcher in hand, a Church that reawakens thirst and brings water. Let us open wide our hearts in love so that we can become be the large and welcoming room where everyone can enter and meet the Lord. Let us break the bread of our lives in compassion and solidarity, so that through us the world may see the grandeur of God’s love. Then the Lord will come, he will surprise us once more, he will again become food for the life of the world. And he will satisfy us always, until the day when, at the heavenly banquet, we will contemplate his face and come to know the joy that has no end.”
Pope Francis, conclusion to Homily for the Feast of Corpus Christi.
Download the second Entertaining Angels handout here: Entertaining angels week 2 handout
Download a planning sheet here: Planning Sheet for hospitality teams
Case Study 1: Quick Wins
Sacred Heart & St John Stone Church, Ainsdale
- Welcomers in the car park… guiding newcomers
- Some people don’t want to engage with others before services because their circumstances are all-consuming, or they are introverts, or or or
- People may NEED to see the priest – either before or after services – to ask for prayer / give an update on their situation
- Welcomers need access to resources/info about signposting if people have a need they can’t address
- Someone was once told RCIA means “Roman Catholics in AGONY” – do we explain acronyms
- Are they strangers? newcomers? guests? angels? how you label people guides your thinking
- Continue the care calling group for people who need to talk?
- Stewards could write (new) next to contact info to flag for welcoming next time?
- Poor signage to one church — ask Councillor to help get this renewed
- 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
- Can someone put our churches into “What Three Words” app?
- We need to include on the website and on invitations to events: directions / parking info / disabled facilities info / which service includes children’s liturgy
- Tell Estate Agents about us so that they can tell their clients
- 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
- 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
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- We are also looking at adding fresh colourful flowers at the front in baskets, just to brighten up the front of the church.