I remember well arriving Sunday after Sunday at my new “home church”—where the pastor was my husband—thus I was arriving alone. Many people would greet me, but few made an effort to engage me in meaningful conversation or draw me into the orbit of their family or friends mingling in the narthex. Feeling lonely and isolated, I developed a practice of self-defense and would arrive 2 to 3 minutes before the beginning of the service, accept those superficial greetings, and enter the nave to worship. That experience from more than a quarter of a century ago has made me conscious of what it is like for newcomers to cross the threshold of a congregation.
Paul E. Hoffman’s slim volume Welcome One Another: A Handbook for Hospitality Ministers is a practical guide to help congregations think about the barriers that newcomers face and is filled with gentle advice suggesting strategies to lower some of those barriers. In chapters 1 and 5 (parking lot and coffee hour) Hoffman points out that poorly maintained grounds and use of Styrofoam coffee cups communicate a lack of concern for God’s creation. Studies indicate that younger people in particular are deeply concerned about environmental issues; if the Church is to reach this demographic with the Good News of Jesus, we need to recognize ways in which we can demonstrate that concern in our daily practices.
The book includes chapters on greeters and ushers as well. In the former Hoffman, borrowing a term from other authors, suggests the image of “brokers,” those “parish leaders who spend much of their ministry making connections from person to person” (16) as more effective than doorkeepers who welcome everyone with “good morning.” Throughout the book Hoffman raises questions about long-standing practices in our churches: nametags, introducing visitors, expectations that newcomers sign a guest book. He rightly points out that often visitors wish to remain anonymous and may be hesitant about providing their names, address, and/or email. Building trust and genuine interest in the newcomer is necessary in today’s culture.
The book is published by Augsburg Fortress; for more information, you can view it on Amazon: