Has Your Guest Services Culture Turned Toxic?

Poison can wreak havoc on biological systems, but it also can kill cultural systems. Take your guest services culture, for example. Apply the poison of a toxic greeter, and the deadly effects will soon spread throughout the attitude and actions of every volunteer. Tap into the toxicity of an unhealthy approach – for example, not having a plan for serving guests – and soon your church’s growth and health will stagnate, decline, and die.

So how can you spot a toxic guest services culture? Like poison, it’s often unnoticeable until it’s too late. But there are three attitudes that might indicate toxicity amidst your team:

1. Implementing a guest services plan is a necessary evil.

We’d never say that. Nobody in their right mind would formulate those words and force them off of our tongues. Of course we want guests in our churches. No guests mean no growth. But the way we plan for, resource, and maintain our guest services culture may very well reflect our core belief that this is more trouble than it’s worth. Caring for guests interrupts the status quo, because suddenly it’s not about us and what makes us comfortable. And while the above statement may never be articulated, it’s assumed by heavy sighs and eye rolls every time you bring up the need for a plan.

2. “We’ll do anything to bring ’em in.”

I refer to this as the “shock and awe” plan. We want guests to like us enough that they want to come back a second time, so we pull out all the stops when they show up the first time. We go way beyond inviting environments and assault the senses with a sense of desperation. Our all-encompassing goal is to get first-timers to take notice of our church, yet we fail to help them take notice of Jesus. And by the way…this is often an accusation lobbed at megachurches, but small churches can overdo it too. It feels a little like the single male seminary student who uses the “God told me to marry you” line…it’s too much, too soon, and it’s off-putting.

3. We don’t need a team, because we’re already friendly.

I’ve been in a lot of churches, and I’ve yet to find one that’s not friendly. A quick five minute glance around the sanctuary or Sunday School room reveals people who are freely trading hugs and high fives, catching up on the news of the week, and even praying for each other’s needs. But there’s the rub…most church people are friendly to each other…to those we already know. It takes a great deal of intentionality to move beyond friendly to each other in order to be friendly to “others.” And if that intentionality isn’t intentionally installed, it’ll cause the culture of welcoming guests to shrivel up and die.

Posted on January 28, 2021

Danny Franks is the Pastor of Guest Services at The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, and the author of People Are the Mission: How Churches Can Welcome Guests Without Compromising the Gospel. Read more from Danny at www.dfranks.com
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  • Robin G Jordan says on

    Three very good points. Showing hospitality to others should never be considered a “necessary evil.” It is an essential part of Christian discipleship. Jesus taught his followers to love others. This means to show hospitality to them. There are no two ways about it. I have visited small churches where church members give visitors the cold shoulder. Their body language conveys it if their words do not. They avoid visitors and whisper about visitors among themselves. They may not realize it, but visitors are aware of what they are doing. On the other hand, members of a small church may do the opposite. They fawn all over first time visitors so much they may scare off these visitors. They convey an attitude of desperation which visitors pick up. At the same time I have run into churches where some members of the congregation will give you a cold shoulder while others will be overly-friendly. This can be very confusing to first time guests. One part of the congregation through their behavior says, “Go away!” and the other part says, “We are SO, SO glad you are here!” and trip over themselves welcoming the guest. Who is the guest to believe? When confronted with this kind of schizophrenic reaction to their presence, guests are not likely to return for a second visit. The fact that they are friendly to each other but not to outsiders is a blind spot from which church members suffer. I served on a church’s hospitality and guest services team for a number of years. We would have team meetings and at those meetings brainstorm how we could make first guests and returning guests feel welcome and at home. One suggestion which I made from having pioneered a number of new churches was to see each person who comes to the church–first time guests, returning guests, and regular attendees–as someone whom Jesus has sent to us. In welcoming them, we welcome Jesus and the one who sent him. We welcome God. They are not just people who decided to pop in on Sunday or wandered off the street. They are Jesus’ representatives. How we treat them is how we treat Jesus.