Why Smaller Churches Must Be Better at Hospitality than Larger Churches

It’s not fair. I know. Smaller churches must be better at hospitality than larger churches. First, I will explain why. Then I will demonstrate how this perceived inequity is to the benefit of smaller churches.

Guests have different expectations of different-sized churches. When new people or families walk into an extraordinarily large church, most will expect anonymity. A 500,000 square-foot campus with thousands of people has a different feel than a smaller church with one hundred people.

For example, when I enter Tropicana Field for a Tampa Bay Rays game, I do not expect people to go out of their way to show hospitality. The ballpark is enormous, and there are—on average—between 15,000 and 20,000 others walking around. I’m thankful they focus on efficiency more than hospitality. I get frustrated when the parking attendant wants to have an extended conversation. When I walk into a small, family-owned restaurant, however, my expectations change. Hospitality is now the priority and not efficiency.

Churches are not ballparks and restaurants; I get it. But the sociology of being in a small group or a large crowd remains. It’s weird when you enter a room with a few people, and no one acknowledges you. It’s not as strange when the same happens in a room with thousands of people.

The Difference Between Friendliness and Hospitality

Many churches believe they are friendly, but too few demonstrate hospitality. The problem is friendliness is often directed internally. Members are kind and pleasant with each other and overlook guests. You can be nice to someone without showing hospitality. Hospitality involves generosity and sacrifice with outsiders. In the New Testament, the Greek word for hospitality means to love those on the outside. Peter wrote about the importance of hospitality in his first letter.

“The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” – 1 Peter 4:7-10 (NLT)

The apostle had a penchant for the dramatic. The world is ending! Please show hospitality. A couple of lessons emerge from this text. Hospitality is how the church will shine when the world is falling apart. Additionally, every believer, regardless of spiritual gifting, is expected to be hospitable. In other words, every spiritual gift is amplified by hospitality. I believe hospitality is one of the most underrated ministries in the church, and it is expected of all members! How can smaller churches use the greater expectation of hospitality to their advantage?

Five Easy Ways to Make a Splash with Your Hospitality Ministry

What makes a church visit memorable for a guest? Generally, the experience is the memorable part of being in a large crowd. But the personal connection is what people value in a smaller setting. Do larger churches get more guests because of their size? Yes, but they also assimilate a smaller proportion of them. A typical-sized congregation will not have as many guests, but they have a better opportunity to assimilate guests through a personal connection.

The problem is many churches (large and small) do not elevate the ministry of hospitality to take advantage of the opportunity. They believe the culture of being nice to each other (internally) will equate to guests feeling hospitality. The opposite is true. Many guests feel ignored or excluded when no one intentionally extends genuine hospitality to them.

How can a smaller church make a splash with hospitality?

1. Allocate more budget resources. Your church budget reflects your ministry priorities. Don’t cut the coffee budget! I realize most small churches do not have big budgets. But there are ways to invest in hospitality without breaking the bank. Give the pastor a lunch budget to treat guests and their families after church. Hand writing a thank you card to guests is inexpensive and one way to make a memorable impression.

2. Do not neglect your online presence. Monitor your social media accounts and respond quickly to questions. Make sure your Google business profile is up to date with correct addresses, service times, phone numbers, and hours of operation. Include pictures on your website of actual congregants. Don’t use stock photos. And please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t use an empty sanctuary picture as your primary image.

3. Train your first impressions volunteers. Personal attention is what sets hospitality apart from friendliness. Shaking someone’s hand and smiling is a friendly gesture. Hospitality is talking with someone, walking them into the sanctuary, sitting next to them while getting to know them, and inviting them to lunch. If you don’t know someone more after an interaction, then you may have been kind, but you were not hospitable.

4. Make a big deal about guests in the worship service and then follow up. Thank your guests from the platform each week (without singling them out). Ask for their contact information. You can use connection cards with QR codes (for those who prefer digital methods). Keep a fresh stock of pens available in your seats or pews. Contact every guest at least three times. Each one should receive a phone call from church leadership (or an email if no number is available). Follow up with a handwritten note if they provided a physical address. Then have a church member invite them to a small group or Sunday school class.

5. Lead by example. Hospitable churches have hospitable pastors. Titus 1 is explicit. If pastors do not practice hospitality, they are not fit to lead their churches. Having guests in your home is just as important as sound doctrine. Hospitality starts with the pastor!

Hospitality is the opportunity many smaller churches are missing. Frankly, good hospitality is in short supply in our culture. The church can make a memorable impression—and have a greater impact—by investing in hospitality.

Posted on July 12, 2023

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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  • Great insights. I deleted the empty sanctuary photos! Lol! The church was recently renovated. I guess we we’re excited for people to see. But definitely looks more inviting with people online.
    I’m also excited to re think my welcome of guests.

  • Bob Myers says on

    Good and helpful piece, as always, Sam.

    My wife and I had a very enlightening experience a bit more than a year ago. We moved to a small town of about 1,000 people 12 miles away from a large metro area. The townsfolk are primarily commuters or somehow connected to farming. I had transitioned out of being a Sr. Pastor to hospice chaplaincy in order to be closer to our family.

    We wanted to attend a church that was close to us, so I went and visited with the pastor of the one evangelical church in town. Nice guy. Very warm with a great pastoral perspective. So, for the next three weeks we visited his church. Lots of folks – seemed comfortably full with all generations well represented. Good worship – music and Word. But the shocking lack of hospitality (and I love the way you have unpacked the concept) convinced us to never return. Three Sundays in a row and no one ever said “Boo” to us except the pastor. Imagine how hard it would be to break into a church like that!

    I’m still shaking my head. Since then, we have visited several other churches that are genuinely hospitable.

    One thing that I would add to your piece about smaller churches needing to be hospitable: Hospitality should be in the whole culture of the church rather than simply a program staffed with outgoing personalities. I was privileged to pastor a church like that in my last setting and the church we are attending now is also naturally welcoming.

    Thanks again for your enlightening and helpful posts.

    • Sam Rainer says on

      Thank you, Bob. Your point about culture is completely true. It should be the goal of every church.

  • Marty Green says on

    I 100% agree and try to be that kind of pastor. I will begin a new ministry at a new church, God willing, Sunday July 16th and these principles will be at the top of my list of things to accomplish. Thank you for reminding us.

  • Mark Snead says on

    My wife and I visited a Church with about 250 in attendance. The announcer asked everyone to greet each other. The only people to greet us, were attending the Church for the second time. The rest just stared or glanced at us, as they fellowshipped with each other. Many Church members don’t realize how unfriendly they are to “outsiders.” I regularly tell our Church leaders to go out of their way to greet people they don’t know, and to encourage other members to do the same.