For a long time, when I heard the word “hospitality,” I thought about all the wrong things. I thought about beautiful table-settings, impressive chef-prepared dinners and the delectable desserts featured in magazines. I imagined elaborate gatherings filled with smiling people and hostesses floating through the room. But, that is not what real hospitality is. I was confusing hospitality with entertaining. We miss something significant when we equate hospitality with entertaining. We get caught up in our culture’s false definition of hospitality, and we begin to think it is all about dinner invitations and etiquette, clean homes and casseroles, or dazzling displays of flowers and desserts.
The Greek word for hospitality is philoxenos. Phileo meaning “brotherly love,” and xenos for “strangers.” God’s original design for hospitality is extending ourselves in love to strangers. It is not just about hosting dinner parties on special occasions with people we know, or hosting a small group with just our friends. We need to be thinking about the person who is not there yet. How can we prepare for her? How can we invite her? How can we welcome her when she is brave enough to come?
I work with an organization called MOPS – Mothers of Preschoolers. We are committed to creating safe, welcoming spaces for moms. This is what hospitality looks like at MOPS: We extend an invitation and then greet each woman with a smile that lets her know we have been waiting for her. We get to know her and give her a place where she belongs. We meet her immediate needs and after getting to know her and building trust, we have the opportunity to show her that her greatest need is Jesus – either more of him if she already knows him, or to meet him for the first time.
Creating a hospitable space doesn’t just happen without some thought and planning. But, as we plan for all the practical pieces, we must embrace a hospitable posture that welcomes the woman we don’t know yet. Consider these questions to get you started:
- What is their first impression? What does each person see, hear, and feel when she walks in? Many will make a decision about whether they will return to your group in the first seven minutes of their time there. They decide based on how they felt when they walked through the door.
- What are their points of connection? If you can make four points of connection with each person that comes through the door, she is more likely to return. Can you connect twice in the first seven minutes, once during the discussion part of your small group and once between meetings? If you can, she is far more likely to return, and invite a friend.
We still have to consider the “entertainment” elements of the meeting because the table we set for others tells them we’ve planned for them and we’re excited to see them. But the table without your heart of hospitality is useless. Hospitality is about the people at the table. It’s about the conversation and the connections. Let’s not just invite people to the table. Let’s invite them to relationships. If everything we do is rooted in this kind of hospitality, then it will be enough – it will be more than enough.