The work of George Hermanson entitled: “Paradise and Hospitality” states that hospitality “…was crucial in the world of the Bible. In a desert environment – hot days, cold nights, where food and water are scarce, hospitality literally meant the difference between life and death. Even today among the Bedouin, offering hospitality to travelers is a requirement of tribal life. Our texts this morning illustrate the place and importance of hospitality in our faith.” (2008) it is related by Hermanson that the story of the Exodus in the Bible is about Gods hospitality to Gods people. Lost, tired, and hungry, the children of Israel are starting to lose hope in a promised land. God feeds them with quail and manna. God offers them hospitality in the desert. An act that more than restores their bodies – it restores their spirits. This image of feeding is played out in the New Testament for Jesus feeds the poor and hungry seekers who come to the wilderness to hear him and his message of good news with a few loaves and fishes. He re-enacts Gods gracious hospitality with generous abundance of his own.” (2008)
Hermanson relates that the faith of the individual and the church is demonstrated through “meeting people where they are and satisfying their physical needs…” (2008)
Hermanson discusses the letter of Paul and states that in the first days of the church hospitality existed as.”..an ancient gift and practice of the church” (2008) in fact, the church “stood out from other organizations and groups because of its practice of hospitality.” (Hermanson, 2008) Paul gave the church members instructions informing them that they are to “be hospitable to one another without complaining. They are to act generously toward one another. Since whatever they have is though Gods grace, they are to act as stewards not owners of it.” (Hermanson, 2008)
There are several connections made by Paul that assist in the illumination of the nature of hospitality and informs the church that hospitality is “not based on liking one another. It is based in love – in sharing and demonstrating the love of Christ and the generosity of God toward one another.” (Hermanson, 2008) Finally, Hermanson relates of hospitality in the church as follows:
Hospitality which characterized the original paradise in the garden of Eden is also what characterized the early church. Hospitality is what made the early church distinct. It was through caring for one another, and caring for the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the sick – all the outsiders of the community – that the church stood out. Christians were known for their hospitality to strangers. It was through hospitality that they made friendship real. It was hospitality that made the early church into a little taste of Gods paradise. This insight changed the world for now we see its outcome in action. We see this in such words as hospital or hospice.” (Hermanson, 2008)
III. Hospitality in the Contemporary Church
The report entitled: “Hotel Equities Adds 17th Management Contract with Full-Service Conference and Retreat Center in Atlanta” relates that the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church owns the land of Simpsonwood and that it was acquired through a gift deed of land. Simpsonwood is comprised of a complex of nine-buildings, which are full-service including a conference center replete with dining and meeting accommodations as well as four lodges containing hotel rooms and meeting rooms as well as a small chapel. Also included is “full dining service, guests at Simpsonwood enjoy amenities such an outdoor swimming pool, a large athletic field, a covered, open-air basketball court, walking trails, a picnic pavilion, 22 indoor meeting rooms (24,000 square feet), wireless Internet service and guest laundry facilities.” (Hotel Interactive, 2007)
Simpsonwood Lodge is stated to be a “Christian Adult and Family Retreat Center of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church” offering a site “for conferences and retreats for worship, study, music, recreation, fellowship, and mission in the Judeo-Christian tradition.” (Hotel Interactive, 2007) Hospitality in the church is many things and in order to relate just what hospitality comprises in the church the Church Hospitality Assessment as published by the Evangelism Coach the following questions used in assessing the hospitality features of a church are listed in this study:
1) Is your church easy to find? Do you need new signs on major roads near your church?
____ Is your churchs name easy to read from the road?
____ Is it easy to tell which entrance to use for the church office? For the worship center? For Sunday school and evening programs?
2) ____ Does the exterior and overall appearance of your church look well maintained and attractive?
3) ____ Does the landscaping need attention?
4) ____ Are there a few parking spots close to the building which are reserved for the disabled? For guests?
5) ____ Are the sidewalks, the entrance, and the interior spaces of the church easy to navigate for persons in wheelchairs or with other mobility concerns?
6) ____ Are the restrooms all clean? Without rust or mildew? Do you have lotion and tissues available?
7) ____ Are all rooms in the church clearly marked? Are there clear directional signs to classrooms?
8) ____ Are there stacks of old bulletins, old magazines, or out-of-date church brochures which should be discarded?
9) ____ Are there current, attractive handouts or brochures to give information about your church which would be helpful to guests?
10) ____ Are the bulletin boards current? Guests are in fact more likely than regular members to read the bulletin boards!
11) ____ Are there any rooms which need to be cleaned? Painted? Do some rooms look too institutional? Do you have old linoleum or tile that should be replaced with carpet?
12) ____ Do you have adequate lighting in hallways, classrooms, and the worship center?
13) ____ Are the rooms for infants and toddlers both attractive and clean? Do you have older bedding and toys which should be replaced?
14) ____ Are extra copies of curriculum and Bibles in the classrooms? Are teachers prepared and trained to welcome guests Are the instructions in your bulletin and worship service clear to guests? Remember that you could have guests who have not been to any church before coming to yours.
15) ____ Are large print bulletins available? Is hearing amplification available?
16) ____ Do you have mints available for persons who experience coughing or a dry throat during the service?
17) ____ Do the announcements and/or joys and concerns time contain “insider” references which would make a guest feel excluded? Do people identify themselves before sharing?
18) ____ Do you have a name tag system that is current and that is utilized?
19) ____ Do you have greeters positioned at the entrances to the church? Are greeters and ushers prepared to welcome guests? Do you offer training in hospitality for greeters and ushers?
20) ____ Are all members of the congregation prepared to welcome guests? Have you provided training in hospitality?
21) ____ Are refreshments available at a fellowship time and/or during Sunday school classes?
22) ____ Do you have members who go out of their way during the fellowship time to greet guests and introduce them to others?
23) ____ Are members of your church prepared to extend brunch or dinner invitations to your guests?
24) ____ Do you have a system in place to respond to guests within 48 hours of their attendance by leaving a small gift at their homes? Freshly baked cookies or bread, a devotional booklet, flowers, or a mug with your churchs name are all possibilities.
25) ____ Have you interviewed people who have recently visited your church and asked them for feedback on their experience? Have you talked both to people who have continued to come and to some who only came once?
26) ____ What other areas should you consider? (Evangelism Coach, 2002)
IV. Hospitality: The Religious/Church Sector of the Industry
The Hotel Interactive report entitled: “Getting Religious About Meetings” states that the religious meetings market is a “multi-billion dollar segment with vast potential since they require a variety of venues, love attractions and can make a major impact on yearly revenue.” (Kelly, 2008) Kelly states that it is difficult to pin down precise figures but that it is however, indicated that the religious travel market is worth more than $1 billion domestically and $18 billion worldwide.” This market is described as being “recession proof” in that this market witnesses “continuous growth, as the number of meetings…increased for the third year in a row in 2005, by 9.2% to 17,545 meetings.” (Hotel Interactive, 2008) These figures illustrate the importance of hospitality among those that comprise the church. Findings in this report are that churches book various facilities for religious meetings including:
1) Downtown venues are the most preferred sites (17.2%);
2) Conference centers are the second most popular choice for booking religious.