Long before there were a multitude of businesses that emphasized customer service and customer care, welcoming strangers was central to our Catholic faith. Today a growing number of parishes are rediscovering hospitality as an essential Christian practice.Certain companies, especially those in the retail, food-service, and travel industries, make hospitality their full-time business. Some of these organizations’ best practices can be adapted to our parish settings, enhancing the welcome we offer every day.
Here are four of the best practices that customer-friendly organizations use to foster a culture of hospitality:
1. Treat each person as an honored guest. Treat each person who comes onto our church property as an honored guest, a valued person, and a child of God. Everyone who walks through our doors, whether to attend Mass or visit the parish offices, and anyone who calls on the phone should receive the same message: “You are an honored guest. Welcome to our church community.”
2. Pay attention to details. Paying attention to details reassures visitors because they see this genuine care as a sign that we value their presence among us. Walk around your parish grounds and view the premises from the perspective of first-time visitors of various ages, needs, and backgrounds. What impression does your church make in terms of clear signage, well-marked parking, inviting worship space for those with disabilities and families with children, and clean and accessible restrooms? Take note of which details could be improved to create a more welcoming and positive impression.
3. Always exceed expectations. During every interaction, we have the opportunity to exceed someone’s expectations. Have you ever encountered a sales person who went out of his or her way to help you find what you wanted? That made you feel special! When someone approaches us in our roles as staff members or ministry leaders, we can exceed his or her expectations by giving our full attention and saying something like: “It’s good to meet you. I’m so glad you are here and came up to speak with me. Please, tell me how I can help you.”
4. Act with intentionality. Intentionality means doing things with a purpose and a plan. A world-class customer-service organization would never launch a new initiative without a plan. We as Church can be intentional about welcoming visitors by doing the following:
- building a spirit of hospitality into our plans;
- considering the people and neighborhoods that make up our parish;
- ensuring that all parishioners understand the plan and their roles in it.
Taking the time to plan assures that our good intentions are carried out and a spirit of welcome and hospitality is the result.
Service and hospitality organizations can offer parishes new and creative ideas to make visitors and members feel welcome. Be My Witness, a new parish program from RENEW International, helps parishes assess and plan ways to enhance the experience of welcome.