Big Hospitality in Small Spaces

The Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 249

When it comes to church hospitality, size doesn’t always matter. Many churches, particularly those with older or smaller facilities, often feel limited in their ability to create a warm, welcoming environment for guests. The lack of a spacious lobby or dedicated welcome area can seem like an insurmountable obstacle to providing top-notch hospitality. However, these physical constraints don’t have to limit your church’s ability to make a great first impression.

In this article, we’ll explore creative strategies showing how churches of any size can maximize their available space and resources to create an exceptional welcome experience. From reimagining your parking lot to repurposing your sanctuary, we’ll dive into practical ways to overcome spatial limitations and foster a culture of hospitality that extends far beyond the physical confines of your building.

Remember, hospitality is more about the heart than square footage. With some creativity, strategic planning, and a committed team, your church can offer big hospitality regardless of its spatial constraints. Let’s explore how to make every inch count in creating a welcoming environment for your guests.

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Maximize the Parking Lot Experience (the first impression)

Let’s kick things off where your guests do – in the parking lot. This isn’t about having the biggest lot or the most sophisticated system. It’s about making that crucial first impression count.

First up, signs. If there’s any chance someone might get confused, put a sign there. Multiple entrances? Point them to the best one. Guest parking? Make sure they can find it without playing detective.

Now, here’s where it gets good – parking attendants. Some might say, “Our lot’s not that big. We don’t need traffic directors.” Here’s the thing: it’s not about directing traffic. It’s about that first friendly face.

This approach has worked wonders for many churches. One church we worked with really took this advice to heart, added some signage, and put people in their lot. Now that team is one of their best, and they credit a lot of their growth to it. It wasn’t about managing a complex parking situation – it was about exceptional hospitality from the get-go.

Remember, we’re not just trying to get people from their car to the door. We’re setting the tone for their entire experience. A smiling face and a warm welcome in the parking lot can flip the switch from the chaos a family may have already been experiencing that morning to a feeling of being glad they are there.

So don’t let a small space hold you back. Whether you’ve got a massive lot or just a handful of spaces, put some friendly folks out front. It’ll make a world of difference.

Make Room in Your Sanctuary/Worship Space

Could you make room in the back of the sanctuary? If your worship center is not almost full already, creating a welcoming space might be more valuable than a few extra chairs.

Consider this: what if you removed the back couple of rows and turned that area into a connection space? Add some small bistro tables, maybe a coffee station. Suddenly, you’ve got a place where people can interact before and after the service, right there in your main room.

I’ve seen churches do this with great success. One small church tried this approach, and it was such a hit that when they grew from 40 to 80 people, they actually struggled with needing that space back for seating. Talk about a good problem to have!

If you’re meeting in a multipurpose space or gym, you’ve got even more flexibility. Use part of that space as a makeshift lobby. It doesn’t have to be elaborate – just a defined area where people can gather and connect.

Now, I know this idea might raise some eyebrows. “Remove pews? But what if we need them someday?” If your church has been less than half full for years, it’s time to prioritize creating a welcoming atmosphere over hypothetical future seating needs.

This isn’t just about practicality – it’s a statement of intent. It says, “We’re here to build relationships, not just fill seats.” And that message comes across loud and clear to your guests.

So, get creative with your space. Whether it’s a historic building or a rented facility, there’s always room for hospitality if you’re willing to think outside the box.

Have a POST-service reception in a fellowship hall/alternate space

Let’s talk about what happens after the final “amen.” This is a golden opportunity for connection, and you don’t need a massive lobby to make it happen.

The idea is simple: invite everyone to a post-service reception in a separate area. This could be your fellowship hall, a classroom, or even outside if the weather’s nice. The key is to create a dedicated space for people to mingle and chat after the service.

Now, for this to work, you need three things: clear communication, good signage, and strategically positioned people.

First, communication. Don’t just mention it once during announcements – people will forget. Say it at the beginning, middle, and end of the service. Make it impossible to miss.

Next, signs. Even if your building seems straightforward to you, remember that it’s unfamiliar territory for guests. Use clear, visible signs to guide people to your reception area. Temporary sandwich boards work great for this.

Finally, people. Station friendly faces along the path to your reception area. They can answer questions, offer directions, and make sure no one feels lost or left out.

Here’s a pro tip: if you’ve got a children’s ministry, make sure they’re prepared to watch the kids for an extra 15-20 minutes. Let parents know they can attend the reception without worrying about picking up their children immediately.

Remember, the goal here isn’t to give a full-blown presentation about your church. It’s about creating a relaxed atmosphere where people can connect. Keep it short, keep it sweet, and watch those relationships start to form.

By moving your post-service socializing to a dedicated space, you’re creating an intentional opportunity for connection – no massive lobby required.

Maximize Outdoor Spaces

Let’s step outside for a moment. Your church’s hospitality doesn’t need to be confined by its walls. In fact, using outdoor spaces can be a game-changer, especially if you’re tight on indoor room.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – “But what about the weather?” Sure, you can’t use outdoor spaces all year round, but don’t let that stop you. Use them when you can, and you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.

Here’s how to make it work:

First, invest in a pop-up tent or two. These are easy to set up and take down, perfect for creating a welcoming space right outside your doors.

Next, think about refreshments. Who says church hospitality has to mean coffee? If it’s warm out, set up a lemonade stand. In cooler weather, hot chocolate could be a hit. The point is to have something that encourages people to linger and chat.

Got a covered area like a porte-cochere? That’s prime real estate for greeting and connecting, rain or shine. In colder months, add a couple of those stand-up patio heaters to keep things cozy.

Don’t forget about kids! A simple outdoor game or activity can keep the little ones entertained while parents connect.

Remember, being outside naturally encourages conversation. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” is the easiest icebreaker there is.

The beauty of outdoor spaces is their flexibility. You can easily adapt them week to week based on weather, events, or the size of your crowd.

So take a walk around your property. That patch of lawn, that parking lot corner, even that narrow side yard – they’re all potential hospitality spaces just waiting to be used. With a little creativity, you can turn the great outdoors into your greatest asset for welcoming guests.

Highly Train Your Volunteers for Exceptional Experience

Now, let’s talk about your secret weapon in creating an exceptional guest experience: your volunteers. You can have the best-designed spaces in the world, but without well-trained, enthusiastic people to fill them, you’re missing the mark.

First things first, recruit the right folks. Look for people who naturally love interacting with others. You want volunteers who light up at the chance to meet someone new.

But even if you’ve got a team of extroverts, don’t skip the training. Everyone needs to understand the why behind what they’re doing. They’re not just handing out bulletins or pouring coffee – they’re the front line of your church’s mission to connect with people.

Train your team to be proactive, not just reactive. They should be initiating conversations, not just waiting for guests to approach them. Teach them to look for people who seem lost or uncomfortable and to step in with a warm welcome.

Here’s a pro tip: treat your hospitality volunteers like a team. Have regular meetings, set goals, and celebrate wins together. This builds camaraderie and keeps everyone motivated.

Also, encourage your team to share feedback. They’re on the ground every week, interacting with guests. They’ll often notice things that leadership might miss.

Remember, the goal isn’t to create a robotic, overly-processed experience. It’s about equipping your team to provide genuine, heartfelt hospitality. Your guests should feel like they’re being welcomed by friends, not processed by a system.

Think of it this way: your volunteers are the ones who can turn a first-time guest into a second-time guest. They’re the ones who can make someone feel at home in an unfamiliar place. That’s powerful stuff.

So invest in your team. Train them well. Appreciate them often. Because at the end of the day, big hospitality isn’t about big spaces – it’s about big hearts. And that’s something any church can have, no matter its size.

Watch this episode on YouTube

A.J. Mathieu is the President of the Malphurs Group. He is passionate about helping churches thrive and travels internationally to teach and train pastors to lead healthy disciple-making churches. A.J. lives in the Ft. Worth, Texas area, enjoys the outdoors, and loves spending time with his wife and two sons. Click here to email A.J.

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