Every church has them but not every church makes coffee hour a welcome place for visitors. John Harnish offers comments.
JOHN E. HARNISH
Michigan Conference Communications
Ah, the ubiquitous church coffee hour. Just about every church I served as a pastor or have visited as a retiree makes the announcement, “You are all invited to coffee hour after worship,” and I almost never go. Let me recount some of my experiences and, maybe, you will understand why I say, “Please don’t invite me to your coffee hour.”
- Is this someone else’s family reunion?
Too often, going to a church coffee hour as a visitor feels like you dropped in on someone else’s family reunion. Everyone seems to be having a good time, talking and laughing over their Styrofoam cups, but as a visitor I feel dreadfully out of place. If your coffee hour is primarily a time for “the church family” to get together, that’s fine. Announce there is a fellowship time for members and don’t invite me as a visitor to come to it. If you want to include me, then train your members to be alert to the person standing on the fringes with no one to talk to and draw me into the family rather than making me feel like an orphan.
- Where is it?
So, as a visitor, I enter by the front door, find my way into the sanctuary and someone announces that the coffee hour will be “in the fellowship hall,” or “in the parlor,” or “in the Wesley lounge.” Maybe it’s downstairs. Maybe it’s in an adjacent building. Who knows? There is one church I attended multiple times, and we never did figure out where the coffee hour was. If you are going to invite me, please help me know where to go with proper signage, a map in the bulletin, more specific directions—anything that would help me find it. Even better, train your members to invite me to go to the coffee hour with them.
- Carpet or convenience?
In the church I attend regularly, the coffee hour is held in a lovely fellowship hall, but to find it, you have go down the elevator or a flight of stairs, along a hallway and through a set of double doors. The irony is the church has a large narthex they call “the gathering space” between the main entrance and the sanctuary. Everyone has to pass through it, but the folks in charge of the coffee hour don’t want to have the coffee hour there. Why? Because they are afraid someone will spill coffee on the carpet! If carpet is more important than convenience, don’t invite me to come.
- Reserved tables or open seating?
I’m thinking of a church where I have been invited as guest preacher four times. Every time I have had the same experience: a friendly greeter at the front door, easy access to the sanctuary and the fellowship hall and a warm response to the sermon. Since I stay at the door shaking hands, I am one of the last people to enter the coffee hour. By then, everyone else is seated at round tables munching their cookies. In four visits, no one has ever stood up and invited me to join them at their table—and I was the preacher! It feels like everyone else had a reserved table except me. My suggestion: get rid of the round tables and use high-top tables so everyone is on their feet. Maybe then they could include me in their conversation. Otherwise, don’t invite me to your coffee hour even if I am the preacher.
- Greeters or floaters?
Every church worth visiting has greeters at the front door when you enter. Sometimes they make you feel welcome, sometimes they don’t, but at least they are there. But what about the coffee hour? Is anyone specifically responsible for welcoming visitors? Maybe in addition to front door greeters, you should have coffee hour floaters, persons who are trained to float around the coffee hour and make sure no one is left standing alone.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. It’s all about the spiritual mandate for loving hospitality in welcoming the stranger and actively living into our mantra of, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” Please take a look at what happens in your coffee hour through the eyes of a visitor. Go visit other churches and see what kind of a welcome you receive.
Please be intentional in welcoming me when I come, or please don’t invite me to your coffee hour.