Hospitality is the gift that occurs when one offers their true and honest self and welcomes the true and honest self of the other. Though hospitality is often seen as the art of hosting well, hospitality goes beyond hosting to incorporate both hosting and guesting.
With these things in mind, I write the following list,
How to create a space of welcome (in no particular order).
- Begin your day by welcoming Jesus into your day. Invite him into every part of it.
- Welcome yourself. Pay attention to your mood, your needs and be aware of that which fills your mind and heart. Welcome all of it. When we are at war with ourselves it is more difficult to welcome another.
- When creating an environment to welcome others, have a plan in mind. What do you want a person to feel when they walk in the room? What do you want the space to communicate about you as a person, as a leader? What do you want the space to communicate about those who will enter it?
- Make sure you have time set aside to prep the room. Put music on that reflects the mood you want the room to feel. Or, as I do, set the room up to music that makes you feel happy. I have a few play lists that I listen to for different occasions. Take some time to make a playlist (Or cheat and find one already made) and put it on while you prep the room.
- When I think about setting a room, decorating a house or setting a table I keep a few things in mind: What is the purpose of the event? What is the season? What mood do I want to translate through the environment? Do I want to communicate to the people who attend an event something particular about themselves? Set up with these things in mind.
- If you want to create a space where people can feel free to share about personal things add beauty and light to the table. Candles and live plants or flowers can do this. Fabrics can do this as well. Have acoustic music without lyrics playing as background noise to bring a sense of calm to the room, it helps people when there is something besides quiet in the background.
- If you want to create a space that is fun and lively, use lots of color and be whimsical. I love to use pompoms on the tables, butcher paper and crayons and bright colors! Play lively music that makes you smile. If you know someone who loves music as a part of your group, give this job to them. People who LOVE music, love to craft playlists to create a mood.
- If you are wanting to create a setting where people mix and mingle and are engaged with one another. See the room in sections. Create groupings of tables, chairs, or spaces where two to five people can come together. If it’s possible to rearrange furniture to create this space, do so. Use everything you have available to create the space. Have subtle decor or none at all, the entire of the environment is to help people connect with one another. Play background music that doesn’t demand anything of the listener. Play really common music to the group or a playlist that is good for the background. I love to find playlists or albums of instrumental music for such occasions.
- If possible, schedule the prep time to end 15 minutes prior to any persons arrival. Being prepared gives you space and those who enter the room feel free to engage you, rather than avoid you.
- When people enter the space, if they are unfamiliar with it, make sure that they know where everything is, drinks, food, their seat, the bathrooms, childcare and give them a brief idea of what the time will be like. This will take away one element of nervousness for them. Showing up at a new place is brave! It’s good to help out where we can.
- When a new person comes to a group, or a dinner or a meeting, welcome them, engage them in conversation, learn a few key facts about them and then find a person who is already their to introduce them to. Introduce the person in a way that is natural, including information that you just learned. “This is Margarett it is her first time to join us, she just moved here from Texas. I’ll let you two take it from here. Enjoy each other!” It is really helpful to connect people right away rather than assume that they will connect to others naturally on their own.
- Names! Names! Names! Any persons name is the most important word in their language. Names matter. Saying a person’s name declares to them that they are seen, they are wanted and they matter. Work hard at names!
- If you are hosting and you know you can not be present to all the details, invite someone to make sure people are being welcomed. If you are welcoming others but are preoccupied with the demands in front of you, it will be felt by those who are arriving. Make sure that there is someone who can simply engage with people without the demands of a program or a meal on their mind.
- Ask questions and be interested in the response. Here are a few of my favorites
- Where did you grow up?
- What is something about which you are passionate?
- What is something in life that is brining you a lot of joy right now?
- What is something that you are really wanting to get connected to?
- Do you have any questions about what we will be doing today?
- What occupies your thoughts these days?
- HINT: when you know things about people, events in their lives, their children’s names, the nature of their work, anything about their schedule, ask specific questions in regards to those things. When questions are asked that are specific to a given person, the person feels that they were heard and remembered!
- Where and how it is appropriate for you and to your personality, touch people, whether it is a hug to welcome, a handshake to greet, a sincere arm grab, or a high five touch can help a person feel welcome.
- Celebrate people.
- Remember and share what you remember with them.
- Keep notecards on hand, after the event is over write a card or send a text to say something you appreciated about a person or a few people. When a person goes beyond the obligation, the person feels seen and desired and welcomed.
- Do not assume that because a person has been to a group a number of times, or knows a person in the room, that they feel welcome, safe and known. Check in with people about their experience. Ask if there is anything that they need. Or see if there is a way to connect the person at a deeper level.
- Allow people to use their gifts! Find out what people love to do, or what they are good at doing and see if they would like to use their gift at some point. We all have something to offer, being invited to use our gifts makes a difference.
- If you are in a meeting where people share hard things, and you are a person who prays, take time to pray with that person before they leave. Follow up during the week.
- Invite people to join you at another time, outside of the group or gathering to coffee, shop, a movie or a walk. Connecting with someone outside of the regular gathering goes miles when wanting someone to feel welcome.
- Do not over welcome newbies! Outside of completely ignoring an individual, there is nothing that works harder against a person feeling welcome, than over welcoming. When welcoming, let a person know you are so glad that they are present and seek to help build connection. A happy, boisterous welcome with a lot of swag, with NO connection, leaves a bad taste. Welcome with authenticity and simplicity.
- Look people in the eye, smile and be kind.
- Hold back judgement of any kind. Get curious with those whom you believe you’d have nothing in common. Ask questions and look for common ground. Listen beyond what is comfortable.
- Pray that God would give you eyes to really see people. Speak to the good you see in each person. Share your thoughts willingly, truthfully and often.
- Give time and space to people.
- Do not attempt to be someone else as you host or welcome. Offer you. Even if you are shy and highly introverted, offer your shy, introverted self. Reach out to people as you would like to be reached out to.
This is just a start! What ideas do you have for creating welcoming environments? Share them below.