Living in a college town, new people are always coming, especially in the fall, and it can feel intimidating to practice hospitality. Some of us watch too much HGTV and think we need to be Joanna Gaines to do hospitality well. Or some of us just don’t think we have the gift of hospitality and defer to others.
Madeline doesn’t think she’s hospitable because she’s not extroverted, Andy has grand visions but struggles to execute, and most of us have something to convince ourselves why we can’t extend hospitality. But as people who have received God’s hospitality and long to reflect the image of Jesus, growing in hospitality ought to be part of our ongoing discipleship. And we don’t mean simply throwing banquets, rather having the radical heart of welcome.
Over the years and after hosting hundreds of people in our home, we’ve learned ways to take the intimidation out of hosting so that it flows naturally out of our love for Jesus and for the people He places in our lives.
While there is no one right way to extend hospitality, we’ve distilled some of our hosting experiences into five simple practices that, over time, have helped us strengthen our hospitality muscles and, we hope, can help you strengthen yours.
1. Help people become a little more of an insider.
Introduce new friends to your local favorites. Food scenes have exploded in recent years and most people want to know where to find good food (Yelp can be impersonal and overwhelming). When Andy (a self-proclaimed foodie) moved to town after we got married, he came with a list of 24 restaurants he wanted to try. He connected with other newcomers at church and together we visited some of the 24 restaurants over the course of the following year. We got to know some of the owners and build relationships. Now when we connect with people new to town, we can share the places we love and relationships we’ve built. What are the restaurants and places that you love and best represent what’s beautiful about your town? Sharing those spaces with newcomers will be so much more meaningful than reading a Yelp review.
2. Have a sense of curiosity.
As you get to know new people, curiosity is the key to unlocking relationships and connections. Make time and space to ask: What’s their story? Where are they moving from and what brought them here? And as they’re sharing, truly listen to them, without an agenda or pre-determined response. And pay attention: are there sparks of curiosity for you? Are there any areas of commonality?
This all feels like common sense but it’s shocking how often we default to just talking about ourselves. Learn about their world and how you can connect with them or help them connect with others in your community. Did you just meet a new grad student in chemistry? Connect them with the other chemistry grad student you know. Do you have trouble remembering names and details you’re learning from new people? Create a note on your phone and cultivate the practice of jotting things down after encounters.
3. Invite people into your real life.
It's a temptation to wait to host people only after you’re fully cleaned up and put together with a made-from-scratch gourmet meal – but that’s just not realistic most of the time. Whether you’re going out after church to get a quick lunch or inviting people over a casual weeknight meal in your not-so-clean kitchen, just do it. Madeline has been known to occasionally invite people over even for leftovers. Your presence and intentionality speaks far louder than the state of your home.
4. Shape your space to communicate welcome.
When Andy was in grad school, his faculty advisor always offered a snack or cold drink to every student who came for office hours. The tiny little fridge crammed in his small office was a reminder to each and every student that he had planned for them to be there. Whether you have a tiny office, a cozy apartment, or a sprawling home, how can you shape your space to communicate that new people are not only welcome but are expected to be there? Even if it's as simple as making sure that the chairs are free of clutter. In our house we have framed cards with the wifi information in each guest room and easily accessible in our kitchen — rather than waiting for our guests to ask us for the wifi, we wanted to go the extra mile to show we had anticipated their presence and needs.
5. Lower your expectations.
Seriously. Some of the people you welcome you may see once or twice and never again, especially living in transient communities like big cities and college towns. And, sure, some may become great friends. But the vast majority will remain somewhere in between acquaintances and ever-so-slightly good acquaintances. And that’s ok! You don’t need to have the pressure of establishing a deep friendship with every single person you welcome. That can free you to generously extend hospitality with no expectation, be fully present to the people God is bringing across your path, and be joyfully surprised at the relationships that can form over time.
Photo by Matt Bango on StockSnap