Everyone loves hospitality. But how much is too much? To Clancy Cruise, lead pastor of the Grace Brethren Church, Marysville, Ohio, hospitality is one of the most important values of his church. And he will do what it takes – even risk losing people – to stress its importance.
For years, Cruise and his wife, Sandy, have hosted a new attender’s dinner on a regular basis, opening their home and hearts to newcomers. But the hard work of making visitors feel welcomed and loved starts each weekend, during the church’s three services.
“We try not to call it a break because [it makes it sound like] we’re taking a break from worship,” Cruise explains. “We say, ‘We’re going to take a ten‑minute fellowship time. But we have a special table up front for you. If you’re here for the first time, then we’d like you to come up and meet the rest of our staff. We have a gift for you, we have a cup of coffee, we have special doughnut holes just for you.’ We joke about it. And sometimes we get a ton of people, and sometimes we get nobody, but we still show up.”
That’s only the first of the ways Cruise and other members of his team go out of their way to welcome visitors. Cruise assumes the role as the head greeter at the church doors each Sunday, working hard to remember everybody’s name.
“Every [week], I personally write down the names of every single visitor that comes in the door. I have a welcome team member that I get them connected with. Then I announce their first name from the front.”
He notes that the face-to-face factor helps newcomers realize that he’s willing to put in the time to care for his flock. “I want to greet the volunteers, I want to greet the band, the children’s ministry. They all get a look, a touch, or a wave. They see me on the job.”
He follows up with a thank-you letter the following week, but not before repeating the names on the guest cards that newcomers filled out to solidify the names of the newcomers in his head.
“If they come back, I want to be able to say, first of all, ‘You were here last week,’” Cruise stresses. I might even say their name. Is it to impress them? Yeah. But not only to impress them, it’s also to say, ‘We want you to stay.’”
It doesn’t mean that every visitor stays. Cruise said there is always a chance that the openness that he and his church display sometimes does turn people away.
“I know we have lost people because of the pastor greeting at the door, the ten‑minute fellowship time, or break, the New Attender Dinner. We’ve lost people because of the intentionality.”
This dynamic – both boldly pursuing new visitors and being present with the church family that already exists – is the strategy that Cruise believes is most effective for having a church family that is unified and being used by God.
“You’re not going to come to our church and be a stranger. You’re going to be known, you’re going to be utilized, you’re going to be resourced. You’re going to be part of this. That’s what we’re called to. It’s been really hard, but we’re hoping that those investments will pay off in the next generation.”
This story first appeared in GraceConnect eNews. To subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter that includes news and information from congregations in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, click here.