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Leaders say hospitality is more than ‘handing out bulletins, opening doors’

Leaders say hospitality is more than ‘handing out bulletins, opening doors’

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Leaders say hospitality is more than ‘handing out bulletins, opening doors’

By Sarah Alsgaard / Nov. 24, 2008 {0946}

LAKELAND — Radical hospitality is more than welcoming people. It’s about rolling out the red carpet into the world.

The Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins explains the four dimensions of radical hospitality. Photo by Sarah Alsgaard. Photo #08-1065. For longer description see photo gallery.

That’s according to the Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins, executive director of the Florida Conference Office of Congregational Transformation.

Stiggins made that distinction while speaking at the “Radical Hospitality” event Oct. 25 at First United Methodist Church in Lakeland. The training session was the second of four such events held in October and November throughout the Florida Conference for clergy and laity, with churches encouraged to bring teams of members. A fifth session is scheduled for Feb. 21 at Trinity United Methodist Church in Tallahassee

Radical hospitality is an essential part of being a Christian community, Stiggins said.

“I hope (people attending this event) take away a kind of theological vision that this is really important,” Stiggins said. “That this isn’t a nice add-on or a way to grow your church so people will help pay the budget. This is really about who we are. It’s about our identity in Christ.”

The Rev. Dr. Phil Maynard, director of the transformation office, said he hoped people would be “inspired to look at hospitality as something bigger than ‘Do we open doors for people and give them bulletins and say hello to them when they come to worship?’ ”

Maynard and Stiggins co-led the event, which featured 10 workshops facilitated by pastors from throughout the conference that focused on such topics as how to become a caring, welcoming congregation and reaching out to all ages, from older adults to younger generations. The session also offered a variety of hands-on tools and resources to strengthen a church’s welcoming skills.

What radical hospitality really means

There are four dimensions to radical hospitality in a church, Stiggins said. The first is interpersonal hospitality.

Through a video, Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker recounted the story of a church he once served as pastor. During the fellowship hour, he said, the congregation had initially welcomed him, but then fell back into their small-knit groups.

“Showing hospitality is more than just welcoming people, but it is certainly nothing less than that,” he said.

Church leaders offer insight into what it means to practice radical hospitality in the local church. Photo by Sarah Alsgaard. Photo #08-1066. For longer description see photo gallery.

Interpersonal hospitality, Stiggins said, is showing love for everyone. “In fact, the most distinguishing characteristic of a Christian community is love,” he said.

Stiggins challenged session participants by asking, “Is that the most distinguishing characteristic of your local church?”

The second characteristic is intentional hospitality, which Stiggins said means welcoming anyone and everyone into the church community.

Citing a statistic that says 50 percent of the people living in each of Florida’s zip codes moved into those areas within the last five years, Stiggins stressed the need for intentional hospitality in a rapidly growing and diverse state.

“This (welcoming everyone) isn’t about people who just look or talk or vote or act or think like us. This is all people,” he said. “Do not be afraid of welcoming the stranger.”

To explain invitational hospitality — the third dimension of radical hospitality — Stiggins told the story of Philip and Nathaniel from the Gospel of John. Philip tells Nathaniel about Jesus, saying he is from Nazareth. Nathaniel asks if anything good has ever come out of Nazareth, to which Philip replies, “Come and see.”

Approximately 75 percent to 80 percent of all people say they went to church because a trusted friend or family member took them, Stiggins said. This is part of the “Come and See” principle.

A recent study of what unchurched 16- to 29-year-olds think about Christians showed a distrust of the church, according to The Fermi Project. Eighty-five percent of those polled called the church hypocritical; 61 percent found church to be confusing.

One way to help bring people into the church is to invite them, Stiggins said. “When was the last time you invited someone to church?” he asked participants.

The final dimension, Stiggins said, is incarnational hospitality.

This aspect of radical hospitality “reminds us that we are all personal ambassadors of Jesus Christ out into the world,” Stiggins said. “This isn’t about growing your church institution. This isn’t about getting people into your church to help pay the budget. This is about disciple-making. This is kingdom work.”

More training sessions planned

Radical hospitality is one of the five practices of The Methodist Way, a Wesleyan model of disciple-making being embraced by all conferences in The United Methodist Church. The four additional practices are passionate worship, intentional discipling, salty service and extravagant generosity.

The Rev. Dr. Phil Maynard helps lead communion at the radical hospitality event. Photo by Sarah Alsgaard. Photo #08-1067. For longer description see photo gallery.

Part of the church’s Wesleyan heritage, the practices were used to help spread the Methodist movement across England and the United States in the 18th century.
“Back last spring we did workshops centered around the idea of passionate worship,” Maynard said. “And this season we’re doing hospitality, and starting in the spring we’ll be offering some things relating to intentional disciplining.”

Individuals who would like to register for the radical hospitality session in February may do so by visiting and clicking on the link for the event.

More information about The Methodist Way is available at

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is a freelance writer based in Lakeland.