St. Mark’s Baytown Offers Hometown Hospitality with a Twist

Date Posted: 2/24/2017

There is such a thing as a’ free lunch,’ according to visitors and Vibrant Church Initiative “mystery guests” that worship at St. Mark’s Baytown.
Hospitality is so important to the members of St. Mark’s UMC, Baytown that the committee is known as The LAMP, which stands for Love and Multiply People. “Every Sunday there are greeters at the doors and in the parking lot to welcome people and help direct them as they come in,” says Associate Pastor Rev. Raegan Seaton, “but our iconic greeter is Dave Kurz who is always wearing a cowboy hat and will be in the parking lot giving out hugs -- rain or shine.”
In each service, LAMP Committee members also look for new guests and give them a guest gift bag. But in the traditional service, Rev. Peter Miller takes the welcome to another level. He invites all the guests to join him for lunch, at whatever eatery is printed in the bulletin.
These extreme gestures of genuine friendliness are one of the vital signs of a vibrant church, and have been noted by new members and guests alike. In fact, some 20 “mystery worshippers” attended the church as a part of the Vibrant Church Initiative, and provided positive and detailed feedback demonstrating the congregation consistently makes a good impression.
On the mystery guest “Faith Perceptions” report, the majority of the churched and unchurched guests ‘evaluating’ St. Mark’s stated they would consider coming back, sharing comments such as:
* It was a good feeling to meet people you didn't know around you in church, and the lunch date was a very good way for the congregation to get to know newcomers.
* I still can't get over the feeling of genuine sincerity and fellowship. Thank you for showing me that not all churches are the same.
With about a dozen greeters that rotate throughout the month and about 10 other members, the LAMP Committee also handles guest follow up (by clergy and laity) and new member assimilation. Existing members help shepherd new members to accelerate their level of comfort and form new relationships in the church community.
One Faith Perceptions guest said, “I would definitely go back. It was a positive and uplifting experience for me. Bear in mind that I had not stepped foot in a church, except for funerals in over a decade. I was so impressed that I told my dad that perhaps we should look into going to church now and again. He was surprised at this development. I believe this experience will leave a positive impact in my life as I had become jaded towards Christians and Christianity.” Many others described the enthusiasm and smile on the greeter wearing a cowboy hat!
Adds Raegan, “The LAMP Committee has been focusing on hospitality these last 18 months to become even friendlier, and make other members aware that it is truly everyone’s job. The LAMP Committee does some training of greeters but in general the people who want to be greeters do it because they are naturally friendly.” Specifically, The LAMP Committee follows up with the guests each week, but does not stop there. They send out invitations to events during Lent and Advent. “When guests return, the LAMP Committee continues to make contact with them and track their attendance,” shares Raegan.            
Clergy and staff are very intentional about what is in the bulletin, as well. “We want all information to be accessible to our guests, therefore, we make sure we include explanations of aspects of the church and locations of all events,” she adds. In the guest gift bag, there is information about the church that the LAMP Committee reviews and updates as necessary. The office volunteers also help with this process.
According to Rev. Miller, the church has changed the format of the bulletin several times to make it directed towards the guest’s experience. “For example,” he shares, “in the past we used class names for the location of a Sunday School Class, but now we use the room number. A brief description of every event is included in the Calendar of Events so the guest knows if there are age ranges, gender or some special focus.” All printed materials include a contact name, phone number or email for further information. Adds Peter, ”We are also intentional about making sure people understand they are guests and not visitors. A visitor is someone whose presence is not expected. A guest is someone I am anticipating will join us for worship and hopefully build a lasting relationship. As I welcome guests to worship every Sunday, I let them know we are ready for them to be a part of God’s family at St. Mark’s.”
Several members have joined St. Mark’s UMC Baytown as a result of being invited to lunch with the pastor on the day they visited. Adds Peter, “Taking guests to lunch is a simple yet very effective way to accelerate new relationships in a comfortable environment."
Hospitality, Phase 2
St. Mark’s Baytown will consider adding an overview type of a class about the church, once the new vision statement and discipleship pathway processes are complete. “VCI is so helpful in getting churches moving together in the same direction,” notes Peter. “While we are mapping those processes out, we have member shepherds who walk along side each new member for their first six months. We also provide Get to Know St. Mark’s breakfast gatherings on Sunday mornings before the 10:45am worship time where leaders provide opportunities for becoming involved in the ministries of St. Mark’s through committees, events and annual programs. We are also using this time to communicate about Sunday school, financial commitment, and fellowship invitations designed to build lasting friendships and connections.”