Mission Lab 2018

Culture of hospitality key to evangelistic impact, church planter says

April 28th, 2017 / By: Keith Collier | Managing Editor / comments

Culture of hospitality key to evangelistic impact, church planter says

Nic Burleson, pastor of Timber Ridge Church in Stephenville

LAS COLINAS If churches want to reach those far from God, they must cultivate a culture of hospitality, church planter Nic Burleson told a packed room of pastors and church members at a breakout session during the SBTC Empower Conference in February. 

“Hospitality is not one thing; it’s 100 little things,” Burleson said. “And it’s 100 little things in our churches that will determine if people far from God feel welcome and wanted.

“Hospitality creates a culture where people can say yes to the gospel of Jesus.”

Burleson planted Timber Ridge Church in Stephenville in 2011, and the church has grown exponentially to more than 1,000 in attendance each Sunday, filled mostly with college students and people in the community that many would have never expected to see darken the doors of a church. He explained that when most non-Christians visit a church, they are asking, “Will I really feel welcome in this place?”

Burleson said churches must move from evangelism as a program in the church to evangelism as the culture of the church.

“If reaching people far from God is a program, it will always only involve the people who sign up to go on Monday night visits,” he said. “But if evangelism—reaching people far from God—is the culture of our church, it affects everything we do. It’s no longer a program, but it’s the heartbeat of our church.

“When we create that culture, more and more people who are far from God come, and it’s messy … but lives are changed.”

Burleson offered three principles for effective evangelistic hospitality, which guides Timber Ridge Church in their approach to reaching their community.

First, he said, “words matter.” This involves avoiding “churchy” words because “the biggest tool for creating culture is language.” In sermons and Bible studies, he seeks to explain the Bible to people as if they had never read it. 

“Whose language are you using ... yours or theirs?” Burleson asked. “Are you using language that lost people understand?”

Second, he said, they think of people as “guests,” not “visitors.”

“Guests [we] prepare for. Visitors stop by unexpected, and we’re not prepared for them,” Burleson said. For this reason, they seek every opportunity to honor their guests, such as a VIP room for first-time guests where they can talk with the pastor after a worship service. In everything, Burleson wants to lead his church to remember that what is familiar to the regular church member is not familiar to guests. They consistently ask those new to the church what they see as needed changes in order to view the church through fresh eyes.

Third, they measure what matters. While hospitality is everyone’s job, someone must be in charge of it. “If it’s everybody’s job, it becomes nobody’s job real quick,” he said.

One simple tool they use is a guest survey through email or phone call for all first-time guests. The survey is brief and asks four simple questions: What was your overall impression? What did you like best? What did you notice first? How can we pray for you?

“They don’t come back the second time because of the preaching, the music or the kids ministry,” Burelson said. “They come back the second time because they feel included and welcome.”

“Hospitality is way bigger than putting out coffee and donuts; it’s about creating a culture where people belong.”