Put out the welcome mat

Feb 7, 2024 | 2 comments

by Deacon Peggy Hahn (she/her), Executive Director of LEAD

Getting ready for company makes the invitation so much sweeter. Just like cleaning house for the holidays before the family shows up, congregations can do the same. Here’s a checklist you can use to run your own readiness test.

Assuming you don’t check “done” on every item, we have put this list in priority order based on our experiences listening to people of all generations. We hope this supports you as you build your own ‘WELCOME MAT!”

Dietary hospitality:
Gluten-free (GF) wafers for some or all are non-negotiable if we want all people to be welcome at the Lord’s table.
Non-dairy creamer for coffee and tea, GF snacks (not just donuts) and vegetarian options if you serve food, and child-friendly snacks that are nut-free let people know you care about their needs.
Cultural preferences matter too. If you are hoping the Latinx neighbors will show up, offering cultural food is not just a gesture of welcome—it is a crucial way to bridge the gap between ethnicities.

Singable music:
Song choices that inspire and move the heart usually mean something singable. Song leaders are helpful for visitors.
Words to songs that are inclusive and accessible welcome all people. Moving between the hymn book, the bulletin, and the screen is confusing. We can do better than this.

Pay attention to generational, ethnic, and cultural music. Introducing new music, especially if we are talking about something in a new language, can feel threatening or so meaningful, depending on how the community has been prepared to receive this music. If the musicians aren’t ready to introduce one new song a month, or quarter, invite in guest musicians who can help us get comfortable with a different language, beat, or instrument. This is so much better than doing it badly!

Finally—don’t forget technology. It can be important to offer prayers or scripture in more than one language. By using the screen for English while the text is read in Chinese, for example, makes it accessible for all. Words on screens need to be aligned with the way the musicians or choir will play the song. If a line is going to be repeated, repeat it on a slide. This takes practice, but is worth the effort to create a meaningful worship experience. This is even more important when introducing new songs or new cultures.

Fresh space:
Admittedly we all get so used to our own clutter that it feels just fine to us. New people bring new eyes and notice the yuck piled in the corner! It pays to get the place cleaned up several times a year! Pay special attention to creating clean, freshly painted, organized children’s nursery, bathrooms, narthex, and sanctuary. When people feel proud of their church, they are more inclined to extend an invitation to a friend.

Do you have a stinky-church? Notice the smells! If you walk in from outside and find a “stink” follow your nose to find the guilty culprit. Old-church-smell is usually dust, old carpets that have not been cleaned, or mildew. None of this is very appealing.

Curb appeal is important too. Weed the gardens, shovel the snow, put out the greenery and lights where appropriate. Updated signs make a difference too.
Check symbols. What banners, icons, images, art, photography, or bulletin boards do people see when they walk in the door? Less is more. A few larger pictures are better than a zillion small photos. What messages do they communicate? Are all the people in the photos the same ethnicity? How does that welcome the neighbors?

Finally, what needs to be added? Are LGBTQIA+ people clear they are welcome? Are people who speak Spanish able to find their language represented? Are there people who can sign a song so that people can follow along? Are there headphones for translation? Is there encouragement for people who are hearing impaired to sit in the front? Is the space wheelchair friendly?

Family friendly:
Families may seek out a church for the first time during the holidays. They may show up with grandparents or neighbors. Grow younger by seeing the experience through their eyes. Even long-time members may feel out of place due to their own isolation, leftover from COVID. This disconnection is very real.

Are the Sunday School teachers trained in Safe Haven practices? The majority of people who experience abuse or who are molested are violated by a person they trusted, like a family or church member. We can reduce harm by equipping our leaders with skills and practices that make our congregations safe places.

Don’t forget to ask if the attendants in the nursery are trained in Safe Haven practices and know how to navigate the care of children with different needs? Are you collecting cell phone numbers when children are signed in so you can reach the parent if need be? Is there a window for people to see what is going on in this room from the outside?

Are there inclusive children’s worship bags? This means pictures of Jesus that reflect brown skin (as a Palestinian man would have had) and handouts in multiple languages.

Is the space child-friendly? Consider a prayer ground, or a children’s corner for the under 5 crowd. If children are welcomed into children’s church, a best practice is for them to return for Holy Communion.

What have we missed? Add to this list and ask people to help make some of these items happen. There are books and websites organized around hospitality. Appoint a small team of 3-6 people to roll out the welcome mat with intentionality.

We recommend the book The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. You can watch her TED Talk and get free tools.




  1. Cantor Gay Zimmerman

    This is another excellent article, Deacon Peggy. The synod is so fortunate to have you leadership.

  2. Angelo Ranaudo

    I am so happy that in your article you mentioned many different groups to be welcomed. It seems we sometimes select a certain group, but leave out so many. Thank you, and let’s not forget welcoming our veterans.