Hospitality is serving others so they feel welcomed, loved, seen and heard. It is showing respect for others through our actions. Churches with a culture of invitation have thoughtfully designed the guest journey with creative intention. Here are some ways that churches across Canada show their care in tangible ways:
Before Alpha begins:
1 - Invite people to Alpha!
80% of guests join an Alpha because of a personal invitation. Being welcoming begins with inviting! (more info here)
2 - Host an Alpha on their turf.
Consider hosting an Alpha in a neutral setting rather than at a church. Alphas can be run in homes, in a coffee shop, at a park, in a community centre, or even at your workplace lunch room!
3 - Make it easy for guests to sign up.
Create a simple digital sign up form with a short explanation of what Alpha is, how many weeks, start date and time, and location. If you're running an Alpha online, consider a Zoom registration form so the weekly video conferencing link is already included. (more info here)
4 - Create a cozy environment.
Find people who love designing and making spaces beautiful. A small hospitality team can meet each week to transform a cold, boring basement into a cozy hangout space with comfy chairs, couches, pillows, and lamps for soft lighting. Play music in the background as guests arrive. If needed, post signs at strategic locations so guests know where to find the washrooms, the Alpha meeting room, exits, etc.
5 - Set the table for a good food mood.
If you google "tablescapes," you'll see hundreds of ideas for stunning (and inexpensive) centrepieces. Visit the dollar store to gather black tablecloths, white candles, tiny vases for a few red carnations, paper napkins, and voila! Guests will walk in and feel special. Love is in the details.
6 - Be there to welcome guests each night.
Door greeters are usually the first point of contact at Alpha so handpick people who are warm and welcoming. Look people in the eye and smile. You may choose to shake hands or not (check with your Alpha leader). Remember to wear casual clothes (especially if you're coming from work and wearing a tie!). We want people to feel comfortable and at ease. Write first names only on sticky name tags (you can gather more info later on the sign up forms).
Alpha week to week:
7 - Serve a free meal each week.
Providing a meal is an incentive for guests who come to Alpha right after work and for those who usually eat in solitude. Being hospitable means providing a vegan option if possible and taking note of any food allergies. Appoint meal servers to portion out the food so there's enough for everyone. Ask a local restaurant if they would cater a meal or two, and ask a bakery if they could donate end-of-day items each week. Some churches take up a Sunday offering to cover Alpha food costs. And remember, no prayer before meals until Week 5 when guests are introduced to prayer.
8 - Get to know your Alpha guests.
Eating together helps people connect and get to know each other. Friendships are formed, laughter breaks down barriers, and guests are more willing to share their thoughts and opinions during discussion time later on. Keep mealtime conversations casual and use an icebreaker question during this time or at the start of each discussion time. Show genuine care by catching up each week and asking how their week has been. Grab a drink of water for them and clear their dishes when they're done.
9 - Relax and breathe.
Being hospitable means smiling and being mindful of your facial expressions. But sometimes we're not aware that we've crossed our arms and legs which can be perceived as negative. As people talk, lean forward slightly and nod your head to affirm and acknowledge. Pay attention to your tone of voice and intensity as well as small gestures like holding onto your chair for dear life. "Perfect love casts out fear." (1 John 4:18) Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with love and compassion for each Alpha guest.
10 - Set the tone with an energetic MC.
Besides being friendly and enthusiastic, MCs welcome the whole group each evening and explain what to expect next. Some Alpha leaders will tell a neutral joke or show a funny video clip to get the whole group laughing. MCs let guests know where they can pick up the handout for each week. They guide the evening along and give a 5-minute notice when dinner ends and discussion time is over. Always end on time to respect everyone's schedules. On the first night, they encourage guests to fill out the Sign-Up Form and then share a sneak peek into next week's topic.
11 - Create a safe space during discussion time.
Small group time is the central part of Alpha when guests have the opportunity to discuss what they think and feel about the video. Hosts and helpers encourage guests to have open, honest, respectful conversations. They listen well and don't judge as guests disagree, question, and share different points of view. Please watch the Team Training video on "Small Groups" for 6 tips for great discussion.
12 - Share a general schedule in writing.
By week 4 or 5, share a webpage or handout with an overview so that guests know the cost, arrival time, activities, what to bring, and what time the retreat ends. You may wish to create a digital sign-up form and ask about transportation needs, food restrictions, medical conditions, and include a waiver form for minors. Being mindful of what guests need is a great way to show hospitality!
13 - Provide a little something extra special.
On the Alpha weekend, it's nice to give guests something that shows you thought of them. Depending on your budget, this could be a handwritten note with a simple prayer and Bible verse. It could be a little gift bag that you put together from the dollar store (pad & pen, kleenex, mints, granola bar). If you're doing an online Alpha, consider sending a food voucher to guests from Skip the Dishes or Uber Eats. For some people, giving gifts is their love language.
14 - Keep it light during prayer time.
For many guests, this will be their first time being prayed for in a public space. Do everything you can to make them feel as comfortable as possible. Ask first if they would like to be prayed for. If they say no, simply say that it's okay. We don't want anyone to feel pressured. Have men pray with men and women with women so they feel more at ease sharing any personal prayer requests (or have one woman and one man as a team). Be mindful of your tone of voice, volume and intensity as you pray. We might call it passion but guests might not understand what's happening. Watch the Team Training video called "Prayer and the Alpha Weekend" with your whole team for the 4 key values to praying with others. (more info)