Hospitality requires and brings growth; it takes time & practice. Love, empathy, and even conversational skills come with cultivation. And that’s another way of saying it takes work. But, like all forms of obedience, it is worth it.
Let love be genuine…seek to show hospitality.
That might mean letting the dust bunnies be, if that is your genuine life. That definitely means love your family first and throughout your efforts, and not kicking the children under the table when they embarrass you “in front of the guests” (horrors!). Is it about you? No. It is about sharing life: its joys and sorrows, its embarrassments and its triumphs.
It is living and loving genuinely together.
Organize your attitude about hospitality
One too often overlooked aspect of hospitality is our attitude of hospitality – or is hostility closer to reality? – to our home’s first guests: its residents.
Particularly when we are preparing to welcome dinner guests, it is all too easy to get short and snippy and frustrated with the children God has sent to us as direct, long-term guests. We prioritize our pride in our home (and our need for others’ good opinions) over our own family. Tearing them down with our words or actions is not a good way to start of a day of hospitality.
If hospitality is a building up of the body of Christ, it must begin within our own families and overflow to others. Otherwise, it is likely not true Christian hospitality, but something we do so others will think well of us. It is a cover for our insecurities rather than a genuine offering of ourselves to others.
Hospitality is not the same thing as entertaining. Entertaining is about impressing others and making ourselves took good; hospitality is about serving others and sharing life.
the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.
Yes, that’s right, part of the very definition of the word hospitality has to do not with your home, but with your attitude, your disposition, your heart. So we begin right at the core. Hospitality is not the same as entertaining guests and it’s not about showing off our homes. Hospitality is a Christian duty and calling, and it is about showing love rather than about demonstrating how put together we are.
This is good news, because it means you don’t have to be put together to offer hospitality!
Organize the your invitations
Have you ever looked around church Sunday morning or heard a name come up in conversation and thought, “Oh, we really should have them over.” Often, these thoughts come and go and they never stick around long enough to be acted upon.
If you keep a household binder, a planner or address book with notes section, or an app or program with your lists, you should have spot for hospitality related notes and lists. The first list to start is a list of the people you would like to or that you “should” have over.
This list should include not just those families who are friends whom you owe a dinner in return, but also those people whom you know need friends and those in the church with whom you have a harder time “clicking.” Hospitality is not about maintaining our own social circles or comfort zones, but about extending the love of Christ to those who need it.
On this list or in your address book or contact program, you can also note any food intolerances or other information to make social meals less awkward.
Keep a list of people you’ve had over
It is also handy to keep a running list of people you’ve had over, including the date and what you served. I’m always surprised looking back over this list to see that it’s actually been 4 months since we had that new family from church over, even though it seems like only a couple weeks ago. Perhaps they need to be added back to the “people to invite” list! It’s easy to remember to have the new family over, but often that new family still feels new and uninitiated months later, after all the dinner invitations have dried up.
Besides the name and date (I only note the month and year), it is helpful to list what you served for dinner. This isn’t just for the pride-saving reason that you not serve the same thing twice to the same people, but also to jog your memory of what you can serve on such occasions.
Not only will you eventually have a nice reference here of meals that work well for hospitality, but you’ll also have something to jog your memory in different seasons. As we move from grilling season to soup season and then back around, it can be difficult to remember what meals you make that fit the weather. After a year or two of keeping a list, though, you’ll have a nice personalized reference list.
Organize your hospitality food options
I think we sometimes feel like we have to prepare an impressive, gourmet meal when we have people over for dinner. However, remember that this is hospitality, not entertaining. Our goal is to promote fellowship, not impress others with our skills.
Better is a dinner of frozen lasagna where love is than braised brisket with stress and anxiety. Or something like that.
My own hospitality dinner philosophy is to prepare normal family-style dinners most of the time. Hospitality is a sharing of life, not a dinner party. And, actually, the home-cooked family-style meal is so neglected these days that it is as impressive to some as a Julia-Child-inspired menu. There are the times when a Pinterest dinner recipe catches my eye and I do make something “nicer” for company, but my standard policy is to make regular food, and serve plenty of it.
A good dinner for company is one that can be made earlier in the day, that sits in the oven for awhile, or that the men can go out and grill. Meals that require last-minute assembly and must be served immediately as they are done create stress and make it difficult to actually be a hostess when your guests arrive.
As mentioned before, the exception to this is grilling. With grilled meals, my prep work is done ahead of time, but then when guests arrive the husbands (and, hopefully, the children) can go outside to grill while the ladies stay inside for a little peace and quiet and a few complete sentences before the rush of dinner.
- pulled BBQ pork on buns with coleslaw
- soup, salad, & easy artisan bread
- beef or pork roasts, roasted potatoes & veggies
- smothered burritos, corn, and coleslaw
- chicken pot pie, biscuits or roasted potatoes, and a big green salad
- chicken taquitos, roasted veggies, and tortilla chips or Spanish rice
- chicken or beef kabobs with lots of veggies & grilled flatbread
- marinated chicken, easy artisan bread turned grilled garlic toast, and grilled veggies
- hamburgers, baked beans, oven-roasted fries, and salad
- fruit crisp (I use fruit I freeze in season)
- fruit tart made with yogurt
- or, honestly, use company as an excuse to try out a Pinterest recipe
Italicized meals are found in my eBook, Simplified Dinners.
Organize your hospitality preparations
There are several things you can do earlier in the day that will make having people over for dinner less stressful and more relaxed. The first is to remember that the point is fellowship and not impressing others with your gourmet food, spotless house, or well-behaved children. In fact, better conversation and connection is likely to occur when you simply welcome people into your life as it is: normal meals, toys on the couch, and children eager but perhaps a bit too much so. Do you really want people thinking you are better than they are? It’s not actually a fun place to be.
Setting Up for Hospitality
There are some things that I’ve found are helpful and stress-relieving to have done before the guests arrive.
- Count how many people will need to be seated, and set the table with enough chairs.
- Set the table. Or, assign this duty to a child then just double-check and straighten it out.
- Set out glasses, water, and any other beverage to be served.
- Make sure there are coat hangers in the coat closet if it’s that time of year.
- Make sure there is extra toilet paper, enough hand soap, and a clean hand towel in the bathroom.
You also might want to have some activity ideas.
The idea isn’t to be bossy, but to have potential options up your sleeve if direction or a change of pace is required.
- Have an idea for what the children can do before and after dinner.
- Have an idea for a game or at least a change of scene after dinner if conversation lulls.
If, like me, you aren’t very good at chit chat, it can also help to think of a few potential conversation starters before people arrive. It might seem contrived, but a little forethought can help alleviate any awkward silences as people are gathered.
Organize your hospitality event
To help the evening flow more smoothly, think beforehand about a few key factors. Don’t set some sort of rigid agenda, but rather have some options in mind and keep an idea of a flow for the evening in the back of your mind. However, hold that plan loosely and be willing to take your cues from your guests and other members of the family.
First, have glasses and beverages ready to go when your guests arrive or pull them out first thing. As soon as you’ve welcomed people in, ask them if you can get them anything to drink and list the options. Or, just ask them if they’d like a glass of water if that is what you are serving. Even if it’s water, people will feel more welcomed and relax with a beverage in hand.
It might seem pretentious at first, and that is not what we are about, but give thought to where people should sit around the dinner table. When you host families, it is important to think about putting older children near each other – perhaps at the other end of the table from the adults – so they can have conversation, putting small children near their parents, and ensuring the adults are near enough to actually have conversation without shouting over a bunch of little heads. It’s a trick sometimes, and bears forethought.
Even if your table is only adults, it is more comfortable for the guests to be directed to where to sit than to be told, “Oh, it doesn’t matter, just sit anywhere.” Then they have to navigate sitting next to their spouse while leaving the right number of chairs for others to do the same, watch that they aren’t taking a place another is eying, and wonder if they are taking the hostess’ preferred spot. It seems a bit silly, but just pointing guests to a place prepared for them reduces stress and makes them feel more welcomed and thought of.