hospitality principles and tips, by an amateur

Admittedly, I’m no expert on hospitality.  But, even being the novice that I am, I’ve gleaned some insights over the years that may be helpful for some.

Plus, if hospitality is something you’ve neglected, the holiday season is a great time to dive in and make practicing hospitality a regular occurrence in every season.

And, if nothing else, they’re helpful for me to remind myself.  Sometimes I don’t do what I know I ought.  Motives become convoluted and priorities get misplaced.

So, here are some tips [note: I claim no originality.  I’m certain everything I’m about to write has been said before by people who follow through on them better than I do.]

1) Have people over to your house.  Novel, I know.  But, it’s where it all starts.  If you don’t have people in your home regularly, you may be the most organized, hospitable person in the world and it will all be for naught.

2) Have people over frequently and on short notice.  (I’m not too good at the short notice part).  But, I do force myself to say yes as often as I can to a “short notice” opportunity.  This is incredibly liberating.  It will teach you that you can enjoy someone’s company even when there are dishes in the sink and dust on the mantle.

3) Don’t turn hospitality into “entertaining.”  Entertaining is a code-word for showing-off.  Perfectly clean house, perfectly prepared food, perfectly arranged decor becomes primary.

And at the center of it all is you, the entertainer.  “Look at all that I did and how wonderfully I did it.  Admire my home, my food, my effort,” is the heart of the entertainer, as opposed to the one offering hospitality, who humbly shares all they have out of love for others and God.

4) Don’t let your home be so messy or dirty that it’s a distraction.  This can be just as detrimental as the “entertainer” problem.  As much as people may say it doesn’t matter, having a reasonably-ordered home does matter.  It is uncomfortable to be in a pig sty.

5) Include your guests as part of your family.  Invite them to participate in everything.  If it’s your custom to sing and pray before dinner, fold them into that activity.

6) Let your guests give you a hand.  If your guests ask if they can help with something, let your usual answer be, “Yes!”  There are two reasons to do this: firstly, you probably could use the help, and, secondly, most people feel more comfortable when they’re useful.

7) Have saints and strangers over.  The Bible is explicit that it’s very important to show hospitality to saints (Romans 12:13, 1 Peter 4:9), meaning fellow Christians, and to strangers (Hebrews 13:2).  (Again, I’m bad at the stranger part.  We’ve lived at our home for 4 years and only had strangers over a handful of times).  This takes intentionality and effort.

8) Have large and intimate gatherings.  Have 30 people over, then have 1.

9) Treat all your guests the same when it comes to the work you put into it.  Don’t make everything extra nice for people with status that you admire or rich people and let things go for others.  Do not show favoritism.  Sometimes we do this without realizing it.

10) Be conversational!  Talk!  Share!  Share more than just your food and home, share your very self.  Offer your opinions and ask for other people’s.  Give people a peek at your history and ask about theirs.

11) Invite unlikely and likely people over: the person who is alone or lonely; the person who has a special diet (I need to work on this..); the big family who feels like they put people at an imposition; loud people and quiet people; the person who seems to abound with friends and busy-ness (sometimes these people get overlooked because of these facts); the person who is always having people over to their house (they would probably be blessed by the offer).

12) Don’t be “hospitable” for worldly gain.  If you’re having people over to sell them things or earn free gifts or garner status and connections with someone, it’s not hospitality.  It’s not necessarily wrong to do, it’s just not hospitality.

There are many benefits to being hospitable: meeting neat people, making friends, deepening existing friendships.  The list could go on.  But even these benefits should not be our primary reason for being hospitable.  We are hospitable because of duty (God commands it) and delight (his commands produce godliness and joy in us).  We are hospitable because we genuinely care about others.

Finally, I’ll give this piece of advice, which isn’t about being hospitable, but rather about learning to be a good receiver: accept invitations to other people’s homes when offered and allow them to practice hospitality with you.

I know I missed a million things that should be added to the list.  Anyone want to fill it out for me with a tip or two?

17 thoughts on “hospitality principles and tips, by an amateur

  1. My dad and his family were masters at hospitality. He always made people feel comfortable and cared for. He did this through service (“Can I get you anything?”) and through humor. Hospitality happens everywhere, not just in our homes. We are often “host” to many “guests”: at church (Is the person sitting next to you a “guest”?), in a conversation (Can I welcome that person who just walked up into my conversation?), a social event (Maybe you know where the bathroom is and someone else doesn’t.), and especially in our homes.

  2. 1. Have an easy snack on hand in case people surprise you. Like Popcorn.

    2. If a previously invited person invites someone else (or if they invite themselves), say “Sure!”

    3. In reference to number 11 above – “Unlikely” includes families with, oh, say more than 6 kids.

    4. Offer a bedroom and a crib for guest family’s babies.

    5. Don’t say “You kids are getting popcorn all over my carpet!”

    6. If it’s December, sing a Christmas carol.

  3. You crack me up, Jamsco. And, for the record, let me say you and your family have an open invitation to come over.. so you need never feel as though you’ve invited yourself!

  4. Thank you for sharing this! I too have been trying my best to learn hospitality. My biggest challenge is keeping my house at least ‘tidy’ which is hard in a small house with two preschoolers for spontaneous invites. As my son and I are both gluten-intolerant it’s often scary to go to someone else’s house, but the few people who have gotten to know what we can eat have been such a blessing!

  5. 1. Humor.
    2. Telling your guests stories about your family.
    3. Asking your guests to tell you stories about their family.
    4. Asking your guests to help with cleanup. It makes them feel useful and at home.
    5. Not contending for Limited Atonement with your guests, especially long-term house guests.

  6. Matt Rodatus,

    Good point with #5.. there could be a whole list on things we shouldn’t contend for with overnight guests. 🙂

  7. What a great encouragement to hospitality–and pretty thorough!

    You are right about entertaining strangers. It can turn out to be such a huge blessing. When our youngest daughter turned three, I looked at the list of kids in her class at church and decided to invite someone over to play even though I didn’t know them at all. For the next year or so, Thea and her daughter Elyssa visited with us every week and we became great friends. Then we ended up teaching at the same school when our girls got a little older. Now we live far away from each other but we continue to remain friends and send cards.

    Not all of our efforts at hospitality have had the same result. In fact, in one situation a visitor became very hostile during our time together and it was kind of scary, but in all these situations the Lord works and does good things for us and those we host.

    We have a friend who has opened her home up to friends and strangers every week for about 16 years! There is just too much to tell in a comment. I’m not trying to promote my blog here, but I have written about it there, so if you are interested, the post is here:

    Finally, Abigail, if you are not already involved in Titus 2 ministry at your church, you should definitely consider this. There is such a huge need for this and your heart seems to leaning that way.

    Blessings to you!

  8. I was a little taken back by number 3. I do personally LOVE to have a perfectly clean house, with perfect food (though that seldom happens for me LOL) and perfect decorations! I don’t mean it to show off at all. Rather, I do it so that the person will feel so important that I think so much of them as to go to all this trouble! Naturally I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable and perhaps I would do well to realize that my attempts at perfection may make someone feel uncomfortable – which is inhospitable. But does that make me a show-off? You have given me food for thought! I will re-evaluate. But I still do looooovvvvee to decorate! =)

  9. Good Post. I have to remember that showing hospitality needs to start at home too. I don’t want to bake a pie for guests if my own family doesn’t get one.
    It’s a balance.

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