By Jodi Otto

WALL-E is a Pixar film about a lonely little robot who is left behind to clean up Earth after humans have abandoned the planet. WALL-E is a collector and in order to make his world believable, we get a glimpse inside his home. In one scene, Pixar’s animators populated WALL-E’s home with 827 poker chips, 66 license plates, 290 fake eyeballs, 798 Christmas lights, two cords of 48 chili lights, four bug zappers, five paper lanterns, and ten tiki lights. No viewer could possibly see all of these items. So why did Pixar include them? Andrew Stanton, the director of the Pixar film WALL-E, shares that they are “the little whispers that speak to an audience.”

As the First Impressions Director at National Community Church in Washington DC, most of my work is to create spaces for our guests to encounter Jesus and engage with one another. Our teams work to pull all the pieces together to create “thin places”, space where earth and heaven collide. And no detail is too big or small because it all helps to communicate to our guests who we are and what we value. 

What Are First Impressions?

Most of my work is hidden in plain sight. It is “the little whispers” that Andrew Stanton mentioned. When you pull the aspects of my job apart, each detail can seem relatively insignificant or possibly even mundane. Whether it’s choosing unique furniture to fill our space that honors the history of our building, setting up signage around the building, creating efficient systems and spreadsheets to keep everything organized, ordering stickers to hand out to kids when they enter our space, scheduling volunteers to serve, or creating form after form to funnel new guests into the various aspects of our church—it all creates an environment that facilitates and encourages connection in our community, celebrates the diversity at our church, and is a reflection of the core values we have at NCC.

Hospitality is a mark of discipleship and we need to model radical hospitality in our church. We must lead in hospitality with intention, not just intuition. It’s all about how you make people feel, it’s that simple and it’s that hard.

How Do You Make Hospitality Work?

Our team has three core values that we practice in order to help us create a culture of hospitality at NCC:

  • We see the one: Danny Meyer is a wildly successful restaurant owner who built his platform by focusing primarily on hospitality. He teaches his team to use the ABCD Technique, which stands for “Always Be Collecting Dots”. Dots are information. The more information you collect, the more frequently you can make meaningful connections that make other people feel good. We add more value by listening, using our imagination, and executing on those connections.

  • We go the extra mile:  We want to be tour guides not travel agents. Tour guides come alongside; they don’t just give information. We want to usher people into experiences.

  • We pursue excellence, creativity, and beauty. Within 7 minutes of being in a new space, most people will decide if they want to come back. So often we pour so much of our energy and focus into what happens on the platform, and while I think that’s vitally important, we work to communicate who we are and what we value before our guests even sit in their seats.

Make It Unique to Who You Are

I like to ask myself, “How are the values of our church reflected in our space, our materials, our communication, our volunteers, etc.?” Does our space look like the most creative place on the planet? Do our actions prove that we go the extra mile or that we care for the marginalized in our community?

We are all on the First Impressions team. The experience that our guests have when they walk into our church begins long before they show up at our services. Tasks often look mundane and insignificant but when all the pieces are together, it creates a beautiful environment that ushers our guests into an encounter with Jesus and one another. May we be known at our churches for being a radically hospitable people.

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