Success hinges on how well you welcome

Danny Spitzberg’s work is primarily interested in “community spaces” and how people move from “do it yourself” to “do it together.” He is particularly interested in how to welcome people to a space and make those who visit feel welcomed by the community that works and plays there. Emphasizing how crucial the initial encounter is, he agrees with Lori Kane who puts it this way: “If you do just one thing: Say ‘Welcome! I’m so glad you’re here!” Perhaps even more importantly, he understands that the success of any organization is getting their visitors to stay and become part of the community themselves.

In recent years, Spitzberg’s task was to build software to help communities self-organize. So, he reached out to dozens of community spaces and organizations. But as he did, it was interesting how his list of questions grew beyond what would help him create software. In an effort to really understand, so that he could do his job, he began to wonder about things like this:

  • Why are the most thriving community spaces often led by volunteers?
  • How do some spaces accomplish so much without much help?
  • What about these spaces and places makes it possible to charge people either very little or nothing to participate?

By August of 2016, he concentrated his thought efforts on one space in particular: the PLACE for Sustainable Living, based in Oakland, California.

PLACE, as it’s known to friends and neighbors, is an experiential learning center. It’s a thriving space, where people co-work, garden, repair bikes, make art and music, and so much more. The organization gets people involved through a concentrated effort — a monthly “Action Day.” Every month, PLACE invites people to explore the space, connect with peers, and learn how they can join.

At PLACE, Danny discovered a key component for his research: Success in any effort hinges on how well new people are welcomed.

Recently, Spitzberg developed a “How to” guide, to help community leaders—the primary audience of his work—effectively greet and engage people. But his discovery about the immense underlying importance about the principles of hospitality, is also very important for anyone in ministry as we endeavor to create a missional vision and welcome spiritual seekers in considering a new vision for their own lives.

5 crucial aspects of welcoming

  1. First impressions. Do what you can to make the first point of contact a positive one for newcomers. Think of it as the first step to getting anyone involved in what you are doing.
  2. Three phases of interaction: Visiting, Trying, Joining. Help people move through these three phases by helping them experience your vision. What kinds of actual participatory opportunities might a visitor be willing to try? What can you do to help them imagine belonging? 
  3. Alignment. In a community setting, Spitzberg talks about integrating diverse opinions rather than shutting down volunteers who bring new perspectives and capacity. In a ministry context, find points of alignment with people you are welcoming. When people have some common ground, they can listen to and respect one another, even when they have some areas of strong disagreement.
  4. Affirmation. Encourage and support people, especially as they try new things and take initiative. Share positive stories and recognize effort.
  5. Practice. To make real progress in welcoming, continue to evaluate how well people are welcomed, identify areas where you can improve, and focus practice in those areas.

Creating a welcoming environment is one of the best and primary ways any ministry can cast its missional vision and make it stick for the long haul.