They Showed Remarkable Hospitality — Without Us Ever Entering Their Home.

When my husband Kaleb and I were new to Maryland, a kind lady in the church we were visiting took us under her wing. She made us feel welcome, learned our stories and shared her own, and connected us with the opportunities we were looking for. What’s amazing is that she did all this without ever needing to clean her home, cook a big meal, and have us over.

This lady was the first of many to show us that hospitality isn’t confined to the four walls of a home.

Kaleb and I particularly appreciate the power of this idea, because we don’t currently own a home. Or even an apartment. Right now, we live in a single hotel room, which doesn’t easily lend itself to hosting.

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This, plus a bathroom, makes up our entire room

But through both our extended travels (where we have been on the receiving end of warm hospitality) and our attempts to befriend others (without having a place to invite them to), we have discovered one thing over and over again. Hospitality is not about your home; it’s about your heart for others.

It’s not about how clean your home is. It’s about how sensitive you are to the comfort and discomfort of your guests. It’s not about how much space you have. It’s about having the courage to reach out to someone you don’t know. It’s not about how well you can cook. It’s about how intentionally you care. It’s not about being good at small talk. It’s about being willing to leave your comfort zone to make someone else more comfortable.

We spent last Thanksgiving in a home filled with kids and toys and people we we were meeting for the very first time — and it was one of our all-time favorite Thanksgivings. We couldn’t have cared less about stepping over building blocks and moving out of the way of children racing through the halls — we were just thankful to be spending the holiday in a house filled with people who genuinely welcomed us and filled the space with joy and laughter, instead of spending it alone in a hotel room.

Only one couple there knew us, and we hadn’t even seen them in years. But they realized that we were new to the area and didn’t have anyone else. So they extended the invitation, and we came. That’s the heart of hospitality — seeing a need and filling it, regardless of how perfectly or imperfectly.

Hospitality is willing to risk the awkwardness and the possible rejection. It’s willing to put the time into a relationship that you don’t know for sure will last. It’s willing to go out of your way to welcome someone you don’t even know and to invest into the lives of those you do.

But here’s the question we’re all secretly wondering: Is it worth it?

What I can tell you is that I have been on both sides of this equation. I have been the new person who knew no one and wasn’t so sure of herself, and I have been the one who saw someone else who was new and didn’t know anyone. I’ve been the one to receive gracious hospitality from friends and family, and I have been the one to give it.

And I can tell you without a single doubt that, yes, friend, it is worth it.

Our culture has made the assumption that the act of hospitality requires hosting people in our homes. And we’ve placed the expectation on ourselves that, when we host others, our house should be spotless, we should use matching china dishes, our candles should be lit, and we should serve an appetizer, main dish, three sides, and a dessert.

But we’ve forgotten the purpose of hospitality: to make others feel welcome and comfortable.

Personally, I’m more comfortable eating at someone’s home when it’s a causal environment — simple food and plastic dishes, with joyful people who really seem to care about getting to know me. When Kaleb and I enter someone’s home, we care more about the energy, the vibe of the atmosphere, and the people in it than we do about whether we’re drinking out of red Solo cups or wineglasses.

When you’re all friends around the table, paper plates are as good as china dishes.

So, if you have a home, don’t let fear keep you from extending the invitation. Don’t worry about redecorating, deep cleaning, and cooking from scratch. (Personally, we’d be happy with takeout if it means the hosts aren’t stressed and are able to sit and talk with us and enjoy the evening themselves.)

Your guests are just happy to be there with someone who’s making an effort on their behalf. They don’t want to be impressed; they want to make a friend. And if you’re already friends, you should have even less to worry about.

For those of you whose homes aren’t capable of holding extra people, the good news is that having people over isn’t the only way to host. If you have fewer seats than guests, or you live in a situation like us where hosting is essentially impossible, or if you just want to start with something a little less personal than having people in your home, there are different ways you can welcome and love on others. And, speaking from personal experience, they’re just as effective.

Again, hospitality is about the heart — a heart that truly cares about others, that pays attention to them, and makes them feel seen and accepted. Here are 4 ways you can accomplish this without using your home:

1. Intentionally Seek People Out

If you meet someone new in an environment that meets regularly (home school group, volunteer role, etc.), one of the most basic and easiest things you can do to make someone feel welcome is to look for them each time your group meets and have a meaningful conversation with them. (This is true for people you already know too. Who doesn’t appreciate being remembered and specifically sought out?)

My husband and I encounter new environments often since we travel full-time, and we’ve become uncomfortably aware of the internal struggle of the people around us who notice that we’re new. Once they catch our eye, they’re instantly faced with a dilemma: do I walk over and introduce myself or do I make the more comfortable choice to look away?

Unfortunately, most of them look away. While looking away may be the more comfortable choice in the moment, it ultimately does a great disservice to the group you’re in and to society as a whole.

The easy choice denies us the chance to think of someone other than ourselves, to choose courage and kindness, to leave a little joy in our wake. It denies the newcomer the chance to be noticed, accepted, and appreciated. It denies us both a new friendship and a wealth of life lessons, new connections, and unexpected opportunities.

But all it takes to change this outcome is one person who makes the kinder choice to lean into the discomfort of the moment. Each time someone has taken a few seconds to approach us and simply speak with us, our entire experience with that place or group or environment shifts. We leave with grateful hearts and look forward to returning.

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When someone makes an effort to spend time with you, your entire experience changes for the better.

For example, we lived in Indiana for 3.5 months. When we first moved there, we visited a church near our hotel and attended a dinner they held for visitors and new members. After that one evening, the host of the dinner made a point of talking to us at every church service we attended. Even if we were across the room, he’s spot us, wave, and walk over. He would always ask about our week, and we would talk about the temperamental spring weather, football, and his family. The last church service we were there, he even took us aside and prayed with us for safety in our travels and a smooth transition to our next location.

These efforts only took him a handful of minutes each week, but he may never know how much that handful of moments meant to us. We were new and unsure, and a familiar face was a welcome sight. Having someone call us by name and chat with us for a few minutes every time he saw us made us feel like we belonged.

2. Exchange Phone Numbers

When you’re welcoming someone new, exchanging contact information is such a basic thing to do. But, for some reason, we sometimes hesitate to do it, making it hard to get in touch and build a relationship. You can say things like “We should get together!”, but until you trade numbers, it’s doubtful you actually will.

Whenever we hit it off with someone we just met, and they take the initiative to ask for our number, we know something will actually come out of our meeting. We can tell they’re serious about getting to know us.

If we don’t exchange information, then it’s possible we may never have the chance to talk to them again. Or, if we do, it won’t be until the next time we’re in the same situation (weekly book club, study group, etc.). This basic act of exchanging numbers shows their welcoming heart, just as hospitality is supposed to.

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We’re still friends after only living near each other for two months, all because we have each other’s numbers and can stay in touch.

While we could certainly ask to swap information ourselves, it’s far more awkward for the new person to ask than it is for the one who’s already familiar with the environment. The new person probably won’t presume that you actually do want to get to know them and aren’t just saying it to be polite. Instead, they’ll wait for you to make good on your word. So just ask: “Hey, we’d love to get together with you. Could we trade phone numbers so we can both look at our schedule later and pick a good time?

3. Invite Them Out

To really get to know someone and deepen your friendship with them, you have to invest some personal time in them. There’s no way around it. Whether you‘re usually with that person in a group setting or not, eventually you’ll need to move that budding relationship away from text messages and short conversations in groups and spend time with them in a smaller, more personal setting.

I remember the first time we asked a couple who we’d only met once to lunch with us. And not lunch at a future date but lunch right then. It was spontaneous and risky and random. But we asked and then held our breath.

They said yes. And we got together several more times after that in multiple different settings. It became such a sweet and genuine friendship, and even though we had to move again a few months later, we still keep in touch.

I suppose not everyone will always say yes to invitations like this, but more often than not, they will. And they will surely appreciate the thoughtful ask. We always have, no matter if it came from someone we just met or someone we have known for years.

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While I was away for college, these sweet family members ALWAYS took me out to eat anytime they were near me so we could spend time together.

A few ideas for inviting them out:

  • Take them to morning/afternoon coffee
  • Invite them to join one of your routines: running, shopping, going to the gym, etc.
  • Meet them at a nice local park for a picnic or to grill out
  • Bring them to an activity where you can still talk: painting class, farmer’s market, sports game, etc.
  • Take them out to dinner or dessert

4. Bring Them to a Group Activity

Inviting others to group activities gives them the opportunity to meet even more people — people you already know and trust to be welcoming. It also gives them the sense of belonging and being included.

With you by their side, your guest will be more confident, knowing you will make introductions and ensure they meet the right people. This approach takes the pressure off of them as the newbies and lets them meet like-minded people in an easier, less stilted way. Group activities also give everyone something to do and talk about, leaving less space for awkward pauses or drawn-out small talk.

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Tourist activities are a great way to spend time with new people in a relaxed, fun setting.

Showing hospitality like this is as easy as finding out what the person’s interests are and inviting them to tag along to a group activity they’ll enjoy, whether it’s a group of moms who meet at the playground, a pickup game of basketball, or a weekly group workout.

It never fails to encourage my heart when I experience the kindness of people willing to invest in us, even when that may be out of their comfort zone and even when they know we won’t be in the area forever.

If you asked us to name the favorite places we’ve been, our answers would have as much to do with the people who were there as the place itself. When someone reaches out to you in your moments of aloneness and vulnerability, it restores your faith in human kindness. We know this kind of hospitality is a gift that requires time and effort and sacrifice, and it’s a gift we’ll never forget.

On the flip side, when we ourselves have taken the initiative to welcome others who are new to a place that we’re familiar with, we’ve again seen how much of a gift it is — not just to them, but to us too. Not only do we get to help and encourage them, but we’re encouraged as well— by the act of hospitality itself, by their gratitude, by the joy of helping another human being. And we often come out the other end with new friends — another gift in itself.

The same idea is true with people we already know. When we make the effort to deepen that relationship and pour into that person, we both benefit. We’re both grateful for the difference it makes in our friendship.

So take the risk and extend the invitation. Let someone into your imperfect home or take them out for coffee. They may say yes. They may say no. But no matter what they say, they’ll grasp the significance of what you’re offering and will appreciate the remarkable heart behind your invitation.

If you’re the one who is new and feeling disconnected or alone, read When You’re the Stranger: God’s Message to the Newcomer.

Freelance writer. Travels the USA full time with her husband. Writes about travel, faith, books, and business. More about me:

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