It's a stereotype that's been around for about as long as dear old Agnes who falls asleep in the second pew every Sunday – churches don't do hospitality well.
We're very good at opening our homes, providing an endless supply of quiches for the annual bring-and-share lunch and encouraging generosity. So why is it that we reach the front of the tea and coffee queue only to be confronted by a plate of dodgy-looking homemade cakes and tea horribly reminiscent of that middle-class painting luxury 'eggshell white'?
Turn to the kids table, and you'd be forgiven for recoiling in horror. Biscuits (no chocolate ones in sight) which look disconcertingly like they may have already been licked, and weak squash. We don't need to tell you why this stuff matters... and yes, of course you can be welcoming and still serve rubbish refreshments (or none at all). But why not take this chance not just to get your snacks in order, but give your church a full hospitality audit? It will make all the difference for strangers and visitors in your midst...
Get some decent biscuits. You don't have to buy the most expensive ones on the shelf, but at least spring for some ones with (Fairtrade) chocolate on top. When Jesus turned water into wine he made it the best stuff, and the people will thank you.
Orange squash is not a priceless commodity. There seems to be an ingrained fear that any more than a drop of concentrated juice in the jug and we might have a national shortage on our hands. Rationing is not a thing anymore; treat everyone to something that doesn't taste like stale water.
Only get people who are good to make the cakes. There's a Maureen in every church who sacrificially bakes every week only to see her abysmal effort sit sadly in the corner, untouched apart from a couple of nibbles courtesy of an inquisitive child who later thought the better of it. Perhaps this is not Maureen's calling, but Erik, on the other hand, is fantastic in the kitchen and has never been given the chance. Find your star bakers and get them on board.
A smile goes a long way. As important as a tasty selection of treats is, equally vital is having a few friendly faces dotted around the room and prepped to talk to anyone who might be on their own – including those seemingly engrossed in their phones. Chances are, they're only checking Twitter to avoid the awkwardness of standing alone.
People not pamphlets. On that note, the welcome table needs to be more than a few lurid-green pamphlets stacked in the corner. Have at least a couple of people ready to chat to new people and be the face of the church for those who feel a bit lost.
Weak tea makes everyone sad. Ignore the guidelines – 3 teabags in the pot isn't enough. And at the risk of sounding incredibly middle class, if the budget allows, get some real coffee in. The smell of a fresh brew is welcoming, if nothing else.
Get someone to manage your social media accounts. There's nothing more depressing than a church account with only 12 followers and 2 tweets about the flower-arranging course you ran in 2011. Be a real online presence, and encourage people to get involved with all that's going on in the life of the church. And while we're at it...
...Sort out the website. Make sure contact information, correct service times and a 'where to find us' are clearly available, correct and up-to-date. Don't be one of the (worryingly high number) of church websites that are still advertising Olympic Games or Diamond Jubilee-themed outreach events.
Go a bit 007. Get a friend to come to church and 'audit' your welcome. It's helpful to get an outsider's perspective and to know where you're starting from. What rituals need explaining? Is it obvious where the toilets are? Make an effort to explain (without over explaining!) things each week for the benefit of visitors.
Keep it personal. One of the hardest to things about going to a new church is not feeling known, so make an effort to learn new people's names as soon as possible. If remembering's not your forte – try adding a corresponding adjective to help you along, eg Handsome Harry. But for your own sake, don't say it out loud.