As an introvert who loves quiet time alone, I shy away from throwing big parties. As a writer who works at home, my house is always a cozy mess. And as a girl who continually fails to get high marks for hospitality on spiritual gift surveys, you’d think I never have people over to my house. But nothing could be farther from the truth.
Over a decade ago, I decided to have our whole church over to dinner one table at a time. And three years ago, I shared that idea with Jennie Allen of IF:Gathering which became IF:Table. I have people over all the time. And I encourage others to do the same.
It’s not because I’m extroverted or hospitable. And it’s certainly not because I have an exceptionally tidy house.
I believe gathering at the table over a simple meal is one of the best ways to love people and invite them to a closer relationship with God.
The thing that motivated me to invite the whole church over to dinner was actually my spiritual gift of encouragement. It’s also the thing that started IF:Table over at IF:Gathering. I want people to feel God’s kindness and inclusion. I want them to have a place where people hear their story.
The fact that my house is messy or the meal I prepare isn’t homemade doesn’t keep me from inviting people over. Having people to my table in season and out is something I do continually and it’s the number one thing that makes people mistake me for a hospitable person.
Over the many years of hosting 246 dinners, Sunday Suppers and IF:Table gatherings, I learned some ways to make having people over easier. And because I hear from you and I know some of you struggle with inviting people over, I thought I’d share them here …
- Check the family calendar for an available date. Of course, this sounds stupid but it’s always good to look at your calendar and make sure it’s a good day. If I’m having girls over, I try and plan it on a night when Will has an evening meeting. Nothing weirder than your family feeling like they need to stay tucked away because you’re having people over. Will and I also are strategic about making sure we don’t have something every night of week and follow with a house full of guests.
- Make a quick list of people you’d like to have over. Don’t over-think your list. Just ask as many people as you have room for at your kitchen table, outdoor patio or bar counter. I’ve hosted a Thanksgiving dinner on picnic tables for twelve and ‘breakfast for dinner’ in my dining room for six. Just check your space and get creative.
- Make the call, write the email or send the text. Plain and simple, just ask your people over. It’s so easy to make a big of a deal of the whole thing and never ask people over but when you set the date and make the ask, you’re committed. And that’s a good thing.
- When people respond and offer to help, offer a couple options of what they can bring. Most people don’t like to come empty-handed so letting them bring something makes everyone feel more at ease. You can suggest something easy like a bag of ice, bottled water or a dessert idea.
- Make your signature dish. When you’re having folks over, it’s probably not the best time to experiment with a new recipe so make your signature dish ~ the one you’re comfortable making. I default to homemade pizza or a big Nicoise Salad with homemade bread. My friend Karen defaults to her favorite take-out (and it’s fabulous!) but whatever you decide on, make sure you like it and feel comfortable serving it.
- As the day approaches, don’t freak out and decide it’s time for massive spring cleaning. I’ve been plenty guilty of this and it’s ridiculously stressful. Don’t worry about how over stuffed your coat closet looks or the zaniness of your garage (guilty) because people really don’t care about stuff like that. Sometimes a cluttered garage makes people love you more (just ask my friend, Christy!).
- Tidy and clean important places. For me, tidying means scooting all my paperwork, etc. that’s sitting on the dining room table into a big laundry basket and putting it in the laundry room. Cleaning is making sure the dishwasher is empty and ready for action. Also means I spritz a little Windex on the bathroom mirror and place a fresh hand towel by the sink.
- Light a candle, say a prayer, sip on wine. Before your guests come over, do what makes you feel more relaxed and it’s likely others will feel that way as well. I like to open the back patio door so I can hear the birds singing in the backyard, then I put on a little Penny & Sparrow and sip on wine while I finish up dinner prep or set the table. It’s so enjoyable.
- Ask God to be present. A simple prayer at the beginning of a meal is customary for a lot of people. But even if you’re not sure, it’s your house and you’re the host, so pray and ask God to bless the food and time spent together.
- Gently direct the conversation and ask meaningful questions. Since I really feel this is THE reason to have people over, it’s important to me. Over the years, I asked all kinds of questions about how people feel about spiritual things. I actually do this with my own family when we all sit down to dinner together. I have some tucked away on my blog here.
Praying we’ll fill our tables and talk about God. :)