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Hospitality vs. entertaining: What’s the difference and why does it matter? 



Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 06/05/23

The heart of hospitality is not for guests to be wowed and impressed, but for them to feel joyfully welcomed.

Thinking about hospitality is perfect timing, as I’m right in the middle of hosting two parties this week. 

Yesterday morning, I hosted a small couples’ baby shower for a pregnant friend and her husband. Today, I’ve got a crowd coming over for an evening cook-out.

I love having people over. An extrovert by nature, I’m quick to plan gatherings and extend an invitation. It’s so fun for me to get together with friends that I figure, why wouldn’t I host?

But as Johnny Cash would say, I need to “keep a close watch on this heart of mine,” because sometimes I’m tempted to veer from the joyful generosity of Christian hospitality into the land of merely entertaining. 

What’s the difference between hospitality and entertaining, anyway?

And why does it even matter?

On the surface, hospitality and entertaining might look the same. But the crucial difference lies in the heart of the host. 

I ask myself this question: Am I having people over because I want to impress them? Or because I want to love them, build our connection, and make them feel welcomed?

You get the idea. Hospitality is rooted in love and kindness, while entertaining is rooted in pride. 

Frankly, I’m often guilty of switching back and forth between the two. Just yesterday, my intentions were on point when I was planning the shower to celebrate my best friend’s coming baby. But at moment point during the party, I caught myself wondering if anyone would compliment some cute new decorations in my home. That moment when I verged from welcoming and loving my guests to wanting to impress them is the kind of thing I have to watch out for.

At the heart of hospitality is making my guests feel joyfully welcomed. The goal is not for the guest to be wowed at my impressive hosting skills but for them to feel the presence of Christ in my home in the loving welcome they received.

Four tips for hospitality

If you’re looking for ways to practice hospitality this summer and truly help guests feel at home, here are my top four tips.

1Give the first guest an easy job

This little tip sounds silly, but it really works! 

When the first guest arrives at an event, they might feel a little awkward waiting for others to show up. So I give them a super easy job to do, like putting a bowl of popcorn on the coffee table. 

Having an easy job to do transforms them from feeling like an outsider to feeling like a member of the household. 

2Hand guests a drink right away

There’s something about holding a warm cup of tea or ice-cold sparkling water (or a martini) that immediately helps a person feel at home. I think it works along the same lines as giving the first guest a job; they feel like they have something to do besides just stand there. I don’t really know why, but a drink in hand seems to warm up guests quickly.

3Say what you’re thinking

A really effective way to make guests feel welcome is just to tell them how happy you are that they could come. So don’t hesitate to speak your mind in welcoming them.

Whenever I have a guest over, I say something like this:

  • “I’m so happy you’re here”
  • “It’s wonderful that you could come over today”
  • “I’m so glad I get to spend this time with you”
  • “Thanks so much for coming!”

4Remain unruffled

Hospitality inevitably involves the occasional mishap. Maybe a guest spilled red cherry juice all over your white tablecloth, a toddler seized this moment to throw a tantrum, or a chair broke right when a guest sat down on it (all things that have happened to me!).

Your guests will take their cue from you. It can be hard to remain calm and unruffled while you quickly deal with the issue, but your response sets the mood for the whole party. Accept the occasional mishaps and feel confident knowing that hospitality is always worth the effort.

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