Hospitality: What the Church Can Learn from Air Bnb

I’m a Presbyterian pastor who often talks about hospitality. Last spring my husband and I took the practice of hospitality to a new level when we became Air Bnb hosts.

Many people are curious about the experience of hosting. Why would we want to open up our home to complete strangers? I’ll readily say that the propelling reason was to create an income stream. Writing is rewarding in many ways, but not financially. But like many things a person does for economic reasons, we discovered other benefits. Being hosts made us feel better about staying in a larger-than-we-need house with unused bedrooms.

We welcomed our first guest last May — he stayed for a couple of weeks during a job transition. Since then many of our guests have been doctoral students, often from other countries. Only a few of our guests have been from the United States. I speculate that is due to our preoccupation with personal privacy. I have found it quite interesting to learn to navigate boundaries while there are strangers in the house. Usually it comes down to basic cleanliness, civility, and communication.

We have found some unexpected benefits to being an Air BnB Host (besides having become more regular about cleaning our bathrooms!).

For instance, we have discovered how quickly strangers can become friends. A chat at the kitchen table over a pot of tea is always pleasant. We have met guests who share our interests in many things: milkweed, the Chesapeake Bay, Buddhism, neuroscience, cats, new technology, the Shenandoah, the Civil War, organic cooking. Conversation has never lagged. At other times we have zero conversation with the guest, which is also fine.

We have the added pleasure of being a support to young people who are transitioning to the area. One young woman — upon hearing that I could squeeze her into a busy calendar — cried out: Why are you being so nice to me? I chuckled and said: Because once I was your age, relocating to a city where I didn’t know a soul. Upon reflection, I would say that this is the best part of being an Air Bnb host: paying hospitality forward. In a world that seems increasingly violent and full of tension, it feels good to add just a few drops of hospitality to the mix, and to ease someone’s burden.

We have also been guests a couple of times. When traveling we prefer Air BnB to “regular” B&Bs because they’re less costly, mainly because Air Bnb hosts don’t provide breakfast, only coffee and tea. A typical B&B provides a sumptuous breakfast and I don’t need the expense or calories every day. (Vacation model vs. Daily model)

As we’ve gone along, we’ve added a few rules. We have clarified the issue of friends staying overnight, for example. We ask overnight friends of guests to be registered, for security reasons. Recently I specified that no firearms are allowed in our home. I am fine with letting the rules evolve as we go. Also, I understand that there are regulatory/legal issues in some places; it is not my purpose to respond to those. I am only sharing my personal experience here.

If you read my blog, you know that I like to make comparisons to the church. Here are some Airbnb learnings that may have applications to how we do church:

~ Guests have different needs and it is possible to adjust to those if the host pays attention.

~ A clean, uncluttered environment says: I am ready for your arrival.

~ Effective hospitality requires rules, which evolve naturally from the situation and its needs.

~ Hospitality is often sweeter when it’s unexpected, meaning last-minute or after being caught in a surprise deluge. In fact, “crises” provide an opening to give and receive a gracious presence.

~ Sometimes hospitality is absolutely silent.

~ Hospitality is good for the host as well as the guest.

~ Most people like cats.

~ Perhaps most important, people have a very basic need to belong. And that need is not going away in our digitally connected world.


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