I don’t know about you, but one of the things I have missed most since the beginning of the pandemic is the opportunity to gather with friends. This past weekend, we were able to have a few couples over to our back porch where we could share hors d’oeuvres while maintaining social distancing protocols. My wife and I worked to clean the porch, remove clutter, set up lights, and prepare food and drinks in preparation for our guests’ arrival. Hospitality is one of the gifts my wife has been given: she loves welcoming people into our home (or in this case, outside our home). She does a great job making people feel comfortable and valued.
There are many verses in scripture that point to the call to be hospitable. Romans 12:9-13 says, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” About this passage, Pastor John Piper writes, “So the command in Romans 12:13 is that hospitality not just be a once a year thing at Thanksgiving or Christmas, but a constant attitude and practice. Our homes and apartments should stand constantly ready for strategic hospitality—a readiness to welcome people who don’t ordinarily live there.”
What does this practice have to do with Christian education and our work with the Center for the Advancement of Christian Education? How does practicing hospitality directly impact Christian education and the Christian school leader? I am reminded of the research we have completed at Charter Oak with parents who have gone through the admissions process at Christian schools. Research consistently points to the incredible importance of the campus visit for families as they consider Christian education. The quality of their visit cannot be underestimated. And the level of welcome a family feels can have a significant impact on their decision to attend. Whereas a great visit will not fully convince a prospective family to attend the school, clearly a poor visit will have a devastating impact on their likelihood to enroll.
It might be valuable to consider these questions: What is the experience for your prospective families when they visit your school? How do you create the best first impression for the family? How do you demonstrate your care for the families? How do you shape the day to meet the needs of the prospective family? How attentive are you to the details of the visit?
Many schools would be surprised that only 48% of the parents we surveyed recall a welcome from their visit and just over 50% had a meeting. Most report having had a tour but few had interactions with a teacher or student. Lastly, the smallest percentage of people recall information regarding financial aid. I recognize that many of these things may have happened to a greater percentage, but it was not meaningful enough for them to recall.
Whereas all Christian school leaders and admissions personnel understand the importance of the campus visit, there is surprisingly little attention to the details of the experience at many if not most schools. If you were going to welcome guests to your home, think of how you would prepare for their visit. Seek to do the same at your school.
Below are some suggestions for you to consider:
Invitation – Most schools will provide options to help serve the needs of the family and provide an opportunity to attend an Open House or Preview Day or an individual visit. Are you trying to be creative to fit within the family’s schedule, or are they required to come when it is most convenient for you? Evening open houses, Saturday visits, etc. are examples of ways to partner with families to meet their needs.
Confirmation – After a prospective family schedules a visit, it is important to communicate with the family to help them be ready for the day. Sending the prospective family a confirmation to the visit helps communicate the agreed-upon time and date to make sure there is no mistake on the schedule. Providing directions to the campus, where to go once on campus, and location for parking will help alleviate some of the initial stress some families may have when beginning the day. A schedule for the visit day will provide families a plan for their time on campus. In the confirmation, provide contact information with the Admissions Office and individual in case the family is running behind or if they have additional questions.
Day of Visit – To make a good first impression, many schools list on a board the names of families visiting for that day. Reserving specific parking spots by name for visitors is a great touch especially if the school has limited parking available. When possible, identify the right first person to welcome prospective families when they come to visit campus. Many times, when I visit schools, I am surprised at who the school chooses to be the first contact upon entering the campus. The welcome to campus is really important: does your person show excitement to welcome visitors to campus or does the visit come across as an inconvenience and an interruption to his or her day?
Meeting with families should be the most informative and personal time of the visit as you have the opportunity to hear why they are considering your school. Just like hospitality at one’s home, the goal should be to make the family comfortable and valued. What are their hopes and dreams for their children, what are their biggest concerns, and where else are they considering? Allowing time for the family to share about their child(ren) values the parents, demonstrates kindness, and provides information to help us identify the key talking points about why the school might be a good match. In the midst of the conversation, there will be ample opportunity to share distinctives and gain additional information that is needed in serving them through the admissions process. Be sure to provide clarity around the admissions process and how financial aid is provided if there is need.
After learning about the family and their needs and desires, take the family on a tour that will hit the key questions that they may have. Obviously, most tours are going to be similar if not the same, but what was shared during the meeting should help personalize the tour to meet their interests. Since the tour route is mostly set, the route should be clean, organized, free of clutter, and include stops that touch on key distinctives. Alert teachers of the tour route so they are prepared to see prospective families.
Thank you – That afternoon, send prospective families an email thanking them for visiting as well as a handwritten note inviting them to contact you if they have any additional questions or ways the school can serve them. Including something specific that you recall from their visit will help remind them that they have been respected and cared for well.
Hopefully these thoughts will spur Christian school leaders to maximize the opportunity to serve prospective families when they visit. Hospitality allows us to show care and concern for those visiting our homes and for families investigating Christian education. May we practice this gift with an eye towards honoring our Lord and serving others.
David is co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Charter Oak Research. David consults regularly in both K-12 and higher education admissions, marketing and development. He presents regularly on educational trends and best practices both in the US and internationally. David was the North American Coalition for Christian Admissions Professionals (NACCAP) Admissions Officer of the Year in 2010. Dave is a graduate (B.S., M.B.A.) of Eastern University.