In the publishing industry’s frenetic world of impending deadlines and whirlwind speaking tours, Shauna Niequist is an anomaly: a successful writer who’s dialing down instead of scaling up. Over the past six years, she’s released a series of well-received essay and story collections whose honesty and vulnerability have made her an in-demand author and speaker on everything from faith to family to frozen pizza. But where most people in her situation would be barreling ahead full-throttle, she’s pressing the brake pedal—and she’s doing it so she can have you over to her house and feed you.

Whether writing, speaking, or serving cheese and crackers to her home’s many guests, Niequist’s work is all about hospitality—a ministry that, according to her, is centered on “creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved.” And while much of her writing focuses on how hospitality can be lived out in the home and around the table, she’s thought a lot about how it impacts churches as well:

I always watch the way churches train. When I worked at a church in Michigan for a while, I oversaw all the people who were ushers and greeters, and we talked a lot about how [church] is your living room, and you’re opening your front door, and people don’t need to know where to go as much as they need to know that you see them and you’ll help them through an experience that feels sort of scary.

It’s terrible that I can’t remember what church this is . . . but they have a whole volunteer role, and it’s women who are usually kind of grandma-aged. And if your family were to put your son in the children’s ministry for the first time, [one of these women] would connect with you and she would walk you through the whole entire experience: “Here’s how you sign in, and here’s where he’ll be, and this is what he’ll do while he’s here, and if you need anything. . . . ”

There’s a piece of paper that could do that. There’s signage that could accomplish that. But they know that that is one of the most nerve-wracking parts of going to a new church. So if you can have a human connection, not with a staff member, not with the director of the ministry, but with a person whose whole job that Sunday is to make sure you feel like you are being given the information you need to feel confident to leave your child—that’s amazing!

On this week’s episode of The Calling, join CT managing editor Richard Clark as he chats with Niequist about growing up the daughter of a famous pastor, why she won’t say “y’all,” and how snack food might be the perfect antidote to combat society’s ills.

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The Calling is produced by Richard Clark and Cray Allred.

Theme music by Lee Rosevere, used under Creative Commons 4.0.