Hospitality Training’s Approach Proven Impactful for Lighthouse Congregation


By Jasmine Haynes, Communications Specialist

Rev. Marta Sobrino Bolen, asks question at Tupelo/ New Albany District Chat and Chew with Bishop Lewis
Rev. Marta Sobrino Bolen has seen transformative growth in her congregation, and she credits a lot of it to the time she invested attending the hospitality training for Lighthouse Congregations back in late April. Lighthouse Congregations are serving as safe harbors for United Methodists who are now without a church due to disaffiliations or church closures. They also serve seekers—people who are not committed to a church yet and are searching for deeper meaning in life. Bolen, pastor of Glenfield United Methodist Church in New Albany, came to the training hosted by the Mississippi Conference Faith Community Formation Office and led by congregational excellence consultant, Dr. Phil Maynard, and left the gathering reflecting on things she heard and how to implement them.

Put your CAPTION here. Because this is in a table, the caption doesn't go past the image.
“You know this is something he [Maynard] said that really touched me—within the first 12 seconds of walking your parking lot people decide if they want to come in or not,” said Bolen. “When I left the training I said, ‘oh my gosh, we’ve got a lot of work to do.’”

Bolen explained that Glenfield UMC is an active and engaged bilingual congregation with many ministries under the umbrella of La Misíon, the Latino outreach ministry for which the church was founded. Ongoing happenings throughout the week include the tutoring program, summer children’s ministries, a food pantry, Rastredores de la Verdad (Trackers for Truth)—the children’s bible study group to name a few, but the exterior of the church’s grounds was not as inviting as its congregants. So Glenfield installed a church playground that Bolen said bought a lot of attention from the community.

Additionally, the congregation came up with a plan to continue renovations on the interior of the church’s facilities and implemented an ‘Adopt a Room’ campaign. Families would select a room to work on, paint it and help decorate it. Bolen said that people began to talk about how nice, warm and refreshing the changes to the facilities were, but those weren’t the only changes happening at Glenfield.
Children participate in one of La Misíon's summer children's ministries. Photos courtesy of Rev. Marta Bolen

“It actually changes us, and the way we look at things, and I think that was the biggest transformation,” explained Bolen. “There was hope.”

Another idea that Bolen gleaned from the hospitality training for Lighthouse Congregations was creating an area for people to drink coffee and fellowship near or even in the sanctuary. Glenfield now has a coffee bar and provides coffee and conversation for all who enter the sanctuary. She said it’s another opportunity to greet people and then follow up with them later. The implementation of the coffee bar isn’t just inviting during worship service. When the parents bring their children to the ministries offered by La Misíon, Bolen shared that the coffee bar is an effective discipleship tool for those who are not members of the church as well.

“I started spiritual coffee because, well, we all like coffee, and so I will go out there with the mamas and we will get together, talk, support each other, pray for each other and do a little Bible study,” said Bolen. “So that’s the way we started working with their spiritual growth.”

Overall, Bolen said she saw dramatic increases in engagement and attendance at the church since she attended the hospitality training and began to implement what she learned from it.

Train the Trainer
Bolen was just one of the 18 churches represented at the hospitality training, and there were several other churches awaiting their opportunity to participate in this vital ministry. This led the director of faith community formation and assistant to the bishop, Rev. Tim Thompson, to offer the training again in early August, but this time with an added goal.
Rev. Tim Thompson, director of faith community formation speaks on Lighthouse Congregations during Chat and Chew with Bishop Lewis in the Starkville District.

“We’re having this online as a ‘train the trainer’ event not only to maximize our effectiveness, but also to maximize our ability to reach more people,” said Thompson.

According to Thompson, this training differs from the one in April because the goal of this train the trainer workshop was to be able to dispatch multiple, capable clergy and laity throughout the state to connect churches with this excellent resource for becoming a Lighthouse Congregation. Maynard is one person and it’s not feasible to bring him to Mississippi every time training is needed. Therefore, training multiple trainers is cost effective also. Thompson said that being good stewards of the resources of mission shares is a priority.

Thompson shared that there are approximately 40 certified mentors currently in the conference and that helps with relatability and context for the vast diversity in our churches across the state.

“We multiply the impact of people that have the capacity to connect with other people where they are,” explained Thompson.

Talk with Faith Community Formation
Learn more about Lighthouse Congregations by visiting Persons whose churches have disaffiliated and are looking to remain United Methodist, or persons wanting to become United Methodist can fill out this form – to indicate their interest in connecting with The United Methodist Church. For interested faith communities who wish to apply to become a Lighthouse Congregation, reach out to Rev. Trey Jones in the faith community formation office at 769.243.7072 or at  

320 Briarwood Drive
Jackson, MS 39206
or use our contact form
Sign up now
The Mississippi Annual Conference—empowered by love, generosity, justice and apprenticeship—forms spiritual leaders, faith communities and connections so more disciples of Jesus Christ transform the world.