the shape of leadership

Be Our Guest

Common sense principles for hosting guest speakers

Matthew D Kim on September 16, 2019

It happened again. I recently received an invitation to speak, but the plethora of unanswered questions left me feeling confused. I thought, How can I possibly respond to this without knowing all the details?

It’s an important question, but one many potential speakers are hesitant to ask. The fact is, churches can treat speakers better simply by being courteous, clear, generous, appreciative and prayerful. It’s really a matter of etiquette.

Be Courteous

It’s courteous to let a potential speaker know upfront whether your church will provide an honorarium. If so, state clearly what the honorarium amount will be. Prepare the check in advance so you can hand it to the speaker immediately after the service or speaking engagement.

Some church leaders expect speakers to come for free out of a misguided belief that it’s more spiritual to serve on a voluntary basis. Others guilt, shame or manipulate those who decline their speaking requests. Such attitudes are rude and unfair.

When there is no honorarium, it’s important to communicate that in the invitation letter and not after the person shows up to speak. Failing to mention the honorarium puts the speaker in the awkward position of having to ask about it.

The reality is people frequently take advantage of guest ministers. Be courteous and upfront about the honorarium.

In addition, ask the speaker about any dietary restrictions — prior to the event — especially when meals are involved.

Be Clear

Tell the speaker what the expectations will be from start to finish. What are the dates and times — and, yes, even year — of this event? Is there a certain topic, theme or passage the speaker should cover? How many times will he or she speak? How many minutes do you expect the person to speak for each session? What other services or activities do you envisage for this speaker?

Also be clear about incurred expenses. Will you cover all travel expenses, including flight and/or mileage, airport parking, rental car, food, lodging and tips? Do you provide for these expenses in advance, or do you expect the speaker to make arrangements and receive reimbursement later? Are physical copies of receipts mandatory for reimbursement? Are there general guidelines for spending limits in each of these categories? Are you asking for a spouse to attend, and, if so, who will be responsible for paying his or her travel expenses?

The reality is people frequently take advantage of guest ministers.

If you plan to send a reimbursement check for out-of-pocket expenses, get it in the mail as quickly as possible.

Be Generous

When setting the honorarium amount, the church often fails to consider the time that goes into preaching or teaching, traveling, speaking at multiple worship services, staying for fellowship, etc.

Remember, this speaker is devoting time to your church’s needs — time he or she could spend with family, fulfilling other important responsibilities or even relaxing.

The honorarium is taxable income the speaker must report, and it’s often taxed at higher percentages. I recently paid more than 40 percent in federal taxes on an honorarium for a workshop I led. Send speakers a 1099 tax form early in the new year so they can properly report federal and state taxes.

Provide the guest speaker with mileage reimbursement, ideally at the standard IRS rate, and pay for tolls and parking meters, and other expenses, if applicable.

Be Appreciative

Showing appreciation isn’t the same as providing monetary compensation. Thank the speaker upon arrival. Before introducing the speaker, become familiar with his or her background so you can cover the information properly and sufficiently. Use titles and honorific forms if the person comes from an ethnic or cultural tradition where this is the normal practice.

Mail a thank you card that reiterates your appreciation in written form.

Be Prayerful

Finally, pray fervently for your speaker. This is a foundational element that’s easy to overlook in the midst of lining up speakers for weekend services, conferences or other events.

Preaching and teaching are spiritual work. It’s more than just putting together a well-crafted sermon, Bible lesson, workshop or lecture. The apostle Paul regularly asked churches to pray for him. With many such prayer requests, God used Paul to bring salvation to Jews and Gentiles and transform countless lives for Christ. He can do the same today through speakers and the people who are supporting them in prayer.

The next time you invite a guest speaker, be courteous, clear, generous, appreciative and prayerful. Following these five principles of etiquette is a great way to show love and hospitality to those who are partnering with you for the sake of the gospel.

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 edition of Influence magazine.

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