15 Ways to Take Care of Guest Speakers

I am privileged to speak in dozens of churches each year. Most churches take good care of me, but some churches go the extra mile. When that happens, it’s fun to tell others about a congregation that is thoughtful and thorough in their approach toward guest speakers.

As your church considers guest speakers, here is a sample list of steps these churches have taken:

  1. Following up with correspondence to clarify expectations. Most of the invitations I receive come via email. It always helps when a follow up includes details about the assigned topic (if there is one), travel, lodging, speaking time limitations, and media possibilities.
  2. Asking about honorarium and expenses up front. I do not have a set honorarium expectation. I do assume, however, that a church that invites me to speak will cover my expenses. Not having that conversation ahead of time – preferably at the church’s initiative – puts the speaker in an awkward position of wondering.
  3. Contacting me directly – often via a phone call from a leader – to contextualize the assignment. I like to approach my opportunities missiologically—that is, I want my approach to meet the specific context of the church. That’s easier to do when someone gives me details about recent sermon topics, current needs, and future plans prior to my preparation.
  4. Providing a specific point person. The process is always easier when I or my assistant communicates with only one person. The level of confusion is almost always directly proportionate to the number of people involved in the planning conversations.
  5. Offering a choice of lodging. One church gave me these options: a hotel, a church member’s home with a “hotel-style” guest room, or the home of a church member interested in missions. My preference is almost always a hotel room, but I am grateful when the church discusses options with me prior to making lodging decisions.
  6. Inviting my spouse to come. The church that makes that offer affirms my wife’s partnership in my ministry and makes it easier for me to accept the invitation. One organization with whom I’ve worked – an organization with budget challenges – offers to cover my wife’s expenses in lieu of providing a speaking honorarium. I take that offer so my wife may be with me.
  7. Sending prayer cards prior to my arrival. It means something special when I receive prayer notes prior to my time with the church. A card that says, “Dr. Lawless, we’re praying that God will do mighty things” is incredibly encouraging.
  8. Providing a specific host while I’m at the church. Too often, I arrive at the church wondering who will meet me there. The day is much easier if a host greets me, takes me to the proper place, and guides me throughout the event.
  9. Verifying data before introducing me. Internet data and bio information are not always accurate. For missionaries serving in dangerous areas, providing a full written or recorded introduction may be risky. In other cases, pronunciation of names is difficult. Confirming the information first will help avoid embarrassing situations later.
  10. Giving a personalized gift basket. Many churches provide a gift basket with water, snacks, and a local souvenir. The churches I remember most are those who provide a basket with my favorite beverages and snacks. To know they sought that information ahead of time is humbling and affirming.
  11. Sending flowers to my spouse. When I’m away from home for several days, imagine my wife’s surprise when the church sends flowers to thank her for her support. We do not have children at home, but I am aware of churches that provide small gifts for children as well.
  12. Guaranteeing speaking time. If a speaker is invited to speak for 45 minutes, the best churches make sure that time is available. To invite a speaker but then reduce his/her time is disrespectful.
  13. Guarding “down time” in the schedule. Most speakers want to be accessible as needed, but we usually need breaks (especially those of us who are introverts). Giving us time to rejuvenate without feeling guilty for having “alone time” will make us better speakers.
  14. If providing an honorarium and expenses, giving separate checks for tax purposes. Record keeping is never fun, but it’s much easier if the church clearly differentiates the payments.
  15. Offering a follow up report. After we prepare, pray, and present, seldom do we hear how the Lord may have used our efforts beyond the event itself. A simple email report sometime later can provide much needed encouragement and inspiration.

What other ways would you recommend to take good care of guest speakers?


  • Keith says:

    I was once invited to be part of a ‘reconciliation’ service for the express purpose of a church apologizing corporately to me for how poorly they had treated me and my family while I had been their pastor. After traveling over 100 miles one-way, I received a brief verbal apology by one of the deacons at the service and a place in line at the potluck dinner. Apparently no one took thought that I gave up a Sunday I could have spent preaching elsewhere and drove 200+ miles for this church’s convenience. Frankly I didn’t feel very ‘reconciled.’ When I returned home, my wife (who’d wisely declined to attend the service due to still-hurting wounds received from this church) said, “Well, what did you expect?”

  • Sherry Sanders says:

    Loved this article. My husband and I have served as Pastor and wife at our Church for 29 yrs. When we have guest speakers, we personally pick them up and spend time with them as we give them hospitality. Our lives and ministry have been enriched by doing this and we have been told by the speakers that it is seldom that the Senior Pastor is the one who gives the hospitality.

  • Joel says:

    Re: #2. Christian humour writer Adrian Plass has a great bit in one of his books about what he calls “the white envelope game.” He paints a picture of the aftermath of an event where the speaker indulges in small talk while trying to surreptitiously looking around for the person with the “white envelope” that contains the honorarium. It’s a bit of a dance since a speaker reasonably expects to at least be compensated for expenses, but actually directly asking about payment in the aftermath of preaching a sermon seems a little off.

    I used to do a fair bit of guest preaching and only twice has a “white envelope” not appeared. Both times were miscommunications on the part of the church as to who had that responsibility and they were rectified within a couple of weeks, but at the time it was a bit of a shock.

  • Bob Lowery says:

    Excellent idea. How about one on how to be a good gues speaker? Be on time, be respectful of time allotted, don’t tell same tired stories we have all heard before, avoid telling us how busy you are, and be willing to talk to everyone, and not just the church power brokers

  • Chris Adams says:

    one if the best lists I’ve ever seen for speakers! Thanks so much. I’ll be Sharing this with women’s leaders!!!

  • Preston Atkinson says:

    Thank You. Helpful and timely as we prepare for a 25th year anniversary this year in August. Greetings from Copperas Cove TX. Thankful for your Urban Evangelism course in Seminary at Union Univ. -’02.

  • Alicia Patterson says:

    I think every pastor should first be an evangelist then they will understand what we go thru. Also if I invite u to preach we are definitely going to do what’s right even if you just show up and u minister we are still going to bless you.The laborer is worthy of his hire.

  • Mark says:

    Please do not let the largest donors and church rulers be the only people the guest speaker gets to meet and interact with. Please let him/her meet the “undesirables”, i.e. those of the wrong gender, age, marital status, parental status. I have seen the guest be cornered and no one but a select few allowed to get close. This is too much like a political fundraiser where the people who did not donate enough are kept in a separate room.

  • Mike Carter says:

    Great article with valuable insight. We all have different approaches to how we handle guest speakers but I agree that integrity is essential. Learning as much information upfront can save a lot of confusion as well.

    I recently preached for a large church so I did not worry about the minor details assuming they knew better. Once I was done preaching there was no envelope and the contact person did not show up. I left the service with nothing and called the contact person that Monday. They informed me that they would cut a check at the staff meeting Wednesday and mail it to me. That took two weeks but at least it came. This article should be a must read for church leaders.

  • Bill Pursley says:

    Dr. Lawless we often have guest speakers into our church. I appreciate your insights into how to appreciate a guest. Especially the part about quality down time. I am an introvert and noticed that you mentioned in your article you are also. Have you written anything that approaches the subject of being an introvert and in the ministry? If so would you direct me to where I could find it? If not would you consider writing an article about the same. I always appreciate your insight into matters and would appreciate reading your views on the subject of being an introvert.
    God bless and than k you for your time.

  • Rob says:

    This set of rules should especially be applied when inviting a missionary to speak. I spent several years as a missionary that raised my own support. I always made it a point before accepting any speaking invitations that it be understood that I was also looking for supporting partners.

    Sadly, some pastors use missionaries to fill the pulpit while they are on vacation. It was disappointing how many times, especially during summer months, I was invited to speak at churches in my denomination that were miles from where I lived only to arrive and find that the pastor that invited me was on vacation. The only thing people meeting me knew was that I was there to fill the pulpit that Sunday morning (or evening). Most of the time in those instances, the missions committee knew nothing about me being there as a missionary and sadly the white envelope seldom appeared.

  • sebastian says:

    This was a very good article. Thank you you for sharing.

  • Allan Blume says:

    Chuck, here is another point to consider: Prioritizing the focus of the guest speaker in the service. If a church invites a missionary for a missions focus, the service should not be cluttered with covering the annual chicken dinner, promoting the ‘paint the bathroom’ fund and a dozen other items. Give the speaker plenty of time to cover the theme you invited him to address, and stay on target with that theme.

  • Thank you Dr. Lawless! Love the article. I have spoken in many churches over the last 28 years, some multiple times. I have learned so much from the churches/pastors who honor & respect a guest speaker. Your article helps me build on the good times I’ve experienced so that I can be a much better host at my institution. Thanks again, Terry

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