How Christian Hospitality Fuels This Online Marketplace

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In the New Testament, the apostle Paul exhorts believers to "practice hospitality" (Rom. 12:13b). That simple phrase is the motivation behind FaithStay, a business that provides opportunities for Christ-followers to share their homes in the spirit of Christian benevolence.

FaithStay's online marketplace allows believers to open their homes to travelers looking for a break from sometimes-exorbitant hotel prices. While guests experience care, hosts find opportunities to embrace new relationships and personify the gospel through hospitality.

"It's more than lodging," said David Willson, one of FaithStay's three co-founders. "The act of opening our home is as interwoven in the Christian community as love and servitude. Our platform brings a new face to an already living tradition, providing a unified, streamlined means to share Christian hospitality with the world."

Justin Grado, co-founder and manager of operations, calls the FaithStay approach to hospitality "foundational Christianity."

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"In techie terms, we think of it as biblical hospitality 2.0," Grado said. "When you look at it, Jesus was born in a home share. There was no room at the inn, and so Mary had to have her baby in a stable someone allowed them to use. If there was room at the inn, who knows how the story would have gone? We might not have our faith today."

Whereas stays at chain hotels for three- or four-day conferences or events can run from $150 to $200 per night or more, travelers who seek a hassle-free, safe and less costly experience can enjoy the comfort of an entire home, a spare bedroom or even a couch. FaithStay hosts may charge a nightly rental fee or even open their homes free of charge.

And early indicators prove FaithStay is onto something. After a strategic launch in the major Christian travel hub of Redding, California, in early 2017, hosts have welcomed guests from more than 20 countries and provided more than 3,000 bed nights.

Bethel Church, with its 30-plus annual conferences and thousands of visitors, provided FaithStay with enough response that the home-share ministry has since spread organically to Kansas City, Missouri; Nashville, Tennessee; Los Angeles; and more than another 300 homes across the U.S.

Grado says when Bethel Church added FaithStay to its accommodation page on the church website, leads began to pour in, and FaithStay's business started to hit its stride.

"With David's and our experience, we knew we could build this platform," Grado said. "We got some real traction, thanks to Bethel Redding."

Sharing Faith With the World

FaithStay isn't Willson's first experience with such a program. He spearheaded global homestay programs for some of the world's pre-eminent sporting events for more than 25 years.

"Hospitality is a conduit to sharing faith with the world in an approachable and simple way," Wilson said. "You would be surprised how far a good cup of coffee and a clean room go when you are away from home."

Willson's ministry began in 1996 with the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta when, as director for the Salvation Army's Sports Ministry Department, he was challenged to provide housing for the families of Olympic athletes from around the world—approximately 2,000 people.

Willson collaborated with local churches and faith-based organizations in Atlanta to relieve the housing dilemma.

The initiative later became known as the "Athlete Family Homestay Program." Willson helped to ensure that mothers, fathers, siblings and spouses of Olympic athletes were provided the opportunity to see their loved ones compete "without the burden of excessive accommodation costs."

But the Atlanta Olympics proved only the beginning. The success of the program extended to Sydney, Australia, for the 2000 Summer Games, where Willson was sent to recreate the model of the previous Olympics.

Since then, Willson's work—and ministry—has taken him to Beijing; Rio de Janeiro; London; Athens, Greece; Turin, Italy; Toronto; Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; and Salt Lake City, Utah. Beyond the Olympics, Willson has established homestay programs for the Rugby World Cup, golf's Ryder Cup, the Commonwealth Games and the Pan Am Games.

In 2000, Willson founded the Global Events Group, a nonprofit major event agency based in Atlanta, with the sole purpose of coordinating hospitality and ministry around big sporting events. To date, he has worked with more than 40 denominations, 7,000 churches and 200 faith-based organizations in 45 countries.

In early 2016, through a friend, Grado and colleague Jordan Lawhead connected with Willson to share the idea of FaithStay.

"We're honored to work with David—someone who has the experience of working with all different types of people from all over the world," said Lawhead, the company's third co-founder. "Our priority is to provide believers with the opportunity to use their homes to glorify God, to provide people with a place of rest and peace during a stressful time of being away from home. David has been doing this for a long time, and he helps believers make a connection with others who don't know where they are in Christ. It's a model that's really worked."

Timing proved to be a bit of a roadblock for the project, however. After the three met, tragedy beset Willson's family and propelled him into depression. Launching a new business venture so soon after losing his son, Harrison, became much less feasible.

A year later, however, after extensive prayer and family agreement, Willson stepped in, and FaithStay launched its website. Grado said the site began taking bookings in "stealth mode" in March 2017, mostly around the numerous conferences held at Bethel Church.

"After lying low for a while, we were praying and seeking what plans the Lord had for us as a family and a ministry," Willson said. "The whole idea of individuals and churches hosting people from a hospitality standpoint has been ingrained in me from my days with the Salvation Army. Hospitality is a great tool for ministry. I've always wanted to develop this as a legacy, and now we have the technology in place to do so."

Making Home a Mission Field

Willson sees hospitality as a way for believers to share their faith in a simple way.

"For almost 25 years, we have created databases of host homes that provided hospitality for ministry during the world's largest sporting events," Willson said. "Once the Olympic Games moved on, so did the coordination of ministry and the link to future experiences. There is no better program we've seen where people can host someone in their home—even nonbelievers—and be at ease talking with them about faith in Jesus."

Although a steady income stream motivates hosts to sign up, host testimonies reveal that the most compelling reason they participate is that their busy schedule does not allow them to take trips to the mission field. Through FaithStay, host homes become the mission field.

Mary and Bob, who open their Redding home to FaithStay travelers, are mission focused.

"My husband, Bob, and I had a vision many years ago to have a hospitality home," Mary said. "There is no doubt God brought this vision to fruition, and we feel blessed! We love hosting the nations and love what God has called us to do."

Because God's love radiates from the benevolence of many FaithStay hosts, Grado says he's heard from travelers who have used FaithStay that they are more open to conversation about the gospel.

Another distinctive, when compared to similar platforms, is that FaithStay has built giving directly into its site. The company encourages hosts to designate a percentage of their rental income as either a tithe to their home church or as a donation to local ministries or rescue missions.

"Not only can this be a new income stream for families—which is important in this day and age—it can also give the host families the feeling that they are really doing something special for the Lord," FaithStay's Marshall Allman said. "I know of one girl where it allowed her to tithe for the very first time. She started tithing to her church, and now she sees it as her own personal ministry."

Feeling Safe While Traveling

FaithStay's security measures ensure the safety of both host and guest. FaithStay requires members to verify their identity through its secure ID verification provider, Blockscore. Member information is cross-referenced with government databases, watch lists and public records. Verification questions may be asked for added assurance. FaithStay also encourages its members to connect their social network accounts to further validate their profile.

Before booking, hosts and guests can learn about each other through detailed profiles and validated reviews. Hosts and guests write all reviews only after a completed booking experience. Unlike some other lodging platforms, through the tech logic FaithStay has in place, it is impossible to fabricate a review. Validated member reviews—by both hosts and guests—can remain on the website so both parties become better educated about their agreement.

"Trust and safety are paramount to this organization working," Grado said. "The sharing economy lends to that trust. Hosts and travelers open their profiles, so there is a level of accountability."

Some guests who are Christians speak of the sense of security they feel in another believer's home.

"I felt safe even traveling without my husband and family," said Emily of Dallas. "Being able to stay at a Christian brother and sister's home, I rested well. I recommend FaithStay to feel at home away from home."

Creating a Hospitality Legacy

Getting involved in FaithStay's hospitality movement is easy, Grado said. Simply visit faithstay.com for more information or to sign up as a member, or download the app on Google Play or the App Store.

There is no charge to create a listing on faithstay.com. Hosts only pay a 3 percent host service fee after they confirm a traveler's booking.

Willson predicts FaithStay's unique format and benefits will create a worldwide witness to God's glory and goodness. He and the FaithStay team are excited to activate hosts across the U.S. in cities such as Atlanta; Houston; Dallas; Orlando, Florida; and Charlotte, North Carolina, where there is significant demand from travelers.

"I see the creation of a legacy of hospitality, not just with the guests coming for major sporting events but for guests from around the world who come to town for conferences, mission trips, vacations, disaster relief and other things," Willson said. "Now there is no limit to the ministry of hosting someone in your home."

Shawn A. Akers is content development editor for Charisma Media.

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