If you’re like our family, you’ve already opened the calendar to start planning your summer schedule.

We’re a busy family of five, with one son graduating college, one heading to China to study for the summer term, a daughter heading to the mission field and enjoying her last summer before her senior high school year, and my husband and I traveling to Africa to fight bullying, we’re a typical American family. But we’re not going to say no to summertime guests and and hospitality.

We never want to be too busy for people, summer guests, dinner parties in our backyard, casual impromptu moments sitting with friends and enjoying a glass of wine.

We like to look at it as a team sport. We rally together to prepare and get the house ready for company! It takes work, effort, and willing hearts.

Why? Because community is not optional for our family. We are not called to do life on our own. People are important and we need each other. We’re called to encourage, give, share, provide warmth and love, and to feed people.

So, with guests coming to town this summer, how much meal planning do you do, versus casual “fend for yourself” meals? How do you keep everyone entertained for days at a time, with specific activities or suggestions? What about if your schedule really can’t accommodate what others want to do?

Hosting guests for an extended amount of time can be exhilarating, or draining, depending on the guests and what’s happening in your life. I like to keep the reason for hospitality in the front of my mind, and also keep simplicity right up there with it. To me, they must be married together, for both guests and hosts to benefit and enjoy the visit.

Here are six tips for keeping it simple with your summer guests.

Get the dates

Nail down the exact dates your guests are coming. Don’t be afraid to let them know you have something planned if you feel like they want to stay longer than you can handle. It’s okay to say, “These dates work for us.” Boundaries always help!

Plan the meals

Plan one special dinner party. Give it your all, put out your best, get the family involved. Make it special. After that, you can plan casual meals, or let your guests know they can always help themselves! If you’re lucky, maybe they’ll take YOU out for dinner one night?

Learn to say no

If you genuinely don’t believe you can handle a situation adequately, say no, but consider what you might be able to do instead.  Example: I can’t host you in my home overnight, but I could invite you for a couple of meals out.

Learn to ask for help

Include your guests with jobs in the kitchen. Even if they don’t offer, ask them to fill the water glasses, or cut the bread, or set the table. Sometimes we’re offended when people don’t ask to help, but on the other hand, I think guests often don’t want to “step on the host’s toes.”

The schedule

Learn to go with the flow. Schedules may change, so it’s good to be flexible. If you are planning a special dinner one night, let your guests know the minute you confirm their dates, and then remind them again. A dinner party, or nice dinner, takes a lot of extra work and special attention. Have your favorite restaurants in mind, in case everyone decides to eat out one night.

Love and grace

Learn to focus on love and grace around the table. Get to know your company. An interaction both ways between families can be a gift and friendship that will last a lifetime–something that money cannot buy.

It’s easy to be so in-sync with busy lives and our surrounding cultural events, but having guests stay with us in our homes, and offering to make your home their home, is true hospitality at its finest.

How do you keep it simple with out-of-town guests?