Whether it's a first day at work, a first date, or a first time visiting a church, first impressions matter. They're what sticks when we think about what we've experienced, and they'll leave a sweet or a bitter taste in our mouth. Thom Rainer brought back a classic on ten ways that churches leave a sour taste in the mouth of first time guests. We've all been a part of one of those types of services before. You can't wait until it's over. One time we visited a church and we had no idea where anything was. There was no way of connecting from the parking lot to the worship center. It was a fine service and we enjoyed our worship, but the only good from the lack of signage was hitting our steps for the day.
To piggyback off the idea of what chases guests away, I want to propose seven ways we can leave a sweet taste in the mouths of our guests. These aren't rocket science. They're not going to involve spending extravagantly on promotion, marketing, or facilities. We attended an event at a church in our area that had a slide exiting the children's worship area. We don't need one. And I'm not going to try to push our church to buying one.
Have clear lines and signage in your parking lot - When someone pulls into your parking lot, do they know where to go? Are the lines faded or clear on where to plant their vehicle? If you have a specific spot for Guest Parking, make sure it's easy to find. Remember, you and the people who've been at your church know where to go, but someone who's new has no clue.
Be friendly, but not fake - The main reason behind churches getting away from the "Stand & Greet" time is that it's forced friendliness. Guests know that. They know you're smiling right after giving them a side eye for sitting in "your" seat. Authentic friendliness is genuine. It looks them in the eye. It asks for a name. It's a warm greeting and a genuine thank you for the guest coming. It's inviting the guest and their family to sit with you or to ask them thoughtful questions about how they found out about the church. This is something anyone can do!
Clean facilities - A few weeks ago one of our members noticed some dirt on the floor that had blown in after our lawn company left. No big deal, it wasn't too much. But he went and found a broom and dustpan because he wanted our facility to look clean. In your children's area, do you have toys that look clean or look like they were claimed from a dumpster? Are the bathrooms clean and the toiletries stocked? Are your hallways and rooms cleared of clutter or do they have random junk stored? If you want to make a good impression on families, put a priority on children's ministry areas being clean!
Excellence in worship - Not everything is going to happen without a hitch. That's because our stage display, sound, and video is a prime target for spiritual warfare. But that's not an excuse to avoid excellence in how our services are produced and executed. It starts simply by starting on time. If your services start at 10:30 and it's 10:40 and the choir isn't in their seat, you're communicating you don't care about excellence. Transitions won't always go well and occasionally someone who'll be called on to pray will forget their cue. But our transitions should be crisp. An easy way to do that is to use corporate prayer as moving time.
Volunteers in place - One of the best ways that churches communicate they care about guests isn't in marketing or slick promotions, but by simply having volunteers in place. When parents take their kids to children's ministry, there should be a teacher in place ready to meet them, not running in from the parking lot late. A good rule of thumb is to arrive 15 minutes early, and stick around 10 minutes after. Chances are guests are going to come in late, so those volunteers hanging around a few minutes after services start are able to receive them.
Awareness without overemphasizing guests - As pastors, we always need to be aware that we likely have guests in our services. So we should do our best to explain acronyms and what's going on in our services. When we give announcements we give clear instructions and not rely on people instinctively knowing where things are and when. We take an extra minute to explain what sounds like an elementary concept in our preaching. But we counter that by not overemphasizing guests. Don't make them stand. Don't call on them to introduce themselves. Don't focus on guests at the exclusion of the church body.
Follow up - However you follow up on your guests, the important thing is that you do it. Some churches take a gift (homemade bread is a big one) that afternoon, others target guests before they leave the campus with something from a Visitor Area. Others send a letter, phone call, or a home visit. However you do it, do something. Thank the guest for attending, ask for any feedback from their experience, find out if anyone made their visit special, answer questions they might have, and find out how you can pray for them.
First impressions matter for a church. How do you help ensure good first impressions?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.