You never get a second chance to make a first impression. We’ve all heard this before, but this is true especially when it comes to church. We all want to believe that we have done all we can to get folks to our church! But the authors, Swanson and Engel of an excellent book, Fourteen Fridays: A Story of Baseball, Church, Data & Redemption, gives us a great cautionary quote,” It’s not what you do best that determines the future of your church, but what you do worst that determines the future of your church.”
Yikes! It’s a sad but true statement that most people are not looking for church per se, but they are looking for things your church provides. Hospitality. Feeling welcomed. These are important things to think about as we look to serve not only our community of believers but also those who are searching for a sense of belonging.
What do people see when they come to your church?
Have you ever been to a church, just once and vowed to never go back? If yes, think about that experience. What was it that turned your visit from “I want to know more, to “I am never coming back?”
When my husband and I moved to AZ with our two young boys we were church shopping. I’ll never forget one church that we visited that made us want to run in the other direction!
Let me explain…
The parking lot was a maze.
There was no clear idea of which way to go and where to park. After parking the car, we searched for where to go after parking the car. No signs saying, “Enter here” or “Contemporary service” this way. It was crickets because we were a few minutes late. Literally, no one was around.
So, what could they have done to be hospitable from the get-go?
A map on their website tells visitors where to go and even what to wear. You want to make people feel welcome. If folks at your church tend to wear jeans and sneakers, maybe put that on your website so that people don’t show up in dresses or a suit and tie.
The campus was large, so it would have been helpful to have a “You are Here” map as you enter the parking lot so you could potentially park closer to whichever building you needed to go to.
Do your greeters smile and actually welcome people?
Value your Greeters and your
Welcoming Team, helping them to understand the importance of their roles!
A welcome table or greeters should stand outside for a few minutes after the service starts to direct any stragglers to the appropriate door. Chances are many of the people who are a few minutes late are the folks who have never been to your church before. Make a welcoming first impression. Have a place where people can go that is clearly marked where they can ask questions and feel welcomed.
If you have more than one building, do people know which way to go? Are your buildings clearly marked as to what they are or do they have a name that only means something to your members?
During our visit, the kids were old enough to sit with us. But what if we needed childcare? If there had been a welcome table or a greeter or better signage we would have known which way to go for these services.
Make sure you anticipate all the reasons why someone would be on your campus whether it’s Sunday morning or Monday morning. Are signs to the nursery, Sunday school, bathrooms, coffee hour, or church or school office clearly marked or is there someone around to direct people?
During your service, make people feel welcome!
Back to my story! When we finally found the door to the service and arrived about 5 minutes fashionably late, the pastor asked that all visitors please stand and introduce themselves! Awkward! We were hot, sweaty, overdressed, and not prepared for people to turn around and look at us.
Avoid insular language during your announcements. Unless you are going to provide a handbook, avoid code words. Assume that no one knows what you are talking about. This includes all signage, all communication slides, all announcements, and all information on your website, use words not acronyms unless they are clearly explained.
Avoid Appearing Desperate!
Since we had to publicly proclaim that we were newbies, after the service the serve team descended upon us like sharks in the water! No less than 5 different church group heads followed us to our car!
All greeters and ministry leaders should be on the same page and be instructed on what information to share or not share with a new congregant. Practice your welcome pitch. Every interaction needs to have the goal of getting this person to return to church not to scare them off.
The Bennett family did not return to that church because, from the moment we stepped on the campus, we were left to our own devices and felt like fish out of water! Everything felt unwelcoming and unfamiliar.
The goal is to make your congregation's experience positive and inviting so that they hear the message of Christ’s love and forgiveness loud and clear. Bottom line, you not only want to get people in your front door, but you also want to keep them from running out your back door!
Let the ULC know if we can help your congregation have a welcoming experience for your fellow Christian and pre-Christian neighbor. uniteleadership.org. For more great tips, subscribe and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Buzzsprout!