The first cruise Terri and I took was to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. We were pleasantly surprised when our cabin steward greeted us by name. At dinner that first night, our table server sensed my love for the chocolate molten lava cake and I never had to ask for it again. The pool side staff brought towels just when we needed them. We felt like royalty the way the staff doted on us that week.
On the last day, out of curiosity, I asked our room stewart how he knew our names before we arrived. He divulged this secret: he had a list of guests names two weeks before they arrived. It was his job to memorize that list and greet us by name. The cruise line took extra measures to make sure their guests felt welcomed right from the get-go. Talk about a great first impression!
What if churches thought about first impressions the same way? What if we went out of our way to create an environment where new guests felt welcomed and accepted?
The way I see it…
Some churches have grown so accustomed to “doing church” that they’ve forgotten what it means to be a first time guest.
Here are 5 areas of your church to look at with fresh eyes.
- Website – This is the virtual front door to your church. Most Sunday morning guests have checked out your website first. Is it up to date with correct times and directions? Does it have a section on what to expect on a Sunday morning? What feeling does the colors / fonts / language convey?
- Signage. All guests have three questions: Where do I go? Where do my kids go? Where are the bathrooms? Make sure you have directional signs that are big enough and clear enough that point to entrances. Guest parking should be easy to find. And no guest wants to ask where the bathroom is, make it obvious. Signage communicates we anticipate the first time visitor questions before they ask them.
- Environment – Is taking a step into your sanctuary like taking a step back in time? Do the colors, decor or aesthetics feel outdated? Is there a smell in the lobby that you have just learned to “live with”? Is the lighting too dim or too bright? If first timers aren’t returning, could this be a reason?
- Church lingo. Think about how common church expressions sound to a guest. Rarely do you hear ‘potluck’ ‘Lord’s Supper’ or ‘Agape Group’ outside the church walls. Pastor, how does the text I am preaching point to the gospel and how might it intersect with the point of need of a first time visitor?
- Stage leaders – Have you ever evaluated your stage leaders body language and facial expressions? Do they look like they believe what they are singing or saying? Serving our Lord should make us happy, especially if you’re leading from the stage! Train your stage leaders to smile and look welcoming.
When someone new shows up to your church you don’t know what background they bring with them. They may have been hurt in church before, don’t feel worthy to be in church because of their past, or are skeptical of organized religion. It’s your job to remove all barriers and make them feel welcome. It’s not about creating an attractional model, it’s being culturally relevant.
My list is short, what would you add?