You’ve heard it said that you can never make a second first impression– and it’s so true.

Making your church guests feel welcomed as soon as they drive into the parking lot will greatly increase the likelihood of turning them from one-time visitors into fully-engaged members.

Try and take a step back to see your church as a newcomer would see it. It’s easy for us, who are familiar with the church environment, to overlook many of the challenges a visitor faces.

Here are just a few mistakes that I see in churches all the time:

  • Not enough parking lot volunteers
  • Inadequate exterior signage 
  • Lack of guest service diversity
  • Confusing/not enough indoor signage
  • Ministry names that are not intuitive
  • Dated decor and unkept facilities
  • No hosts/users in the Worship Center
  • Musicians disengaged
  • No clearly defined next steps for first-time-guests
  • No first-time-guest follow-up/assimilation strategy
  • No clearly defined communications strategy

Here are two things you'll want to be sure to do when trying to make a strong first impression:

#1: Implement a strong guest services program
Studies show that within the first few minutes of entering a church (before they hear a note played or a word spoken from stage), a newcomer will determine if they will return for another service or event.

Guests are wondering:
- Where do I go when I first walk in?
- Will people talk to me?
- What if my baby makes too much noise?
- Where should I sit?
- Where do I take my kids?

Make it a goal to ensure that you have volunteers staffed at key positions (parking lot, front doors, auditorium doors, kids entry ways) within your church to warmly welcome guests, make them feel comfortable, and direct them to various locations. If you don’t have one already, establish a “Welcome Center” where new people can easily obtain information about your church and ministries. Develop a welcome packet or brochure that allows them to learn more on their own in case they’re nervous to ask questions.

Long story, short– give visitors a caring, hospitable first impression from the moment they walk into your church.

#2: Develop an assimilation strategy
As people visit your church, implement a process that keeps track of each person who walks in the door. You will want to obtain their name and contact information so you can follow up in a non-threatening way. You can get their information through many different avenues, but a connection card in the bulletin is a popular, non-intrusive example.

Then, members of your team should be responsible for regular follow-up with visitors through phone calls or emails during the week. Establish what the first step is you want them to take.

At a former church of mine, step one was our “new members class.” Step two, once we got them to the new members class, was to plug them into a community group or find a place for them to serve. Establish that road map that is unique and true for your church.

And remember, next steps don’t always have to be programs. They don’t have to be a 1, 2, 3 ministry. However, they do need to be simple and intuitive. If someone has to jump through 18 hoops to get in a small group, they are probably going to give up after hoop number four or five. Make it clear, make it simple.

The buzz of your cool (or not so cool) band will wear off after awhile. People need a place to belong, and they need to know what that journey looks like.

If you need any help with getting out of the weeds to assess your first-time-guest experience, we'd love to help. Whether it be our Mystery Worshipper service, church growth consulting, or one-on-one coaching with your senior pastor and our senior ministry strategist, Pete Wilson, there are several ways that we can come alongside you to help. Contact us here to learn more about what options we offer.

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