WINTER HAVEN, FL – We all love our churches but rarely do we think about how they operate from a church guest perspective. Then someone brings a first time visitor. As soon as we bring a church guest or someone tells us they brought a guest our brain goes into hyper drive. What will they think about us? Do they think we are weird? Is the music too loud? Did somebody greet them when they came in? Will the sermon minister to them? All of these are normal questions to ask, but what if instead of waiting until the guest showed up to think about these questions, we think about them ahead of time.
Here are 6 suggestions to help you get the process of thinking through the first impression of your church.
1. Clean the church building
When people drive up to your church for the very first time what do they see? Is the grass cut? Are there light bulbs out? Is the bathroom clean? All of these are incredibly important, and I know you understand this. When you go on a long road trip, someone always needs to use the bathroom. You determine which bathroom to stop at based on the cleaner gas station. I’m not sure if it’s right, wrong, or indifferent, but church guests are the same way about your church.
2. Have great signage
You know where everything is at church and so do most people who attend your church. The only reason you know where everything is at is because you aren’t a church guest. They come to your church with a completely different perspective. With a church guest in mind you should ask does a first time guest know where to take their children? Do they know where the youth ministry meets? Is there clear signage for handicapped parking? From the moment a church guest drives onto your parking lot, they are often timid and scared. Great signage removes that fear and gives them clear direction about where to go. Having great signage leads us to the very next point.
3. Have an information area
Have a table, booth, or whatever else. They type of area is as important as having an area where a first time guest can visit and ask questions is unbelievably vital. At this information area can be a smiling person who welcomes any church guest with questions. You can also give away a gift to your first time visitors. It doesn’t need to be flashy or expensive. Our church gives away a mug and info about the various programs we do. Not all first time church guests will go to the information table, but your visitors will be glad to know they have a place to go to if there is a question. Once again it communicates that you have thought about and planned for them.
4. Greet everyone who comes to your church
It seems obvious that your church needs greeters, but it is not so much about having greeters as it is how they greet people. For instance if your greeter hugs every person who comes through the doors, it might be off-putting. Some church guests don’t want to be hugged the first time they come to your church. Could you imagine going to a new Walmart and the greeter giving you a hug when you came inside? It would weird you out. Greeters make people feel warm and welcome. At our church we have glass doors people use to come in the building. As we see people walk up, we open the doors for them and “say welcome to our church.” Opening the door shows that we care about them and we want everybody to feel welcomed. Your church might not be able to do exactly the same thing, but you can make sure your greeters are trained to make everyone feel warm and welcomed, especially your church guests.
5. Think through your service with the church guests in mind
My wife and I attended a church years ago for the first. During announcements the man on stage said, “If everyone who is a church guest today, will you please stand. Everybody else remain seated. We want to greet our guests.” Needless to say this made my introverted wife incredibly uncomfortable, and even my extroverted self was uncomfortable. We felt like all church guests were being paraded in front of all the “regulars.” It felt like this church didn’t think through how a guest would feel the first time at a church. Does your service acknowledge and welcome church guests without making them uncomfortable? You don’t have to change the sermons or switch your style of music because of guests, but if you want to retain visitors at your church then you must think through a service from their perspective.
6. Preach with the church guest in mind
Do you preach in a way that is filled with inside jokes and insider language? Does your preaching come across as “just for the regulars?” When a preacher acknowledges that there are church guests and even people with different levels of faith, it puts the first time visitors at complete ease. A regular attender never thinks about the sermon until the day they bring a guest, and it is the job of the preacher to think through how a church guest would perceive your message. Don’t change the gospel or the message, but there are usually great ways to say very difficult truths that will challenge the believer yet encourage the church guests.
Hopefully visitors come each and every week to your church. I hope your front door stays wide open for people to come and experience the love of Christ and the community of the church, but instead of just having a front door that is open let’s make sure we have a back door that is closed. Church guests will be much more apt to not leave your church if they know they have found a place to belong.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pastor Chris Weatherly is an author, speaker, and current associate Pastor at Christ Community Church in central Florida. He currently has one book Built to Last Youth Ministry, and is writing his second book called “What’s Next? Becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus.” You can find him on Facebook or his website where he writes a weekly blog helping people take their next steps in the faith.