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Monday, June 12, 2006

How to Get Your First-Time Guests to Come Back

VisitorAn interesting article over at Lifeway.com... Rick Ezell offers a pretty high claim in the title of this article, but I think you'll agree that he makes some great suggestions.  Here are some:

Fact #1 - Your visitors make up their minds regarding your church in the first ten minutes.
Before a first-time guest has sung an inspiring song, watched a compelling drama or well-produced video vignette or heard your well-crafted sermon they have made up their mind whether or not to return. But, you probably spend more time and energy on the plan and execution of the worship service than preparing for the greeting and welcoming of your first-time guests.

Action - Use the following questions as a quick checklist:

  • Are parking attendants in place?
  • Is there appropriate signage?
  • Are your ushers and greeters performing the “right” job?
  • Is the environment user-friendly and accepting to guests?

Fact #2 - Most church members are not friendly.
Churches claim to be friendly and may even advertise that fact. But my experience in visiting churches as a first-time guest demonstrates that most church members are friendly to the people they already know, not to guests.

Watch to see if your members greet guests with the same intensity and concern before and after the worship service as they do during a formal time of greeting. The six most important minutes of a church service, in your visitors’ eyes, are the three minutes before the service and the three minutes after the service.

Action - Encourage your church family to:

  • Introduce themselves with genuineness.
  • Find out if guests have questions about the church.
  • Introduce guests to others who may have an affinity or connection.

Fact #3 - Church guests are highly consumer-oriented.
If your church building is difficult for newcomers to navigate, if your people are unaccepting and unfriendly, another church down the street may have what they’re looking for. You need to look at your church through the eyes of a first-time guest. Rick Warren says that the longer a pastor has been a pastor the less he thinks like a non-pastor.

Action: Consider employing objective, yet trained, anonymous guests to give an honest appraisal. Many restaurants, retail stores, and hotels utilize the service of one or more “mystery guests” to provide helpful analysis of welcoming and responding to the consumer. Churches would be well served to utilize a similar service.

Fact #4 - The church is in the hospitality business.
Though our ultimate purpose is spiritual, one of our first steps in the Kingdom business is attention to hospitality (Hebrews 13:2). Imagine the service that would be given to you in a first-class hotel or a five-star restaurant. Should the church offer anything less to those who have made the great effort to be our guests?

Action - Encourage members to extend hospitality to guests by offering...

  • to sit with them during the church service
  • to give them a tour of the church facilities
  • to eat lunch with them after service
  • to connect with them later in the week

Fact #5 - You only have one chance to make a good first impression.
Your first-time guests have some simple desires and basic needs. They decide very quickly if you can meet those criteria. The decision to return for a second visit is often made before guests reach your front door.

Action - Use the following questions as an evaluation tool:

  • Are you creating the entire experience, beginning with your parking lot?
  • Are you consciously working to remove barriers that make it difficult for guests to find their way around and to feel at home with your people?
  • Do newcomers have all the information they need without having to ask any embarrassing questions?
  • Are your greeters and ushers on the job, attending to details and anticipating needs before they are expressed?
  • Does anything about your guests’ first experience make them say, “Wow!” and want to return?

(You can read more of Rick Ezell's writings or tons more ministry resources over at Lifeway.com)

FOR DISCUSSION:  What do you think of Rick's suggestions?  What do you find to be the most important factor in whether or not your first time visitors return for week 2?

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June 12, 2006 in Outreach and Evangelism | Permalink

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For one raised in and committed to ministering in the church, looking for a new church home is a very interesting experience. About 12 years ago my wife and I moved halfway across the country. We visited one church that had been hailed as a leading church in the early 90s and whose former pastor had written a popular book about church ministry. I don't remember much about the service other than being greeted by someone we had known before we moved, but the big shocker came when we attended a young marrieds' Sunday School class: probably 20-30 people in the class, and NOT ONE person talked to us. The teacher/leader began the class like this (almost verbatim): "It looks we have some new people here today, so let's all go around the room and introduce ourselves." I don't think it was even, "tell us where you're from and what brought you here".

I know that we could have made more effort than we did, and we normally would, but sometimes it's good to see things through other eyes. I have sometimes told people who complained about not fitting in that they need to make an effort, too, rather than simply expect that everyone is going to cater to their needs...but a little catering is needed!

Posted by: Randy Ehle | Jun 13, 2006 6:14:03 PM

None of us would really like to admit it, but the situation Randy described is probably common. I know it is in my church because we’ve heard as much from visitors. And the sad reality is (from my customer service days), that for every one person who tells you of a less-than-acceptable experience there are nine others who did not tell you.

Randy and his wife found their way to an adult class because they know how to navigate church. I’ve said the same thing to myself when people complained that they don’t fit in “why don’t you make some effort yourself,” until I realized how intimidating it is for an unchurched person to “make an effort.” Most don’t have the slightest clue where to begin. We know the reality is that most people only connect with us when they’ve been personally invited. Statistics support this (Gallup), indicating that only 7% of people will self-engage (Randy and his wife are in the 7%). Yet we give people a bulletin or flyer listing all the plethora of ways to connect and expect them to just sign up or show up. We’re fooling ourselves. This isn’t an invitation, and it leaves 93% of new and relatively unchurched people unconnected and voiceless in our pews.

The best way to change this is fact #4, drive hospitality into the DNA of our churches. We can’t leave it to the people who serve in the hospitality program (ushers, greeters, parking attendants). They are not the ones who failed to talk to Randy and his wife in the adult class. Hospitality is an element of the gospel, and sharing it is everyone’s job.

Can you tell I’m passionate about this subject? Was going to avoid posting on this thread cause I knew I’d rant, but I couldn’t resist responding to your post Randy. Thanks for getting my hospitality juices going.


Posted by: Wendi | Jun 13, 2006 10:14:33 PM

You know, the best example of this is when My family and I visited a growing church about an hour from our house. As we sat before the service (we had to get there 10 minutes early to get a seat), the older couple in front of us welcomed us, asked us where we were from, and made chit chat. After the service, they asked us if we had any plans for lunch because they were going to go out to eat and would love to treat our family to Sunday lunch. (We did have plans and were unable to go, but I was so much impressed that this church and it's people had it right). Some people might find this intimidating; but we found it refreshing. Mind you, this was not a part of a church 'program', just people who loved Jesus and their church looking for new people to connect with.

Oh, and if it makes any difference... this was a large church (1500 or so at the time), so this can happen in larger settings as well as smaller ones.

My 2 cents...


Posted by: Todd Rhoades | Jun 13, 2006 10:25:46 PM

Yep - it does happen. When I visited a large (2500 weekend attendance) church in a suburb of Minneapolis while there for two weeks of classes, a woman greeted me in the same way. After church she bought me coffee and introduced me to several of her friends. When she found out I was a student in town for two weeks, she insisted that I come over for a meal while in town (which I could not do as she lived too far from the campus). I wanted to clone her and bring her back to California.

I think some people are naturally friendly this way, as were the people Todd and I ran into. But I also think this kind of friendliness can be trained (actually I know it can be - I trained hotel employees in hospitality for 10 years).

The biggest objection I hear from longtime members is "I don't want to ask someone if their new cause they might have been here 5 years." So don't ask if they are new, just stick out your hand and say "Hi, my name is _____, I don't think we've met before." If just 10% of our people did that every week, we'd stumble onto all our visitors and newcomers.

And BTW - I don't think there are very many people who would be put off by the kind of friendly conversation initiated with Todd's family and with me. And if they are put off, they'll let us know.


Posted by: Wendi | Jun 13, 2006 10:47:42 PM

I believe that in all the time I have traveled and attended many churches as a visitor I have had this type of fellowship only once. From an Independent Baptist church in upstate New York. The pastor is from Canada and he and his wife were very skilled at making the dozen or so people that were ID'd as visitors feel like we were at home (no Baraloungers, but...). I was invited out after the service and cooed over to come back and visit anytime I was in the area. Loved it and I did go back. I have their web site on my Favorites so I can hear his messages from time to time.

Posted by: Jay Gainer | Jun 14, 2006 12:20:15 AM

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