Is your church “guest ready”? Most church members never consider this question because they assume the answer is YES! However, after visiting a number of churches over the past few years it is my observation that most churches are not very “guest ready”. The best advice I have seen pertaining to this subject is actually found on an old shampoo commercial, “Your never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That is true in the dandruff world but it is also true for your church. First impression is everything. When guests visit your church they begin making decisions regarding a return visit long before the sermon is over. Actually, many will make their decision shortly after they drive on to your campus. (I am not saying I agree with this mentality but it is a simple fact.) What they see or don’t see may be as important as what they experience in your church service. It is a good idea for church leaders to consider the following points to make sure you are prepared for that family that visits this Sunday.
Here are a few things to consider (along with thought provoking questions) in making your church “Guest ready”:
- Carefully consider your “first impression.” Often times a simple work day and a small amount of budget money can go a long way in making a guests “first impression” more pleasant. I think a church’s campus ought to be one of the most beautiful campuses in town. After all, you are the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. (I realize the church is the people not the building, but I didn’t want to speak on the attractiveness of your members) A run down campus sends a strong message to potential guests. They will make initial judgments in regards to how aesthetically pleasing your campus appears. Questions to consider: Is the campus attractive to prospective guests? Do repairs need to be made to the parking lot? Is there a covered drop off area in case of weather issues? Are there simple repairs to your building that need to be done such as paint, pressure washing, brick repair, disheveled steps?
- Carefully consider your parking. The parking lot is usually the most overlooked part of the campus even though it is the first thing your feet touch when you come to church. I remember as a pastor of a growing church my frustration when we hit an attendance wall. We could not seem to bust through a certain attendance number. After inviting a pastor friend of mine to church one Sunday I realized why we were not able to eclipse a certain attendance number. After circling our parking lot for over 10 minutes looking for a spot he said to me, “You need more parking.” A light went off in my head! That was our number one attendance inhibitor. But it is more than just having adequate parking, you should also consider the condition of your parking lot. Questions to consider: What is the current number of parking spots on your campus? Estimating 3 people per car, what is the total number of people that could park on your campus? Are there dedicated parking spots for guests? People with disabilities? Is there a proper flow of traffic in your parking lot when entering and exiting the campus? Do the parking lines need repainting or are they clearly visible?
- Carefully consider your signage. Directional signage should be visible to guests as soon as they enter campus. Arrows should point to the most important areas such as the sanctuary, nursery and children’s areas and welcome center. Doors should be clearly marked along with areas of intersecting hallways. There is never a situation when churches have “too many directional signs.” In this case too much information is actually a good thing. Questions to consider: When guests enter your parking lot are there signs pointing them to dedicated parking areas? Is there clear signage pointing guests to nursery, children’s space, youth areas and sanctuary? Are the signs easily readable? Are they outdated, faded or scratched? Are they highly visible? Is there a low likelihood that guests would ever ask the question, “Where do we go?”
- Carefully consider your accessibility. Many churches, particularly older buildings, are simply not handicap accessible. If your church isn’t prepared for those with disabilities you are inadvertently saying, “If you have a disability you are not welcome here.” Questions to consider: Is your church accessible to everyone who would come? Are handicap parking spots close to level entrances or ramps? Are bathrooms and sanctuary accessible to those with disabilities or the elderly?
- Carefully consider how you greet your guests. The majority of churches I visit have a couple of men handing out bulletins at the door of the sanctuary. While this is always a nice thing to do, IT ISN’T ENOUGH! I have been shocked at the number of men who have handed me a bulletin without looking me in the eye and giving a simple “welcome, glad to have you.” Greeters are not the same as ushers. (Go back and read that last statement again for clarity). Greeters must GREET. The most effective churches have a mix of demographics that make up their greeter ministry. Men, women, teens and even children can take part in this important ministry. Greeters should always hold out a friendly hand and share their name as they ask the name of the one they are shaking hands. Name tags are critically important as well. In the 1980’s Walmart began monopolizing the shopping store market with a similar approach. If it works at Walmart, I am pretty sure it will work at your church! (Blue vests are optional). Place greeters in the parking lot and every entrance so guests are welcomed more than once. Remember, guests will likely not leave complaining that too many people said, “Welcome, we are glad you’re here.” Questions to consider: Do greeters do more than just hand out a bulletin? Are greeters intentionally warm and welcoming to those who come to your campus? Does the first touch come before the guests or members enter the facility?
What are you waiting for? Walk through these questions as a “guest” of your church. Take a notebook, pen and a copy of this article and evaluate how “guest ready” your church is for Sunday. The guests are coming, are you prepared? Remember, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”