Sometimes when I give advice to ministry leaders, I feel like I sound like a broken record.
I mean how many times can you really talk about first impressions or the first seven minutes of a first time guest’s experience or the importance of safety in your kid’s ministry environment? At some point, everyone has to have actually heard about these things right?
The problem is just because “some people” might be saying them all the time, does not mean that everyone is actually hearing them all the time. Not to mention, just because the topic was broached at a conference you attended or a podcast you listened to one time does not mean you actually made changes to the current structure at your church. In general, humans have to have come in contact with information many times over in many different forms for it to actually cut through all the noise and make an impact for change.
The proof for me is in the experiences that I continue to have at churches. I continue to visit churches that aren’t addressing what I would consider to be the “basic virtues” of a good experience. For every church that I go to that is on point with their reach out or environments, I go to an additional one that seems to have never heard of creating an environment that reaches a new guest.
first time guests experiences are critical to church growth
The reason for this is because we are at a point in American society where pretty much every person has gone to church at some point. Most people have heard of Jesus, God’s love, John 3:16 or youth group, and yet statistics show that people are still mostly not attending church. This means that if for some reason, whatever the reason, they actually show up at your door one weekend, that you have to ready to prove to them, that whatever they have previously heard about church doesn’t apply.
There are tons of uhhh-mazing resources on this topic. A personal favorite of mine is Andy Stanley’s book “Deep and Wide” if you’re looking for a resource to use with your whole staff to bring them on a similar page, start there. But today I’m compiling my own short list of things that you have to address when considering a first-time guest or family visiting your church.
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your parking lot matters
I don’t mean the way it’s paved or how nice the lawn is, though those things are important, what I do mean is creating an experience that starts before people walk inside.
A few weeks back, my family and I visited a church on a Saturday night and we got to the parking lot and it was nearly empty. Immediately we wondered if there was actually kid’s church available on a Saturday night. We almost decided just to turn around and leave, but husband went ahead and ran inside to inquire if there was something available for children. Did you catch that? My husband had to go all the way inside the church and to the welcome center before he was able to talk to someone.
That’s right, no greeters at the door, no one to ask a question of, if we were even slightly less interested, the fact that there was no one to engage our family might have stopped us from attending that evening.
your check-in volunteers have to know what they are doing
If for some reason I’m visiting a new church, I always just try to blend in and let their volunteers walk me through the system, as if I have no idea about child check-in or how a pickup tag works. In reality, most of the time, I could probably train their volunteer to do exactly what they are doing, on multiple different people management systems and more, but I love to let a volunteer or staff member do their job well. However, occasionally you encounter a volunteer that has no idea what they are doing, and it really stinks, because it majorly affects a first-time guest experience.
It’s beyond critical that volunteers receive proper training for their position. If they are just learning, they have to be partnered with someone who can help them improve and learn quickly.
This is why we suggest that every department has twice-yearly mandatory training times to cast vision and empower your team. Yes, they are a lot of work, but they are worth it!
your team has to believe the safety of children matters
Let me set the tone for you, we walk upstairs to a room with a handful of kids and no adult. We wait with our kids thinking an adult will arrive, finally, we go and get a staff member. The staff member is shocked to see there’s no adult, they go and grab another adult, introduce him as a deacon to help prove he’s worthy, and then say, “ok, everything is fine” you can leave your kids now.
We did leave our kids, but not without wondering, “what is going on here?”
I get it, people are late, volunteers don’t show up, your church might be small, there could be millions of obstacles, but the lead pastor has to cast a vision to his staff or team, and they have to cast vision to their volunteers of why kid’s ministry is vitally important, of why the safety of kids matters, of why excellence has to be a part of all that your church does.
Because that experience is enough for me to never attend that church again, and just think of someone who already distrusts the church or is much more uneasy about leaving their kids with strangers, that would be a deal breaker.
your team has to believe the safety of children matters
don’t swarm a first-time guest, give them opportunities to meet people or get connected, but don’t force it.
This should be a no-brainer, but there is a sweet spot between making sure that people and families know they can get connected, be prayed for, talk with a pastor and feeling swarmed.
I know how critical it is for you to get the information of a new guest. If you don’t get their information, you can’t reach out to them again. I know the value of a “host experience” to a first-time guest. However, a lot of people in the world are introverts. They want to sit in the back, warmly acknowledged, but also fairly unknown until they feel more comfortable, and you have to plan with them in mind.
you have to create opportunities without obligation.
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And this is all important because first-time guests experiences are critical to church growth. And church growth is critical to growing the kingdom of God. And growing the kingdom of God is what it’s all about.