Something For Everyone
The appeal of the book, First Impressions, written by Mark Waltz, is its application potential for both small and large churches. No matter what our size, we want to be welcoming to people who may be walking through our doors for the first time. In First Impressions, Mark takes a look at what secular businesses do to attract and retain customers, then applies the same principles to the church. Since many of our newcomers are comfortable with the secular day-to-day world, it makes sense that we try to integrate some of these strategies to help people feel at ease while they are in our church.
Where do you shop at frequently?
One of the first things the book asks (p10) is: Where Do You Consume (and why)?
I thought about some of the places I hit pretty regularly:
1) The grocery store that has good sales
2) The grocery store where I know where everything is
3) Little Caesars – where you can get a pizza fast and cheap
4) My bank- which is conveniently located and friendly
How many of these things are currently present in my church? Obviously not the pizza! Knowing where things are, being conveniently located, and having a friendly atmosphere are probably things that newcomers would appreciate when visiting a church.
Think about your top 3 places…
Think about the places you return to again and again. ( No really, stop and think for a minute. Got a few places?) Now think about why you go there. Can you incorporate some of those strengths in a church atmosphere?
Throughout the book, the author emphasized making guests feel like they matter. When we feel personally valued in a situation, we are likely to return. The author challenged readers to become aware of their “consumer experiences” throughout the week and write down both their first and lasting impressions.
Some of the places I personally observed were:
1) McDonald’s – the cashier took my order wrong. They were friendly, the food was good (I was pregnant at the time, so my taste buds were a little off) and the place was clean. I felt like my first impression was not good, but the lasting impression was good. All in all, I would return to that McDonald’s location (if I ever get a craving for McDonald’s again, that is.)
2) Starbucks – since the last time I visited, they had put up new art, new menus, and had rearranged the furniture. I liked the fresh look and enjoyed the new set up. Good first and lasting impression.
3) Remnant Shop – walked in to “we’re closing in 2 minutes” (talk about not feeling valued!). No prices were marked, so I had to ask about everything and really felt like I was bothering the sales person… until her Supervisor walked by, then she was full of customer service. Interesting. Do our church guests feel like they matter only under special circumstances (such as Easter and Christmas)?
What did I Learn?
I learned a few things from my “consumer experiences”. Details matter – whether it’s spelling or typos, getting a person’s name right the first time, or decorating a space that looks fresh and inviting, people notice the little things. Also, don’t act like guests are a bother to your “normal activities”. Don’t make them ask for every little thing – like where the nursery, the bathrooms, or the sanctuary is located. We all get busy in churches (especially in Children’s Ministry!) and its easy to brush off a guest’s concerned or confused look because “I have important things to attend to”. Don’t do it. These people have souls and an eternal destination that you have the ability to impact right now. At this moment. Think about that.
Think about potential distractions that a guest might encounter – for my church, it was lack of signage, not enough trash cans (isn’t it annoying trying to find somewhere to throw away your cup?), and overcrowded seating. Take a close look at your church – if you were completely new, what might distract you from the voice of God?
What would like to hear your guests saying at work on Monday? Would it sound like this?
We would go again.
People were nice.
People seemed very busy.
Everyone seemed to know each other – I don’t know if there is a place for me.
Love the music!
According to Mark L. Waltz, you have ten minutes (that’s it!) to WOW your guests. Don’t waste the first impression.
Greeters and Welcome Center
Make sure your greeters know where to take (or direct) people. Do they know where the four year olds meet for Sunday School? Do they know where the wheelchair seats are in the sanctuary? A lack of knowledge means a lack of help. Guests don’t want to stand around while you scramble to find an answer to their questions.
If you don’t have one already, the author recommends setting up a Welcome Center with hospitality workers. The Welcome Center would have information about the church and the various ministries the church has to offer, a beverage area, and workers who can ASSIST families through the building (this means actually walking with them – not pointing the way).
All in all, GREAT book. Worth the cost for sure, because you will return to it again and again to refresh your welcoming approach.