First impressions can never be repeated. As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. This is so true for people, employers, meeting new people, and first time visitors to the church.
Some ways churches may unintentionally make first time visitors feel unwelcomed:
1. Do you unlock the church’s doors at least 45 minutes before the first service time? Many times, first time visitors will arrive earlier to get the lay of the land, without the masses of people in the church. They want to figure out where the facilities are like bathrooms, the congregational hall, and classrooms. When the church unlocks them only 10 – 20 minutes before service, they don’t get this opportunity.
2. Unclear communication from church leadership to the masses. This covers a wide range of topics and organizations should have a communication audit how they handle first time visitors. It could be the physical building doesn’t have the proper signage for the bathrooms, welcome center, parking lot, etc. Or maybe the weekly bulletin is confusing. The bulletin may read “The Youth will meet at Burger King, Thursday, with Tommy leading the group. Please contact Tommy if you are going.” A first time visitor may question – which Burger King, what time, and who is Tommy and his contact information?
3. “All first time visitors, please rise” is a common announcement in a church service. This is akin to parading them up on stage like some grandiose play, without a rehearsal, that puts the spotlight on them. Having them raise their hands is just as bad. 🙂 This would surely turn the first time visitor off and they probably will never return.
4. The congregation sending their own signals either verbally or non-verbally. This is probably the one that keeps the most first time visitors from coming back. Church leadership should address this from the pulpit on occasion because how you interact with others transcends into everyday life. For example, how does the long time attending families react when a new visitor sits in their particular seat? Do they confront the visitor, shrug their shoulders, or give other non-verbal expressions that are easily picked up by the visitors. Does the long time church members use jargon that only the insiders know about? What if someone sat in the seats typically reserved for choir when no sign was posted (see point 2 about clear communication)?
5. If someone fills out a visitor card/form in any manner – online, paper, etc., then the church leadership should follow up with them. Every circumstance is different as to what should be done on the follow up, like a phone call, email, or a lunch outing. The main point is to actually reach out and do the contact. Although many visitors relish their privacy and don’t fill out a visitor card, there are visitors that do. When they fill out the contact form, submitted it, and followed all the church’s protocols to get the church to know about them, the church should follow through. The last thing the church wants to do, is alienate them by missing the follow up communication. Essentially not communicating to them, is like telling them they don’t matter enough for the church to follow up.
This is the first part of a two part series. Stay tuned for the second part.