I’m a firm believer in First Time Guest tents. I think there are strategic, guest-focused, practical reasons for keeping them outside year-round, making them highly-visible – and highly-useful – to guests before they ever walk in the door of your church.
But there are a few reasons a First Time Guest tent may not work in your context:
- Cost. Yes, it’s an expensive expenditure. But I promise you it will be worth it. Start budgeting for next year right now.)
- Location / facility. Perhaps you’re in a rented building where the landlord won’t allow outside tents, or zoning laws frown upon temporary structures of any kind. Or maybe there’s no “good” place to put a tent outside.
- Tradition. You’ve never done it that way before. (I say this with love: that’s an excuse, not a reason.)
But perhaps the biggest factor for jettisoning the tent and bringing things inside is weather. What do you do when the weather works for 40 weekends out of the year, but the other dozen it’s the snowy season? Worse, what happens when you live in a very cold / hot / rainy climate, and an outdoor option is all but impossible? That’s where an indoor welcome center becomes a necessity. But as many of you have experienced, a station that is inside can quickly get forgotten.
It’s freakishly cold here. The air hurts my face. One of the areas that I would love to improve upon is our Welcome Center. How do growing churches utilize their Welcome Center area and what materials do they have available? How does the design/layout of the Welcome Center play into how people view it, especially when you want to slowly change culture, but can’t make too much of a pendulum swing?
In the words of famed psychiatrist Dr. Leo Marvin, we’re talking about baby steps. Tackle one of the following suggestions this month. Then hit another one the next month. By applying slow, consistent change over time, you’ll see the nature of your welcome center change, and see a greater impact on your guests.
1. Decide your overall purpose.
Will your welcome center function only as a welcome center for first time guests, or will it pull double duty by acting as an event sign up / resource table / next steps area? If guest traffic, lobby space, and volunteer availability allows it, I would recommend narrowing the focus and setting up a separate area for anything not related to first timers. But bottom line: before you pull the trigger, answer the “what is this for?” question.
2. Make it as visible as possible.
I worked with a church once that had a phenomenal welcome center in the exact geographic center of their building. The only problem: guests never saw it. Because to get there, you had to go through the lobby past the auditorium down a hallway take a left past the kids’ area hang a right at the restrooms go past the VBS 2004 poster down another hallway and maybe…just maybe…you’d find it.
Rather, do all that you can to put the welcome center in the direct line of sight of a guest as they enter. If your lobby is large enough, put it in a spot where guests will see it as soon as they walk through the door. Keep the area between the door and the center free of people traffic so that guests don’t have to fight sixty bodies to see and/or get to the info they need. If you can’t put it directly in the flow of traffic, keep in mind the rules of retail: people naturally drift to the right when walking into a building for the first time.
3. Utilize signage so everyone knows what it’s for.
Signage should hang from the ceiling so guests can see it above the crowd. Signage should hang behind the welcome center so it’s visible when you’re standing in front of it. And signage should be used appropriately and sparingly around the center itself to highlight specific things you want your guests to know.
[Related post: Your Church Ain’t the DMV]
4. Be viciously dogmatic on what gets put out.
Speaking of too much signage…if you are going to make your welcome center helpful instead of harmful, something’s gotta go. You will have to set yourself up as public enemy number one to make sure that your guests see what your guests need to see, not what every single ministry that has existed in your church since 1891 wants them to see.
What does that mean? Think about your welcome center as a gateway to an immediate next step. Then, think about the demographics of your first time guests. If you attract lots of young families, you will want to provide information on family ministry. If you are in a college town, college Bible study options might need to be featured. You don’t need a copy of your constitution and bylaws (yawn!) or your church directory (creepy!). And…you’re going to have to run the risk of ticking off the chairwoman of the decorating committee when you refuse to display her homemade sign up sheet for poinsettia donations at Christmas.
If everything is important, nothing is important.
5. Make the welcome center part of your common vernacular.
One of the reasons no one sees it might be that no one hears about it. The welcome center should be part of the normal weekly “script” in your service. As you are talking to your guests, point them to the welcome center to either (a) get connected or (b) get more information. Try to tie your “here” (sermon / service) to “there” (next steps / connecting face-to-face).
In addition, train your volunteers and seasoned members to be aware – and make others aware – of the center. If they find out someone is new to your church, the next statement should be, “Let me walk with you to our welcome center!” The center shouldn’t replace that personal relationship, but it just might enhance it.
6. Staff it consistently.
In my mind, there’s nothing sadder than a welcome center with no one there to…uh…welcome you. If you’re going to have it, you need to staff it. Before and after services are an absolute non-negotiable. You have to have people there to greet guests. During the service, I’d recommend having it staffed as much as possible. If you only staff it until five minutes after the service begins, and a guest walks in at minute six, what happens then? Train your people that inactivity does not equal inadequacy. Twenty minutes of “nobody” is easily eclipsed by the one “somebody” who comes by.
7. Get your people in front.
If you can’t move the welcome center in front of your building, at least put your people in front of your welcome center. Placing people behind a barrier creates an unintentional signal of separation. Toss lanyards or name tags on your volunteers and put them in front of the desk. Better yet, remove the desk altogether and replace it with free-standing tables.
[Related post: 18 Inches to a Better Guest Services Team]
8. Equip your volunteers with the answers they need.
Nothing is more frustrating to a guest than to go to an information table and get no information…and nothing is more defeating to a volunteer than to be tasked with knowledge, but having none. Develop a one paragraph summary that includes all of the info a volunteer needs to communicate, and then a one page summary of the top ten questions they might receive. Further, train them to know who to immediately go to for answers when they don’t know an answer. It’s okay not to know. It’s not okay to not find out.
That’s my top eight. What would you add to the list? Leave a comment and let me know!