When it comes to quality in ministry, many of our minds automatically gravitate to plush facilities, a/v systems that would rival a U2 concert, or a kids area that looks like something straight out of Disney World.
But I believe that churches of all shapes, sizes, and budgets can deliver a great first impression without breaking the bank. As one leader recently told me, “I know we need to make improvements, but how do I get started when there’s just no money?”
Here’s the reality: many of your best improvements are easier, cheaper, and more immediately-accessible than you think. We tend to focus on physical gifts to our guests when we should be thinking about the spiritual gifts of our people.
Will some of these things require elbow grease or mental maneuvering on your part? Well, sure. But the most worthwhile things usually do. Here are ten ways that you can make significant steps forward without having to go begging to your finance committee:
1. Clean up your property.
It takes a grand total of zero cents to pick up trash. Every church janitor’s closet has at least twelve half-empty bottles of Windex (I assume it’s symbolism: one for each disciple, maybe?). Schedule a work day and freshen the place up. Your guests might not notice when you do, but they will certainly notice if you don’t. Plus, it sends a signal to your people that company is coming. [Related post: Pick Up Your Junk.]
2. Train your volunteers.
No, I’m not talking about handing Deacon Bob a stack of worship guides and saying “stand here.” That’s asking him to mindlessly perform a task. Instead, gather Deacon Bob and his friends and let them know why they’re handing out worship guides. Use the free resources on this blog or from folks like Bob Adams, Jason Young, Mark Waltz, or Greg Atkinson to cast vision to your teams. When is the last time you offered a “Why?” training? [Related post / free download: 5 Plumb Lines for Guest Services]
3. Meet ’em where they are.
I’m not talking about a Welcome Center that’s buried and forgotten in the church basement next to the HVAC access room. Take all of the already-purchased supplies at that Welcome Center and move it front and center in the lobby. Or better yet, go outside so your guests encounter you before they encounter whatever’s lurking on the other side of your front door. [Related post: Don’t Waste Your Welcome Center]
4. Address your guests from the stage.
Maybe this should be titled “The number one free way to scare people off.” I’m not talking about pointing people out, but rather training your lead pastor, worship leader, and announcement guy to (a) acknowledge that guests are present and (b) send subtle signals to the congregation that they should be watching for those guests. Starting this habit leads to good things…trust me. [Related post: Six Times to Talk to Your Guests]
5. Walk them around.
When a guest shows up at your church, that visit comes with a lot of anxiety and a lot of questions: Where do I go? What do I do? What will they ask of me? Reduce the “new here” factor by giving them the inside scoop on your facility’s footprint. Rather than pointing them to the kids area, take them there. Instead of assuming they won’t get lost, assume that – because they’re new – they probably will get lost. [Related post: Don’t Point…Take!]
6. Help them take a next step.
Once a guest has shown up, help answer the “What’s next?” question. Maybe their “What’s next?” is simply showing up for a second visit. Perhaps it’s getting involved in a small group or coming to a newcomers event. Regardless of the specific step, commit to walking with them until they find it. Don’t leave them to fend for themselves. [Related post: What’s the Point of Point A to Point B?]
7. Send them a note.
Maybe you can’t afford to hand out a first time guest bag to every guest that walk onto your property. But can you afford 75 cents? That’s the cost of a notecard, an envelope, and a stamp to write a thoughtful follow up to thank your guest for coming. And don’t just sign the name of your church; put your name and contact information so they can get in touch with you. (Can’t afford the three quarters? A phone call or email is free…just don’t cut and paste that email. Make it personal!) [Related post: How Do We Get Guests Contact Information?]
8. Invite them out for coffee.
Alrighty: so this one can cost you a few bucks if you head to a high-end coffee shop. But most of us hang out at Starbucks or the mom and pop shop anyway, so why not invite someone along? I once knew of a pastor who handed first time guests a $5 gift card to a shop around the corner, and included his phone number and a note. The point was he wanted to make the low-pressure offer that he would be glad to join them for caffeine and conversation. [Related post: Don’t Just Intersect]
9. Update the outdated.
Maybe you can’t afford a $100,000 renovation of your property. Perhaps it’s too expensive to refresh all of the old signage throughout the building. But as a second option: can you get rid of what no longer fits? I once consulted with a church that had signs in the parking lot pointing to the sanctuary. Which wasn’t an issue until you considered that the signs pointed to the old sanctuary which was now a fellowship hall. Even if they didn’t update signs, a screwdriver or sledgehammer could have taken care of the confusion. [Related post: All Signs Point To…What?]
10. Align your ministries.
Circle your wagons and pull together leadership from kids, students, worship, and other ministries. Figure out what each of you are doing well in the area of guest services, and replicate what’s working across the board. If you provide great guest services and your student ministry does nothing for new families, it can be jarring. It can cause your guests to ask the question of whether or not you have your junk together. Exhibit A: several years ago we realized that we were asking for guests’ information at the First Time Guest Tent, and five minutes later our kids team was asking for the exact same information. One five minute strategy conversation allowed us to combine our efforts and lower our guests’ frustration. [Related post: Stop Muddying Your Messages]
Bonus: attend a Weekender.
This didn’t make the canon of the original ten because it’s a shameless commercial. (But hey: if it doesn’t cost you anything, am I actually advertising?) The Summit offers four Weekenders per year where you can sit in on one of our First Impressions Trainings and see our volunteer teams in action. Space is limited and some events are full, but get your name in for later this year.
You don’t have to raise funds in order to raise awareness for guests. The point is not your money, the point is that your guests matter. Start discovering your already-there and free resources to help people feel welcome.