The First Impression is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
You know the research: people decide within 1/10 of a second whether or not you’re trustworthy. In 1/3 of that time, a glance at someone’s face will cue you on their status and attractiveness. But the scariest statistic is that our first impressions don’t often change – even when we’re presented with evidence that proves us wrong. (See also, “There’s just something I don’t like about that guy.”)
This has extensive ramifications for everything from one-on-one relationships to lifelong political persuasions to business loyalties, but it’s especially true when it comes to people’s first impressions of your church:
- If a guest’s first interaction is with a sloppy, outdated website, it’s hard to shake the feeling that your church doesn’t have it all together.
- If a volunteer botches a handoff to a guest’s next step, that guest may not give you a chance to redeem yourself.
- If the special music isn’t all that special or the sermon doesn’t have a point or the announcement guy crams two minutes’ worth of announcements into ten minutes, a newcomer may never hand back your credibility card.
Fair? Maybe not. But scientifically proven? Yep.
But first impressions matter on the flip side, too. In his book What the Dog Saw, Malcolm Gladwell recounts the story of an interviewee whom he liked from the first moment he met him. After the interview, he realized that – as an interviewer – he had given a lot of grace to answers that needed a more even-minded approach. Where the interviewee had been somewhat cocky, Gladwell saw him as confident. Where he had been self-aggrandizing, Gladwell read it as secure.
Let’s be crystal-clear: it’s not all about us or our ability to impress people (that’s a shaky building that’s just minutes from coming down). But having our plans and processes together can engender trust from our guests. And that initial moment of trust can lead to a much deeper, much more important trust.
If a guest decides in the first few seconds that your church can be trusted, that your volunteers want them there, and that your message is worth hearing, then it paves the way for a deeper relationship with you and – far more vitally – a beginning relationship with Jesus. Don’t handicap that relationship because you’re not giving due diligence to their first impression.