Recently, my wife and I went out to eat together. With gift card in hand from a generous friend, we made our way to Applebee’s Restaurant. I can’t remember when we have ever had anything but a good experience at this restaurant. They do a great job of hosting their guests, from the parking lot, to the greeting at the door, to the food and all the way back out the door. I remember receiving food that was cold a long time ago. As soon as the waitress discovered what happened she leapt into action. The end result was a new plate of food, a coupon in hand, and a free meal. Instead of leaving frustrated, we left impressed.
I think the church can learn a lot from Applebee’s. We can learn a lot from many businesses and organizations who go the extra mile to care for and prefer their guests. I’m sure you can name a few as well.
How does the guest experience at your church compare? In particular, how welcome do your guests feel within 30 seconds of entering your building for the first time. How about the first 10 minutes? Do you tend to assume that they will feel comfortable and meet a friendly face simply because you do when you walk in every week? If so, then I recommend you check out the “Insider’s Looking Out” portion of this blog entry. The answer to these questions are critical to you and your church! If you would like a quick reminder as to ‘why’, please read Guest Friendly Philosophy. Let me say it another way: The guest’s first 10 minutes will play a huge role in whether they one day experience a God-sized transformation at your church.
What Not To Do:
Let me give you a few suggestions on what ‘not’ to do when guests attend your Sunday Service. Please note that my assumption is that many of your guests aren’t just people who grew up in the church since they were 6, but unchurched people (that is, they haven’t attended in years or ever).
- Ignore Them.
Seems sort of obvious, right? Yes, and it happens more than you realize. Most of your church attendees are in their own world on Sundays. They may be at church, but they are thinking mostly of themselves; not necessarily in a bad way, so much as in a distracted, non-focused way. They are looking to see if a friend has arrived, trying to get their kids taken care of, already engaged in conversation, or just trying to get to their seat. As a result, your guests could potentially arrive and be completely ignored simply because nobody is really thinking about them.
- Assume They are First Time Guests.
Depending on the size of your church, this could be a problem, especially if you tend to have a lot of guests each month, have experienced a lot of growth recently, or have a adult attendance of more than 100-150 per Sunday. We see someone we don’t know, walk up and shake their hand and ask, “Is this your first time here?” Unless this actually IS their first time here, you will have to backpedal. What if this is the 3rd time visiting? Maybe they showed up three months ago a couple of times and just came back today. Worse, what if they’ve been coming for several months off and on. I have known church leaders who asked that question, to discover the person had been attending for 3 years! Ouch. You just said, “You’ve never been here before and I’ve never noticed you, so that must mean you’re a newbie and need my help.” Much better to ask, “I’m not sure we’ve met before. How long have you been attending our church?”
- Assume They Feel Comfortable.
No matter how they appear outwardly, there is very likely some measure of anxiety internally. Some people will be visibly nervous while others may seem very comfortable. Either way, as a guest there will probably be anxiety. Will people judge me? Will they ask me personal questions? Are they going to embarrass me somehow? Am I dressed wrong? What should I expect? Your job is to help guests feel safe as soon as they walk through the doors and every minute after that.
- Put Them on The Spot.
Churches are notorious for this. I think we hope guests will feel special or somehow honored when we require them to wear name-tags, ask them to stand up and tell everyone their name or to raise their hands if they are new to the church. For most people, this alienates and embarrasses them. Your guest wants to come and experience the service without feeling obligated to commit themselves to your church and perhaps even God. Growing up I had to move around to different schools a lot. The worst day was always the first, when I would walk into the room and have to stand in front of a classroom of potential friends and enemies and pretend I was confident and glad to be there.
- Assume They are Christians.
I suspect this happens in some areas of the world than others – for instance, the Bible Belt. At any rate, often we will talk to our visitors as if they already know God. We’ll make Bible references, use christianeze talk, and look down on them when we discover they are ‘living in sin’. Leaders, greeters, ushers, church members should never make the mistake of making this assumption. Again, it smacks of an “Insider’s Looking Out” way of thinking.
- Pressure Them to Come Back.
Nobody wants to feel pressured or put on the spot – especially when it comes to new environments and spiritual things. I think it would send the wrong message to them if you asked them on their way out, “So will you be coming back next week?” That doesn’t mean you won’t follow up with them and encourage them to return! It just means you won’t put emotional pressure on them, making them feel guilty if they don’t commit to returning. (I will write about “Guest Friendly Follow Up” soon.)
- Greet EVERYONE at the door with a warm smile and handshake, but give deference to guests when necessary.
- Create a Guest Packet that you give to every guest. Include in the packet information about your church as well as something for free. A CD of a past message, a small book or a coupon to your local coffee shop.
- When a guest has been identified, offer to show them around and help them get acclimated to your church environment. Perhaps even introduce them to a couple of people who might get along well with them.
- Offer to sit with them or near them if possible. During the service, if they look confused or need help, do your best to take care of their needs without attracting attention to them.
- Make a touch-point with them following the service. Let them know you are glad they came.
- OK – I stated the obvious. What else comes to mind?