When it comes to the first impressions for your church service or organization, they can make or break the experience of a guest. I have been highly involved in leading and facilitating first impression teams and ministries over the last 10-years, and I have come to learn a thing or two about how to create a great experience. 

I use the term experience strategically here. Although we are bringing people together for worship, it is also an experience for them, especially if this is the first time they’ve walked through the doors of your church. And to create a great experience, we must think about a few things:

ONE: Think through the “story” of the service or event.

In other words, from the time the guest pulls into the parking lot to the time they drive off the parking lot (or if you’re in DC like me, then they’re probably walking, biking, Uber-ing, or Metro-ing) what is their entire experience like?

Ask these questions:

  • What is the parking experience like?
  • Where do guests receive their “first welcome?”
  • Is our signage clear?
  • Will guests know exactly what to do and where to go when they enter our facilities?
  • Is our facility nice, clean, and appealing (remember, they went to Starbucks right before coming to your facility)?
  • Do guests feel like they belong at each transition point of the service/events?
  • Which brings us to our next point…

TWO: Create easy access points at every transition.

There are multiple transitions taking place for your guests through the entire experience. For instance, the first transition is when a guest drives onto your property. The last transition is when the guest gets into their car and drives away.

Access points are easy ways for guests to connect (or be instructed) at each transition.

Here is an outline for a service “storyline” for creating access points at the major transitions for guests:

  • ENTRANCE TO PARKING:
    • Clear parking maps on your website
    • Clear signage for parking at your facility
    • Clear First Time Guest parking signage
    • Volunteers directing First Time Guests
  • ENTRANCE TO BUILDING:
    • Are guests easily and warmly welcomed?
  • INSIDE BUILDING:
    • Is signage clear about kids environments, worship center, restrooms, etc?
    • Is there a central Guest Services that is easily accessible and stationed with volunteers?
    • Are there guest information stations spread throughout your facility stationed with volunteers to catch guests at different access/transition points?
  • ENTRANCE TO WORSHIP CENTER:
    • Are there volunteers stationed to pass out worship guides and welcome people into the worship center?
    • Are worship guides clear with information needed for guests?
  • DURING WORSHIP:
    • Are guests clearly welcomed from stage?
    • Are guests given clear directions about what to do when the service dismisses?
  • LEAVING WORSHIP CENTER:
    • Are guests warmly connected with when they leave the worship center?
  • LEAVING BUILDING:
    • Are guests warmly connected with as they leave the building?
  • LEAVING PARKING:
    • Is parking flow smooth and easily navigated by guests?

THREE: Strike a balance for both extroverts and introverts.

It is important to strike a balance here. I have seen environments that favor one personality over another, which most of the time leads in favor of extroverts. If environments are easily stationed with clear access points, but not overwhelming, then I have seen it play in favor of both introverts and extroverts.

The goal is to make guests feel like they belong at each transition.

On the other hand, if environments are unclear on transitions and have terrible access points for guests, then most of the time people with softer personalities fade into the background most of the time never to return again.

Your access points at each transition should be clear, accessible, and warm, while also refraining from being too overwhelming for guests and families. This is not summer camp. The goal is not incredible amounts of energy.

The goal is to make guests feel like they belong at each transition, and ultimately for their entire experience.

FOUR: Have a “Guest Central” that is easily accessible for guests.

The goal for First Time Guests (FTGs) is for them to come back, and if you provide an easy on ramp, then there’s more of a chance for this to take place. It is important to have a Guest Central, or First Time Guest Station, that guests can easily access to get any and all information they might need, and have any questions answered they might ask.

What is more, it is a good idea to think through a gift you might give to FTGs. And provide clear communication for further contact and how that contact will cascade.

FIVE: Always walk, never point.

As a clear principle, guests should never be allowed to be sent off by themselves into Narnia. And a new environment surrounded by a lot of people might as well be Narnia for most. A clear rule of thumb for everyone on your First Impressions Team should be to always walk, never point. 

How frustrating is it when you’re at Lowe’s or Home Depot and you can’t seem to find what you’re looking for (which is every single time you visit, if you’re like me), and when you finally find an employee who is approachable enough to ask what isle your item is on, they point into Narnia and give you some sort of vague instructions like, “It’s on isle 27 by the nails.” Thanks for nothing, bro.

SIX: Clear communication after their first experience also matters.

After guests experience their first service or event with you, what’s next? Does it end there? Absolutely it does not end there. It is important to have a series of cascading communication to your FTGs. Within 1-3 days following their experience, guests should receive multiple touches. Here are a few examples:

  • A hand-written letter from the pastor or elders
  • An email requesting feedback about their experience
  • If budget allows, a small gift such as a Starbucks gift card
  • A phone call from an elder or leader in the church
  • A 1-month celebration letter
  • Information about the “on-ramps” for your church
  • Etc.

SEVEN: Final impressions also matter.

As mentioned above, the entire “storyline” matters. If you are going to be serious about first impressions, you must also be serious about your final impressions. A ton of churches put a lot of effort into the front door, but the back door remains wide open. People can weave in and out of the church with little to no accountability.

In my experience, it is good to have a final impressions team as well.

You’re final impressions team is your team that oversees people leaving your church or organization.

This team should not be your elders. The final impressions team is made up of volunteers as well. They help people leave well, and leave rightly. They also do the hard-work of receiving feedback as people and families leave. It’s easy to open the door and let people leave when they’re ready without tension or conflict, but if we care about first impressions, how much more should we care about final impressions?

Although the experience begins when guests pull into your parking lot, it doesn’t end if (or when) they leave your church for another church, a job in a another city, to move closer to family, etc.

How people arrive matters. How people leave also matters. Let us be serious about both, and create great first impressions, while also striving to create great lasting impressions. In both, let us work hard to let God be glorified.

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