Health and Growth

7 Ways Your Church Makes Bad First Impressions (and How to Fix Them)

To help you think through the experience first-time guests will have with your church, you have to take a step back and consider their entire experience from beginning to end. Here are seven ways your church can make a bad first impression.

7 Ways Your Church Makes Bad First Impressions (and How to Fix Them)
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The first impression your church makes with a new visitor is essential to whether or not they return for another visit. And as a church, you don’t have that much time to influence their decision.

According to Greg Atkinson, founder of First Impressions Conference and author of Secrets of a Secret Shopper, your church only has 10 minutes to make a good (or bad) first impression.

If you want new people in your community to become a part of your church, then you need to know what influences their experience with your church and if they will or will not return for another visit.

Now, before you think this is trivial and not worth your time. Think again. 

We’re not talking about taking out a huge loan so that you can renovate your building with the latest technology and comfortable surroundings. What we’re talking about is reaching your community with the gospel of Jesus Christ and making your guests feel welcomed. 

To help you think through the experience first-time guests will have with your church, you have to take a step back and consider their entire experience from beginning to end. Here are seven ways your church can make a bad first impression.

#1. Your church's website cannot be found or it’s dated

If you need to buy something, learn more about a new restaurant, or figure out what movie to watch, where do you start your search? If you’re like most people in the United States, you search online first

Now, if someone in your community is exploring a new church, where do you think they start their search? If you guessed online first, then you’d be right. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, nearly 60% of people who are 30 or younger will search online before visiting a church. 

As a church leader, here’s what you need to know about this new reality: Your church’s website is your new front door, and your church’s website is the first impression made on many of your potential visitors.

According to research conducted by Stanford, most people (75%) will make a judgment about the credibility of a business based upon their website design. What does this have to do with your church? Well, everything. 

I imagine people viewing your church’s website may have a little more grace when it comes to what they think about your church based on your website. But you must know that the opinion of many of your first-time guests will be informed by your website. We totally understand that it’s not fair for your church to be judged by the appearance of your website. But it happens, and you need to be prepared to connect with the people in your community with your church’s website.

To help you think through the impression your website is making on visitors, here are some questions you must ask:

  • Can people find my website on search engines like Google and Bing?
  • Does my website let visitors know where we're located, what time our services begin, and whether or not we provide childcare?
  • Is the information on my website up to date?
  • Does my website look dated?

There are many more questions you can ask that will help you to think through the effectiveness of your church’s website. But these four questions will at least get you thinking. 

Read SEO Basics: 7 Keys to Optimizing Your Church’s Website to help people find your church online. 

#2. Your social media presence is lacking

It's essential for your church to have a social media strategy. Most of the people in your community use social media in some shape, way, fashion, or form. Many people will discover your church through social media. But what will they see? 

Will they see recent updates or dated posts? 

Will they see that you love Jesus or a political candidate? 

Will they be able to find your church’s website or physical location? 

Will they see that you love people and that you’re serving your community?

Oftentimes, it’s hard to answer these types of questions objectively if you’re the one posting on social media. So, consider asking a friend or volunteer to give you honest feedback about your church’s social media presence. 

For many of you reading this post, we understand that it’s difficult to regularly update your social media accounts. If this is the challenge you face, and you have multiple social media accounts, then consider temporarily focusing your efforts on Facebook and temporarily deactivate your other social media accounts (assuming you have more than one). This way you can master one social media account instead of trying to keep up with many different social media platforms.

#3. Your parking lot is hard to find

First-time visitors have many hurdles to cross before making it into your church's front door. As a church leader, your goal is to minimize as many potential obstacles as you can to make it easy for someone to visit your church. One area you need to keep an eye on is your parking lot and parking lot attendants. 

If someone has worked up the nerve to visit your church, you don’t want to make it difficult for them to figure out where they should park. Make sure  your parking lot is well marked from the main road. And, if possible, save a few parking spots for guests. What is more, providing parking spots for expectant mothers, families with small children, and providing shelter from the weather will go a long way in creating a great first impression. 

Alright, now that you’ve successfully led someone to a parking spot, are your parking lot attendants ready to greet visitors with a smile? This is where the rubber really meets the road (pun intended).

Depending upon the location of your church’s building, the first person a visitor will see or meet at your church may be the volunteers serving in your parking lot. So it’s essential for this volunteer team to be well-trained, able to spot first-time guests, and make sure that newcomers are well-received. 

#4. Your signs are not visible or clear 

Here’s the thing you have to remember about first-time guests: They’re probably nervous or uncomfortable. It’s their first-time visiting your worship service, and they have no idea what to personally expect or where to go.

When a visitor is in this state of mind, they’re not taking their time to explore your facilities. They want to get to where they need to go as fast as possible. If your signs are not visible and clear, then you’re unintentionally exasperating your visitors nervous feelings, which isn’t a good thing.

Your church building is probably easy to get around. But for your visitors, it may feel like a maze.

 

Make sure your church’s signage is visible, and that it provides people with the directions they need.

Here are some important locations you need to mark in your building and on your property with signs:

  • Parking
  • Building Directory
  • Office
  • Nursery, children, and youth rooms
  • Restrooms
  • Information Center
  • Sanctuary

#5. Your greeters and ushers don’t greet or usher

Your greeters and ushers may be your most important visible volunteers during your worship service. Depending upon the set up of your church building and parking lot, your greeters and ushers may be the first personal contact your guests have with your church.

Are your greeters and ushers visibly present at every entrance? 

Can your greeters and ushers identify first-time guests? 

Do your greeters and ushers warmly welcome visitors? 

Will your greeters and ushers help your visitors find what they’re looking for?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, then your church is making a bad first impression. 

Your greeters and ushers don’t have to act overtly excited like this guy with first-time guests:

 

But your greeters and ushers will need to make your visitors feel welcomed, answer their questions, and provide directions if needed. 

#6. Your nursery and children’s area makes people uncomfortable

My wife and I have five children, and you best believe that we’re eyeing the nursery and children’s area of the churches we visit. Like everyone else with children, we want to know if the nursery and children’s areas are clean, safe, and staffed with volunteers

Parents and guardians want to know that their children are well taken care of during your church’s worship service. They are entrusting you with the most precious thing they have—their children. 

If your nursery or children’s areas doesn't make people feel comfortable, then don’t expect them to visit your church again. I understand this sounds harsh. But this is something essential you need to know. 

#7. Your seating is crowded

How difficult is it to find a seat in your sanctuary or meeting place? Will first-time guests be able to quickly find a seat? Do you have ushers positioned at your different entrances to escort guests to a seat? 

When it comes to your seating, visitors aren’t necessarily interested in plush leather seats or theater style chairs. Remember, your guests already feel uncomfortable. All they want to do is to find a place to sit as quickly as possible. 

To make it easy for your first-time guests find a seat, make sure your ushers are available before your worship service starts and at least 10-15 minutes after your service begins. 

Making a better first impression

If this post inspired you to make the best impression you can with your first-time guests, then you should check out the First Impressions Conference. In this 3-day online conference, you’ll learn everything your church needs to know to improve the experience of your first-time guests. 

What is the worst experience you had visiting a church for the first time? Share your experience in the comments below!

Why Write Church Donation Letters?

In a previous blog post, I shared the different ways your church can thank donors—from automated emails to year-end giving reports. Printed donation letters also play an essential role in your church’s stewardship efforts.

Donation letters are the Swiss Army knife of your church’s gratitude arsenal. It may not be the most powerful—but it’s versatile, handy, and gets used often.

Your basic church donation letter can serve many different purposes, including:

  • Acknowledging that you received a donation
  • Thanking the giver for being generous with their finances
  • Sharing other ways the person can support your church
  • Allowing the donor to write the gift off on their taxes
  • Encouraging supporters to make recurring donations
  • Requesting future donations from church members

A single, well-crafted donation letter can pull together several of these things simultaneously. Better donation letters lead to more giving, which leads to more donation letters—thus creating a cycle of on-going church generosity.

Church Donation Letter Samples

Here’s the good news—you don’t have to write an individualized letter for every person who gives to your church. That would be tough to do for even smaller churches. And most donors don’t expect you to. They’d rather you be putting their gift to better use in the community, instead of ceaselessly writing thank you notes.

With the possible exception of some unique circumstances, your church can use template language for the majority of your church donation letters. You’ll have to add in custom details like the donor’s name and gift amount, but you can write everything else in advance.  

To make this even easier on you, here are a few basic church donation letter templates you can copy and paste. Keep in mind that not all of these have to be in print—you could just as easily turn some of these samples into email appeals.

1. Donation Acknowledgment Letter

The Donation Acknowledgement Letter is a basic way you can confirm and affirm a monetary gift to your church. Sending these is standard practice in church and nonprofit culture.

Dear [first name],
I want to personally thank you for your donation of [gift amount] to [church name]. We’re honored you would bless us with your generosity. Donations like yours make a big difference in the work our church is doing in the community.
Without givers like you, our church can’t have an impact or influence in our community. With your support, we’re partnering with local nonprofits, sending out global mission trips, and hosting small groups on topics that help real people like you. Together, we can make a difference.
Because we’re a tax-exempt nonprofit, you also get to write this donation off on your taxes. This letter serves as official proof of your donation, so keep it in your records come tax season. At the end of the year, we’ll also send you an annual recap with how much you’ve given to the church.
Thank you for supporting [church name]!
Sincerely,
[your name]

2. Donation Request Letter

Not every church member realizes the importance of giving, or understand Bible verses about tithing and giving.  So a Donation Request Letter helps to spread that awareness and encourage a spirit of generosity.

Dear [first name],
How are the finances in your household? That was a rhetorical question, so you don’t have to answer—besides, this is a letter so we wouldn’t hear you anyway. But we still want you to think about that question.
Money is a uniquely human issue, one we all struggle with to one degree or another. Even if you’re financially blessed, you still have the burden of stewarding your money wisely. And we believe that one of the best ways to invest your money is into the local church.
Tithing (giving 10% of your income) on a regular basis not only supports the work we do at [church name]. It doesn’t just support local missions and community growth. It also shows an obedience to God by making his work a financial priority in your life.
So if you find yourself ready to put God first in both your heart and your wallet, we encourage you to make a one-time gift or sign up to make recurring donations. That way, you won’t have to ever wonder again about the financial status of your household.
Sincerely,
[your name]

3. Monthly Giving Letter

Many church donations aren’t just one-time gifts. Plenty of givers contribute monthly—and that should be acknowledged.

Use this template to correspond with recurring givers.  

Dear [first name],
Thank you for being an active and faithful member of our church community. By giving to our church on a monthly basis, you’re showing that our church has a meaningful place in your heart. We just wanted to write this to let you know that you’re in our heart, too.
Donating to the church monthly allows us to preach the gospel, make disciples, and support others in our community who need help. Others like the local food bank and the nearby homeless shelter. We’re answering the cry of the needy, and it’s all thanks to contributors like you.
We earnestly appreciate your ongoing support and want to let you know we’re here for you. If there’s ever anything we can do for you and your family, don’t hesitate to reach out. You are a valued member of our church family. And you’re financial support is making a difference.
Sincerely,
[your name]

4. Year-End Giving Letter

At the end of each year, it’s customary to give your church supporters a summary of their gifts. The primary reason is for tax purposes, but it’s also a way to recap everything your church has done over the past year with their support.

Dear [first name],
You’re getting this letter because you gave to [church name] at some point during the past year. That might have been a one-time gift, or recurring donations. Either way, we want to thank you for your generous support. Every contribution helps.
One of the official reasons for this letter is for tax purposes. That’s right—you get to write these donations off on your taxes. Which is why we’ve included a summary of all the contributions you’ve made to our church this year.
But the other reason for this letter is to let you know what we’ve done with the money you gave. We take stewardship very seriously, which means we value spending our time and resources wisely.
During the year, our church supported local nonprofits, sent global missions teams, and baptised quite a few people. It was a great year for us—thanks in large part to donors like you.
So thank you for your support of our church, and we hope you’ll consider continuing to contribute to our mission in the coming year.
Sincerely,
[your name]  

5. Church Fundraising Letter

Sometimes you need to make a more significant financial push using tried and true church fundraising ideas. Some churches call this a Stewardship Campaign or a Church Capital Campaign. Either way, the goal is to raise a certain amount of money for a big project. And typically, a solid letter of appeal is an integral part of that.

Dear [first name],
God has a plan for everyone and everything. That includes you, and it includes [church name]. None of us can fully know God’s plan—the best we can do is pray and listen for clarity. Our church leadership has been doing just that and are excited to announce our latest church project.
[Detail the outline of the major church project—this could include a building campaign, or raising support for a global mission trip. Anything specific to your church that requires a fundraising letter. Be sure to include a fundraising goal so everyone knows what you’re shooting for.]
But we can’t pull this off without your support. Whether you give to the church on a regular basis, or just attend on occasion, we’re asking you to consider contributing to this massive undertaking prayerfully. It’s something we need our entire church community’s help with.
Even if you can’t make a large gift, know that every little bit helps. It’s more about coming together as a community united behind a common cause. We hope that you’ll consider making a donation towards this great step forward that we’re making together.
Sincerely,
[your name]

Tips when writing church donation letters

It’s not enough to just copy and paste this content and send away. The key to an effective church donation letter is a touch of personalization. Follow these tips to take your donation letters to the next level:

  • Examples: Add specific examples of how your church will use the donation. Tell a story about the work your church is doing in the community and connect that with giving.
  • Personalization: For regular donors, don’t be afraid to add a short, handwritten personal note. This shows that you’ve singled them out with praise.
  • Timeliness: Sending donation letters quickly reminds people you’re thankful for them. But this also takes organization and efficiency. All the more reason to use pre-written templates.
  • Storytelling: Everything is better with stories—including donation letters. Weave in a specific narrative of how your church is making a difference and how the money will be used.

There’s no one right or wrong way to write a donation letter or request contributions. You’ve got to do what is right for your church and congregation. But if you stick to these general tips, you’ll probably start to see some traction when it comes to giving.

What’s next?

Most people don’t love talking about money in church. But it’s a necessary and vital part of your church. And maximizing your efforts when it comes to donation letters will help make those conversations more comfortable. So what do you do next to put this into effect?

  • Customize these letters: Take the samples above and make them work for your church. Personalize the content. Remove the stuff that doesn’t sound genuine and add in stuff that does. Remember that these are just a starting point.
  • Create some systems: Develop processes that make it easy for you to replicate sending donation letters. Use a letter template that allows you to drop in names and details. Then develop guidelines for when these letters will be sent out.
  • Empower a champion: Find out who is going to be responsible for making these letters happen. Rather than thinking of this as adding more work to their plate, think about how you can elevate their work. This could be a staff member, or a volunteer.
  • Start sending: All of this will be for nothing if you don’t actually send out the letters. Take the time to get it right and get them into the hands of your church donors.

And if you’re looking for ways to grow your church’s giving capacity, Tithely can help.

We provide several different ways your church members can support your church financially—from online giving, text to give solutions, and giving kiosks.

Tithely’s systems make it as easy as possible for people to give to your church. Now all you need to start doing is generating a culture of gratitude. There’s nothing standing in your way. Go unleash generosity in your church.

How does your church use donation letters to spread generosity? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Robert Carnes. Robert is a writer and storyteller. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. A former church communicator and nonprofit marketer, Robert works as a managing editor for Orange in Atlanta.

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7 Ways Your Church Makes Bad First Impressions (and How to Fix Them)