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.
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:
- Building Directory
- Nursery, children, and youth rooms
- Information Center
#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!