When it comes to church, what’s more important?
- Bathroom cleanliness or worship leaders?
- Landscaping or children's ministries?
- Parking lots or sermons?
- Coffee or the pastor?
The answers to all these questions is:
Duh! Obviously, our pastor is more important than the coffee and the quality and relevance of the sermon is way more important than the parking lot. Why? Because discipleship is the point of the church.
Sure greeters, landscaping and bathrooms have their place but the real meat and potatoes of church work is discipleship. I mean come on, read your Bible right? Matthew 28, “Go and make disciples...”
But let’s stop and think about this from a different angle...
What’s more important? Impression or discipleship?
In other words, greeters, landscaping, parking, carpet, bathrooms and coffee are part of the impression a new person experiences when they attend your church for the first time. These are the elements of the experience that you and I don’t even notice because they’ve become background noise to us. But, when a new family shows up at your church, their first impressions of your church are formed entirely around these peripheral elements.
Think about it, you instinctively know this to be true.
Consider two different restaurant experiences:
Your friend recommended this restaurant to you. You follow her directions and just when you’re starting to wonder where the restaurant might be you see a well-placed sign by the road. You pull into the parking lot, it’s clean and newish looking and there is an open parking space a few feet from the building.
As you walk toward the entrance, someone opens the door for you and welcomes you warmly. Once inside the door, the hostess welcomes you with a smile and inquires whether this is your first visit. When you say yes, she gives you a 30 second tour with the sweep of her arms. “Here’s the bar area, there’s the dining room and the restrooms are over there. And, by the way, you’re going to love this experience!”
A waiter soon welcomes you and walks you to your table which is clean, organized and welcoming. As the waiter hands you the menu, you’re already convinced that you like this restaurant. Everything on the menu looks delicious.
Your friend recommended this restaurant to you. You follow her directions but when you get to the street the restaurant is on you drive back and forth three times before you finally see the tiny little sign for the restaurant. As you pull in, you can’t help but notice that it looks like the parking lot was last paved in 1983. You circle the restaurant twice before you realize that the only parking spot is actually in an adjacent lot.
After a long walk to the building, you try to open the door. Locked. You open the adjacent door and then wait confusedly. Is this the type of place where you seat yourself? There’s clearly a hostess station but I see no one.
After a few minutes, a frazzled hostess appears and complains that’s she’s not the usual hostess. The usual hostess didn’t show up tonight. She then walks you to a booth and apologizes that it has not yet been cleaned from the previous dining experience. You stand there awkwardly as a waiter removes napkins and cups and then wipes down the table.
You realize that you need to use the restroom. You wander the entire restaurant before you discover the restrooms tucked away down a hallway. As you enter the restroom you are greeted by a smell. It isn’t lovely. Let’s just say that.
Later, when you plop down in your booth and grab the menu you think to yourself, “I’m not sure my friend has great taste in restaurants!” As you scan the menu options, you’re skeptical that the food will be any good.
We’ve all had both of these experiences right? In scenario one, your first impressions of the restaurant convinces you that the food will be delicious. You become a fan in the first five minutes.
In the second scenario, your first impressions lead you to become skeptical that the food will be any good at all. You put up your guard in the first five minutes.
What’s the point? The point is that new people will make a determination about your church in the first five minutes of their experience. The first five minutes will determine whether they become fans or skeptics.
What happens in the first five minutes? Parking lots, landscaping, greeters, coffee, bathrooms and carpet.
You might say, “Impressions are nice, but still, discipleship is what it’s really all about.” Here’s my response: "You’ll never get the chance to do discipleship if you don’t make a good impression."
[tweetthis]You’ll never get the chance to do discipleship if you don’t make a good impression.[/tweetthis]
If you thought that was brilliant, I stole it wholesale from my senior pastor. #plagiarism
If you want to do great discipleship as a church, it’s important to make good impressions, so that guests feel comfortable engaging with your church and taking next steps of discipleship.
Let’s get practical. What do guests experience at your church? What’s your first impression like? Here’s the best way to find out: Secret shoppers. An outsider's perspective is critical as often we don't see the problems right in front of us because we are so used to them.
Invite people to visit your church and then tell you what they experienced. Ask people who have recently started attending what their experience was like on that first Sunday. Listen to what they tell you and make adjustments.
Also, it if is helpful, here are a few questions that will help you evaluate your level of hospitality:
- Was it easy to find a parking spot?
- Were you warmly greeted at the door?
- Was it easy to find what you were looking for?
- Did the children’s ministry environment seem safe, clean and welcoming?
- Did someone help you find a seat?
For a longer checklist, check out our previous post on how to grow your church.
Let’s wrap this up. First impressions matter more than we think. Guests will decide what they think about our churches in the first five minutes of their experience. Without great first impressions, we’ll never get the chance to do discipleship.
If you resonate with these ideas, we’d love to hear about it. What have you learned about the importance of first impressions at your church? Leave us a comment below.