There have been many books written about how to prepare your facilities, ministries, and people for the arrival of Sunday guests. In response to the question, "How will we treat them when they come through our doors," most consultants will agree that there are four initial zones you must care for:
1. The Property
The first impression your church will leave on a guest usually starts before the first hand can be shaken. It’s the view, the drive onto the property, the walk toward the appropriate door. What is that like for a newbie on your church campus?
Sadly, many churches think the Sunday experience starts with the first worship song, but in truth, most of your guests have already decided a lot of how they feel about you and your church before they ever enter the auditorium. What did they see as they pulled in? Were the bushes trimmed nicely and the church property seemingly free of trash? You see, they may have already formed an impression if you’ve not cared for such things. A well-groomed landscape says these people care about this place. Signs that tell the new person where to park seem to say they knew I was coming. Parking lot greeters have a way of saying, Everyone here wants to be friendly.
2. The Front Door
When they arrive at the door, who do they find there? Is it one of the friendliest people in the church? If not, why not? We’ve all likely experienced the gruff or the socially awkward folks at some churches’ front doors. Maybe that person has been the door greeter for years and become a little careless in how he does his ministry. Maybe no one else will help except the lady whose organization skills run everything else, but if she’s too busy to focus on welcoming guests, well… I visited one church where the front door was manned by a “bulletin-passer-outer.” She had a job to do and wasn’t about to let any amount of conversation deter her from putting a bulletin in every hand.
C’mon! There’s no face as important as the first face someone meets at your church. That face should be smiling, and convey warmth and genuine enthusiasm at the arrival of potential new friends. Never forget that the first reason people give for visiting a new church is that they’re looking for friends. If the first face says that isn’t likely, a person will expect more of the same from the other faces.
3. The Church Entry & Main Hallway
Whatever the distance between your front door and the door of your auditorium, that space should be warm and inviting. Too many churches clutter their entry areas with bulletin boards that project all the activities of the church. Sometimes there are large displays of missionaries supported or photo collages of people I don’t know doing things I may never have done. There is absolutely a place for such displays, BUT IT’S NOT THE FRONT ENTRANCE!
Most of us know what we mean by “refrigerator art.” Our children color pictures for us or earn award certificates that we are excited to display in our homes. But we put such treasures in the kitchen, on the refrigerator, not in the front entry of our homes. That space is saved for our best decorative pieces so we can make the entrance of our homes attractive to those who enter. Use that same thinking at church. Fill your entry areas with warmth. Think about the kind of things someone would enjoy as they enter. And move your displays further inside.
4. The Restrooms
Finally, you must consider the condition of your main entrance restrooms. It’s comical but true–the restroom is one place every first time guest will visit. Why? Because it’s the one room where they know what to do. Many first-time guests, especially unchurched people, will visit your restroom even when they don’t need to because it offers a place to hide from the anxiety they might be feeling.
So what do those rooms look like? Remember, your members may be willing to look past peeling wallpaper or cracked caulking, but guests don’t know what not to see. We all know what we think when we enter a dirty gas station restroom, don’t we? But when a church restroom isn’t cared for, people question the quality of those they are worshipping alongside. A pleasant and attractive restroom can go a long way toward making someone feel at home in your church.
Of course, there are many other facility elements that are critical to creating a comfortable and appealing atmosphere for your church guests, but these four zones are experienced by every guest and usually in the first few minutes of their visit to your church. Never forget that the first impression people have of you and your facility will stick and be hard to rewrite, so make it a good one!
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