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How to make a bad first impression in seven easy steps

Let’s face it, it’s not easy being a first-time guest at a church. Visiting a new church can be really awkward. Where do we go in? Where is the check-in area for the kids? Will people be friendly? I’ve visited a few leading churches in the nation and I’ve always felt a little nervous on the first visit. Below is a list of a few common problems to look out for in your church. This is far from a complete list. However, avoiding these issues is sure to help your guests have a better experience. 

Step 1: No clearly designated parking for visitors.

Does your church have awesome parking for visitors? Is it clear where that parking is? A small sign posted over the parking space is not sufficient. A visitor needs to be directed to awesome parking as soon as they arrive on campus. You can do this by posting larger signs at the church entrances, pointing the way to parking. If you have people in the parking lot directing traffic (another good idea) train them to direct visitors to the best-reserved parking.  Many churches are more concerned about saving the best for themselves instead of for visitors. If that’s the case, it may be time for a Jesus-led reality check.

Step 2: No clear entrance or welcome signage.

Now that the car is parked, where do we go? Your church must have a clearly marked place for people to enter. I’ve seen failures in this area at some of the best churches in the US. The church facilities can be so big that it is not really clear where to go. Even smaller churches (that have been added onto multiple times) can be very unclear. Don’t assume the entrance is clear at church. Ask someone who has never seen your facilities to take a look. You might be surprised by the answer.  

Step 3: No greeters.

A greeter’s job begins outside the building. They can also help with the above issue (no clear entrance). I was recently greeted in the parking lot at a church in Florida. The greeter warmly welcomed me, walked me into the building, and connected me with someone to help check our kids into the children’s ministry. It was awesome. Greeters like this should be the rule, not the exception. (By the way, providing regular training for greeters is another great idea.) A greeter must be warm, friendly, and engaging every time. 

Step 4: Less than awesome children’s ministry.

In this day and age if you want to have young families in your church an awesome children’s ministry is the way to go. The space needs to be clean, fresh, and inviting. Place a high priority on having awesome staff and volunteers in this area. The expectation of young families is extremely high in this area. Funds spent on renovating and maintaining an awesome children’s ministry are critical. If you don’t make this a priority, you can forget about consistently reaching young families. 

Step 5: Use insider language.

Each church is unique. Churches often have traditions, special projects, and ministries that generate special language. While this language is easy for long-time members to get, it leaves visitors in the dark. We must avoid church jargon. Make language clear and simple. A growing church should anticipate having non-churched people on campus. Use terms like “young adult class” and “men’s group.” Avoid terms like “Sunday school,” “Sunday morning bible fellowship” or “Nehemiah’s builders.” That may be clear to you and me, but what does it say to an unchurched visitor? An unchurched person has no idea.

Step 6: The stop and stare greeting time.

Be careful with your use of a greeting time. Some research suggests that visitors really don’t like greeting times (it is awkward for them). If you choose to have a greeting time be sure to train your people to warmly connect with visitors. I’ve heard horror stories of long-time church members walking past a visitor in silence to greet someone else they know. If I were looking for a church and that was the standard procedure, I’d look elsewhere… 

Step 7: A chill in the air.

I’m not talking about room temperature. I’m referring to anything that works against a warm and inviting atmosphere. Have you ever walking into a church that felt cold and uninviting? That has to change. Christian people should be the most joyful, loving, and optimistic people on the planet. Why in the world should there be a sterile and cool tension in the air? Something is wrong if this is the case. Mature Christian people are a joy to be around. Selfish saints will suck the life out of the atmosphere. 

Dace Clifton

Dace is a pastor in central Texas. He is married to his wife Jacque and has two children. Dace holds a Ph.D. in preaching and pastoral ministry. He also serves as an adjunct professor at Arlington Baptist University. Dace is a family man who loves adventure, travel, hunting, and anything related to the mountains.