7 Keys to Turning First-Time Guests Into Regular Attenders
I don’t know of any church that doesn’t want first-time guests to come back. Yet most churches find it hard to get repeat visits from first-timers. Where’s the disconnect?
My friend, Jason, and I wrote a book called The Come Back Effect. In it, we talk about what it takes to create a next-level guest experience. But there are also some big-picture ideas that I believe could truly change the guest experience at your church, even if you never read the full book. (But please do, okay?)
If you began processing these thoughts with your first impressions teams, I truly believe you’d start seeing guests return again and again to your services.
1. DISCOMFORT HAPPENS IN THE TRANSITIONS.
It’s easy to put all of our attention on the big scenes of the church service. The coffee. The music. The message. The cleanliness of the bathrooms. (You are shooting for excellence on these, right?) But a lot of churches forget the transition periods between those places. It’s in the walk between the parking lot and the lobby, from the lobby doors to the kids' check-in, from the kids' check-in to the seat… That’s where the most discomfort often happens because that’s when people are most confused and vulnerable.
2. THE FEELING MATTERS AS MUCH AS THE FUNCTION.
It’s so easy to focus on a checklist of items each Sunday morning. Is the coffee brewing? Are there bulletins to hand out? Are the seats even?
Details definitely matter, but if those details are all you’re focusing on, you’re actually neglecting the guest. A smile, a warm welcome, a relaxed demeanor…Those actually matter just as much as perfect details. If you’re running around stressed, the guest experience is a bad one, even if all the little details are perfect.
Details definitely matter, but if those details are all you’re focusing on, you’re actually neglecting the guest.
3. PEOPLE ARE COMING INTO YOUR CHURCH WITH NEGATIVE FEELINGS.
Tying in with the last point, people are coming into your church feeling stressed, nervous, skeptical… There’s a lot of emotional baggage people bring into a new place. New places are scary.
Your opportunity is to understand those negative emotions people are experiencing and to do things that will replace those emotions with positive ones. When you know people are stressed, you can be relaxed. When you know people are confused, you can make sure information is clear.
4. THE CHANCE TO CREATE A GREAT GUEST EXPERIENCE HAPPENS BEYOND POLICIES.
A lot of churches rope off seating areas to try to fit more people into the service or make it feel more full. The rope is a policy. But if a single mother comes in with her baby in her arms, she doesn’t care about the policy. She’s looking for an aisle seat in a back row where she can make a quick escape if her baby starts crying.
Your chance to create a great, welcoming experience is to bend the rules for her. She won’t be impressed if you fill every single seat in the front row; she’ll be impressed when you understand what she’s feeling and gladly give her an aisle seat.
5. KNOWING YOUR GUEST BETTER MAKES THEM FEEL LIKE
YOU WERE EXPECTING THEM.
I remember when Twitter was first coming out, I was determined to show that our church was cool. I posted everywhere that we were on Twitter and that you could connect with us there. Only…the type of people who came to our church would never use Twitter.
I realized there was a disconnect between my preferences and mentalities and those of my church community. All of my decisions were my own preferences, and they made our guests feel like outsiders.
Once I began to change even simple things to reflect the people who were actually coming to our church, they began feeling more welcomed.
All of my decisions were my own preferences, and they made our guests feel like outsiders.
6. IF YOU WANT TO KEEP THE GUEST FROM FEELING INCONVENIENCED, YOU'LL HAVE TO INCONVENIENCE YOURSELF.
When you invite someone over to your house, you don’t ask them to cook or serve the food. You don’t give them the uncomfortable chair while you sit on the luxurious couch. You go out of your way to care for them, and that communicates that they’re valued. That communicates that their comfort is more important than your own.
Be willing to inconvenience yourself… To make things easier for them even if it means your systems and processes have to be more complicated organizationally.
7. IF YOU PRIORITIZE YOUR GUESTS OVER YOUR VOLUNTEERS, YOUR VOLUNTEERS WON’T PRIORITIZE YOUR GUESTS.
Some churches are so focused on first-time guests that they use volunteers more like pawns than people. The best snacks go to the guests while the volunteers get the cheaper stuff. The rooms where the guests interact are well-decorated while the volunteer spaces are dark caves.
Your volunteers will extend the same care to your guests that you extend to them. So focus on excellence for your volunteers. Show genuine care to them and you’ll see that trickle all the way down.
These are just a few of the big ideas from The Come Back Effect. But they’re a great place to start. A great guest experience doesn’t happen by default; you have to be intentional about it. It takes a strategy.
Has your church tried any of these big ideas when it comes to the guest experience? What’s your experience? What would you add to this list?