FIVE SIGNIFICANT FACTS ABOUT FIRST-TIME VISITORS

From Rick Ezell via Sermon Central comes this vital information ….

You may be the most skilled preacher and your church may have excellent small groups or the best children’s ministry in the city, but your first-time guests will never know unless they make a second or third visit.

Healthy and growing churches pay close attention to the people they count as members, as well as those people who are not yet a part of the flock. These churches know that new people are the lifeblood of a growing church. Like a spigot, they want to keep the valve open for the flow of new people, and most importantly, they want to ensure that nothing impairs or cuts off the flow of new people to the church.

With that in mind, pastors need to be aware of five significant facts about first-time guests looking for a church home.

1. Visitors make up their minds regarding a new church in the first ten minutes of their visit.

Often, before a first-time guest has sung an inspiring song or watched a compelling drama or viewed a well-produced video vignette or heard a well-crafted sermon, they have made up their mind whether or not to return. In fact, if you ask most church leaders, far more time and energy are spent on the plan and execution of the worship service, with only minimal time spent on preparing for the greeting and welcoming of the first-time guest, which is equally if not more important. Most pastors would rather not hear this: The church’s ability to connect with first-time guests is not dependent on you, but on those first lines of people who represent your church.

  • Are parking attendants in place?
  • Is there appropriate signage?
  • Are your ushers and greeters performing the “right” job?
  • Is the environment you take for granted user-friendly and accepting to guests?

2. Most church members aren’t friendly.

Churches claim to be friendly. In fact, many churches put that expression in their logo or tag line. But my experience in visiting churches as a first-time guest proves otherwise. The truth is that most church members are friendly to the people they already know, but not to guests.

  • Observe to see if your members greet guests with the same intensity and concern before and after the worship service as they do during a formal time of greeting in the worship service. A lack of friendliness before and after the service sends a mixed, if not hypocritical, message to new people.
  • The six most important minutes of a church service, in a visitor’s eyes, are the three minutes before the service and the three minutes after the service, when church members introduce themselves, seeking genuinely to get to know the visitors (not just obtain personal information like the market research data collectors at the mall), offer to answer any questions, introduce them to others who may have a connection (perhaps they live in the same neighborhood, are from the same hometown or state, or their children attend the same school), or any number of ways to demonstrate to the visitors that they as a church member care.
  • A church would be wise to discover their most gregarious and welcoming members and deploy them as unofficial greeters before and after each service, in addition to designated parking-lot greeters, door greeters, ushers, and informational booth personnel.
  • Don’t make promises the church can’t keep. My wife attended a church recently that calls itself “The Friendly _______ Baptist Church,” but no one spoke to her before the service and when she sought information from the guest information booth she was treated by the attendant as a bother. Mixed messages and unfulfilled promises do great harm in a church’s effectiveness in welcoming new people.

3. Church guests are highly consumer-oriented.

“If Target doesn’t have what I need, I just head to K-Mart.” “If the Delta airfare is too high, American might have a sale.” Capitalism has taught us that if we don’t find what we want, someone else down the street or at another web site will have it. If your church building is too hard for newcomers to navigate, if they have to park in the “back 40,” if your people are unaccepting and unfriendly, another church down the street may have what they’re looking for. Or worse yet, they may decide getting into a church is not worth the effort and give up their search altogether.

  • Pastors and church leaders need to look at their churches through the eyes of a first-time guest. Rick Warren says that the longer a pastor has been a pastor, the less he thinks like a non-pastor. That same thought would apply to thinking like a guest.
  • The use of objective, yet trained, anonymous guests to give an honest appraisal is very important. Many retail outlets utilize the service of one or more “mystery guests” to provide helpful analysis of welcoming and responding to the consumer. Churches would be well served to utilize a similar service.

4. The church is in the hospitality business.

Though our ultimate purpose is spiritual, one of our first steps in the Kingdom business is attention to hospitality. Imagine the service that would be given to you in a first-class hotel or a five-star restaurant. Should the church offer anything less to those who have made the great effort to be our guests?

  • Hospitality is almost a forgotten virtue in our society. When was the last time someone invited you to their home for a meal? But it needs to be reawakened.
  • Church members can extend hospitality to guests by offering to sit with them during the church service, giving them a tour of the church facilities, inviting them to lunch after service, or connecting with them later in the week.

5.  You only have one chance to make a good first impression.

More than a truism, first impressions are lasting ones. Little hope of correcting a bad first impression is possible. Your first-time guests have some simple desires and basic needs. They decide very quickly if you can meet those criteria. The decision to return for a second visit is often made before guests reach your front door.

  • Are you creating the entire experience, beginning with your parking lot?
  • Are you consciously working to remove barriers that make it difficult for guests to find their way around and to feel at home with your people?
  • Do newcomers have all the information they need without having to ask any embarrassing questions?
  • Are your greeters and ushers on the job, attending to details and anticipating needs before they are expressed?
  • Does anything about your guests’ first experience make them say, “Wow!” and want to return?

You may be the most skilled preacher and your church may have excellent small groups or the best children’s ministry in the city. Your first-time guests will never know unless they make a second or third visit. Will they come back? It all depends on the impression you’re making. Make it the right one the first time.

Copyright 2006, Rick Ezell.

Rick Ezell

Rick Ezell

Rick Ezell is the pastor at First Baptist Church in Greer, South Carolina. Rick is a consultant, conference leader, communicator, and coach. He is the author of six books, including Strengthening the Pastor’s Soul.

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HOW DO WE DEFINE WORSHIP?

From Dan Kimball comes this thoughtful blog posting on how we define important things, particularly as it applies to worship.

Should the church accountant be the one called the “worship pastor”?

Accountant The title of this blog post and question that I ask is not one I am totally serious about – and not really suggesting we actually do call the accountant the worship pastor. But I do have the question of how we have overwhelmingly defined “worship” to primarily be music and singing.

I have become very aware of the power of words—and the power of defining words. In the Christian culture we have created I don’t believe we can ever assume anymore when we say the terms “gospel”, “Jesus”, “salvation”, “inspired”,  “evangelical”, “evangelism”, “missional” etc. we all mean the same thing. I have learned (and sometimes the hard way) that you need to be asking definitions of terms with specific meaning to understand how someone else uses a term that may differ from your definition.

One of these terms is “worship”.

If you were to ask most teenagers and young adults what comes to their minds when they hear the word “worship” it will likely be singing. I understand why they do, as we have pretty much defined worship to them over the past 20 years or more as worship = singing. Now it is totally true that we worship as we sing. But that is only one aspect of worship. We have subtly taught (in my opinion) a reductionist view of worship limiting it primarily to music and singing as what defines the word and practice.

I try to pay attention to reasons why we define worship mainly as music these days. And it is not too difficult to discover. What do we call the person in a church who leads the band or singing? It is normally the “worship pastor” or “worship leader”. When our music leaders say, “Let’s now worship,” that is when the singing begins. When a sermon begins or when the offering is received we often don’t say “”Let’s now worship” like we do when the singing starts. When we think of Sunday gatherings of the church and when does worship happen, we generally think of the singing – not the teaching or the sacrifice of people who are worshiping by volunteering time in the children’s ministry or other things happening. You look the Christian albums and as we call them “Best of Worship” or “Worship Greatest Hits”  that reinforce the idea that music is the primary—or even only—form of worship. I just read on a Facebook post how a group was bringing in a guest person to “lead worship” and of course this guest person was a musician.We constantly, constantly reinforce by how we use that word casually all the time that it primarily means music and singing.

I recently attended a college-age gathering, and after the time of musical worship ended (I personally try to always say “musical worship” ), the person up front who announced that the offering would be taken referred to it as a time of sacrifice as we give our finances as an act of worship. The word sacrifice really stood out to me as being defined with worship.

I also fully am aware that there are times when “worship” occurred without any actual physical sacrifice. but when you study the whole of the Bible, you will see that worship so often involved the sacrifice of something. Romans 12:1-2, after the first 11 chapters teach on the act of Jesus and His sacrifice for us, tells us to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices.” This kind of sacrifice includes all areas of our lives, and it is costly. We choose to refrain from something we may otherwise want to but is could be sin, so we sacrifice aligning ourselves our ways to God’s ways. The Old Testament was filled with times of coming to worship and sacrificing something. Generally something that was costly with animals or grains – as it showed that worship was a sacrifice of something worth something to the worshiper, but offers it back to God who owns everything anyway. You read in 2 Samuel 24:24 “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.”

What is intriguing is that as we primarily define worship as singing, in terms of sacrifice – singing doesn’t cost us too much. We mentally and emotionally bring ascent to our thoughts as we sing and focus on God. But we aren’t really sacrificing something. Are we? Maybe I am wrong and would love to hear other thoughts. But it is pretty easy to come into a room and sit and then “worship” by singing (which is worship). I am super glad in our church we have worship times of singing. So I am not saying at all that I don’t thoroughly believe we worship in major ways as we sing. But what I am saying is that worship through singing doesn’t involve much sacrifice or cost us. It is probably one of the least sacrificial ways we do worship. Worship it is of course when we sing. But I can’t say it is too much sacrificial worship.

As you look at sacrificial worship, in today’s world what are the two most sacrificial things that do cost us something as we worship? It seems to be our time and most of all, our finances.

At the college-age gathering I attended, I watched the bags being passed around for the offering, and maybe one out of every 20 people put anything at all in the offering bags. I fully understand that people give online, and people may give bi-weekly or monthly, so this isn’t an accurate representation of how much actually was given that morning. Still, this interesting to watch response to the request for financial sacrifice served to illustrate how easy it is for us to worship God when all that is required is singing a few songs, and how difficult it is for us to worship God by giving financially or giving up some of our precious time.

Church accountant In  hyperbole way, I have been thinking about why we use the title of “worship pastor” or “worship leader” to designate the person who leads an area of worship that doesn’t cost us to much to participate in with our singing songs. So why don’t we switch the title to the person who does lead or oversee the area that people generally sacrifice the most – is finances – so shouldn’t the title of “worship pastor” or “worship leader” be the person who oversees the finances of the church?  Usually the church accountant. Isn’t that person the one who truly oversees the most sacrificial worship of the people of the church, not the person who leads the music when people sing?

Now in our church, we don’t do this. Our bookkeeper is called the bookkeeper. It would be confusing calling the accountant the “worship leader”. We actually try not to use too many titles for people and on our bulletin we don’t even distinguish between paid staff and key volunteer leaders in our church leading major areas of ministry.

But I am curious about whether anyone also has thought of this? Whether we unintentionally have reduced the power and true meaning of the word worship by generally assigning the title to the person who leads the music? Have we incorrectly and unintentionally taught youth, young adults to think of worship primarily as singing by how we title roles and use the term? Try listening in your church gatherings to how the word is used during the gathering. I know in our church we try our best to always say what aspect of worship we are doing. “Let’s now worship God as we sing” “We are now receiving our sacrificial worship of giving finances” etc.  Even on our actual offering envelope it says “Sacrificial Worship” instead of just giving or offering. Try paying attention to how you generally see the word “worship” used in the Christian world in general. It is fascinating. Words matter. Definitions matter.