Make sure your church is guest ready.
Picture this scene: On Tuesday, you were invited over to someone’s home for Saturday night dinner. As you walk up the front steps Saturday evening, you can see inside the front window and there are toys EVERYWHERE. When they answer the door they excitedly invite you in, but you have to step over three coats, a book bag, and eleven pair of shoes to get in the house.
The further you get in, the more you see that the entire home is cluttered and there is no place to even sit at their table—it’s covered in old mail. To make matters worse, you came hungry and they ask “So what do you want for dinner?” You find out they have nothing prepared, and no real plan or idea of what they could possibly make. Ten minutes into your visit, are you excited about the next couple of hours, or are you dreading what comes next? Sick kids? Shedding dogs? Mold growing on the sink in the bathroom? Not exactly the hospitality you were expecting!
For many guests, the experience inside a church may not be much different. Christmas trees tucked in the coat room, mold and water stains on ceiling tiles, drab paint, an unpleasant odor coming from the kids' area… all things you’ve grown accustomed to over the years and don’t even notice, but to a guest, they’re all signs that your church might not be thinking about them when planning throughout the week.
So what are some areas your church needs to consider when developing a great guest experience?
Are bushes overgrown? Dandelions in the grass? Does your sign work?
Are there weeds in the cracks? Are the stripes visible? Is your dumpster enclosed or sitting out for everyone to see?
Is there one entrance that is better for guests than another?
How does the lobby look? When was it last painted? What does it smell like? Bleach? Flowers? Mildew?
Are they clean (like super clean)? Do they smell like bleach or something inviting? Are the soap and hand towel dispensers full? Do all the doors open and close and do all the toilets operate properly?
Is it “kid proof?” Does it look clean? Are craft and snack items neatly put away before and after use? Are there water stains on the ceiling? How’s security in this area? Can someone get to kids areas without a volunteer/staff member knowing?
Is it easy to find or tucked in a place only regulars know to look?
Coffee and Snacks
Easy to find? Clean? Well stocked with all the napkins, stirrers and sugar people will need?
Are bathrooms clearly marked? The kids ministry? The auditorium? Do you use words that unchurched people will understand (“The underground” sounds like a basement, not the youth wing.)
Is the floor clean? Are there left over bulletins from last week still stuck in seat pockets? Are there pens and connect cards for people to give you their information? Is the stage clean? Are unneeded instruments/cables/speakers all put away and out of sight?
That’s a long list, and it certainly doesn’t cover everything. So how do you avoid having an environment that makes people cringe from the moment they drive onto your campus?
The best way to avoid a negative guest experience is to have someone new to your church experience it on your behalf, and report back to you.
This can mean a neighbor, co-worker, relative, or professional secret shopper. They will see things you have grown accustomed to and will point out what you can’t see.
If your evaluator is a Christian, ask them to pray first, and make a list of what they do and don’t experience. You may even want to make a list of every area in your building and ask them to evaluate them all.
If your evaluator isn’t a Christian (and this can be just fine) don’t give them a list, just let them experience it on their own and report back to you. Biasing a lost person to what you think is important won’t get you the kind of honest feedback you really want. Their unscripted first impressions are the kind that helps you make a truly guest friendly environment.
After you get your thorough check up, start looking for things you can quickly and easily change. Weeds in the parking lot are an easy fix, and so is painting the lobby with a fresh coat of paint (even if it’s with the same color you don’t like—at least it will look nice!) Replacing ceiling tiles is easy, and using oil diffusers to change the scent of a room doesn’t take much effort. Find a few things you can fix this week and move on to bigger changes over the coming weeks and months.
As you really develop your Guest Ministry, remember to consider the environment you’re asking people to enter. What may seem insignificant to you can be a sign to a new guest of how committed you are to the little things in life, and that honors God.