The first impression is critical. Is my title clear and engaging? Is it easy to navigate the webpage? Are there *speling* errors or haphazard posts? While you’re here do you want to explore more, or just get in and get out?
Recently I read an article by Church Community Builder on assimilation. The article addresses the question: how do you introduce others to what your doing and how do they continue to engage with it? There are countless articles and books trying to promote systems of engagement to your church, i.e.: this, or this, or this and many more.
Some have of goofy parking attendants, free coffee tumblers, or a ‘coupon’ to a free Bible with purchase of a latte. (Maybe not the last one, but I wouldn’t be surprised.)
There is so much happening at the first impression. What are you doing to make the experience extraordinary? By this, I do not mean the Disneyland experience of lights and sounds and balloons; I ask, how do you make the experience of your church better than the ordinary life we see the other six days of the week?
Theres two two avenues that need to be addressed: the passive experience and the active experience. I’ve recently been visiting churches in our area to explore what it’s like to be a guest on another campus. I’ve gotten so accustomed to being a member of St. Matthews Church that everything is familiar. Thus, the church explorations.
I look at signage, I try to understand the welcome experience, I read printed material, I note how many trash cans there are; but most importantly, I ask two people, an ‘usher-looking-person and a regular-looking-person, “Where’s the restroom?” If there’s one thing that can define a newbie, it’s asking where the restrooms are.
So, let’s look at this experience as a whole. Even if all the passive elements were stellar (clear signage, clean facility, unlocked doors, etc.) this active moment of first impression will make or break my experience at the church. The responses I’ve received have blown me away. Official ushers – name badges and all – have simply stared over my shoulder while pointing at an unseen door, directing me like the folks at an airport. People have told me the general “that way” or “over there”. All of the responses have left me longing for more. More engagement, more hospitality, more understanding of the value of this question. The extraordinary response would be, “Good morning, my name is Brian. They’re right over here, I’ll show you. What’s your name?”
We’ve taken a moment where you just needed to pee, into an opportunity for me to show you that I’m thankful you were there and I care about you and your experience here. This is critical! Often we hear that we want to be a church that cares about people. That must always be communicated within the framework of “we care about you, therefore we care about your experience here.” Sadly, the second part of that is too often undervalued.
We get used the the experience and stop evaluating it. We use insider knowledge of terms (“the adult education class is upstairs in the library“, said in a building that seemingly only has one floor), we offer coffee after service without invitation or expectation (it’s just out on a table with nobody to welcome or invite you to break bread….you are just expected to follow to stream of people), or we offer a fantastic experience with no forum for follow-up and a continued relationship (people leave hoping for more, but are never found).
When we zoom out of this first impression, the weight of the moment is staggering. The continuation of the mission of the church is dependent on getting more and more people involved and invested. Does the first impression of your church communicate the value you see in people? The first impression does not stop with just first time guests; are you continuing to communicate to members, attendees, friends, and guests that we care about you, therefore we care about your experience here.
The assimilation process begins with a person’s first visit to the church (for any reason) and ends when that person becomes connected to and engaged with the people, ministries, and programs that drive the mission. – Church Community Builder: “The Assimilation Engine“