When it comes to attending something as social as a church, visitors can feel especially vulnerable, so I teach church planters that they, too, must reduce guest anxiety.
Disneyland pitches itself as the “The Happiest Place On Earth.” It has had 50 years of success by creating amazing guest experiences that have people returning time and time again.
As a church planter and church planting coach, I am a stickler for training my staff and core team about guest experiences in the church. Disneyland trains its staff to put the guest at ease. When it comes to attending something as social as a church, visitors can feel especially vulnerable, so I teach church planters that they, too, must reduce guest anxiety.
Here are five ways you can make a guest at your church feel welcome.
1. Clear Signage
From the moment a guest enters the church parking lot, they are forming an opinion, even if it’s subconsciously. Clear signage is one way you can begin to shape a positive opinion as soon as possible. Is there designated guest parking? Is the the building entrance clearly marked?
Inside the building you need clear signage directing visitors to restrooms, the worship center, children’s areas and other important rooms. Regardless of size, clear signage is a must for reducing guest anxiety.
2. Smiling and Joyous Personalities
A smiling face of any age to welcome guests and answer questions is another way a church can make a first-time guest feel at ease. I always caution my greeters to read the body language of guests. Don’t tackle them the minute they walk in, but a nice smile with eye contact will usually give permission to politely engage the guest.
3. Be Authentic.
Don’t try to be something you are not. Gen X and millennials are the most marketed-to generations ever and can sense “fake.” Don’t try to be all things to all people. If you’re hip, be hip; if you’re ultra conservative, be ultra conservative. Do not reject someone because they think, look or act differently than you, but don’t pretend. It is your faithful life to Christ that will attract people. “Be holy therefore because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).
Disney has different theme parks that appeal to different groups. I encourage my church planters to keep notes as they are planting their current church to use for the next church they plant. Maybe it will appeal to a different group. If you really want to engage first-time guests, have someone invite them. It’s more true today than ever before.
4. Start on Time.
Be punctual—don’t keep your guests waiting. Start with a focus on worship. Don’t waste time with announcements that are most likely irrelevant to visitors who haven’t even decided for certain if they will return. They don’t need to know everything that happened last week or will be happening in the next three months. Use the time before and after service to put announcements on the screen. After you have engaged the guests, you might mention relevant information, but put everything else on the screen, on your website or in a handout.
5. Follow up.
It is important that you track guest attendance. There are many affordable solutions available to assist with this task that makes intentional follow-up easier. However, guest engagement is the gold standard. A good strategy will lead to more guest engagement and ultimately more second and even third visits.
A church doesn’t need a Disney-sized budget to create an amazing guest experience. Ultimately, people want to know that someone cares. People are more connected than at any time in history but are simultaneously feeling more isolated than ever. Creating a welcoming guest experience will help them feel like they belong.