Destination mapped – check. Undercover mode – check. Notepad in hand – check. Mission Impossible theme running through head – check.
Secret shopping mode activated.
Okay, okay … maybe it’s not quite that dramatic. But there is something really exciting about going on a “secret shopping mission” as a first-time guest for our church clients. This fall several of our Fishhook team members have gone undercover to visit our clients as first-time guests on a Sunday morning. Our job is to walk in the shoes of a first-time guest, to absorb the good and bad of that experience, and report back to the client.
So what do we often see and learn? Here’s a Top Ten list (of sorts) that the Fishhook team recently put together:
10 – Parking lots matter - A first timer will judge your church just based on the experience in the parking lot. Just recently, a lack of signage and a gravel parking lot had me doubting whether I wanted to head into the church I was supposed to be visiting. (Later I was really glad I went in!)
9 – More than just refreshments - Donuts or bagels and a hot drink: don’t underestimate their power! They’re welcoming and give the guest something to do. And if you can take these items into the
8 – What next? - Tell guests what “next step” you’d like them to take (fill out this card, visit the Guest Services area, etc.) in several places (on worship screens, in the bulletin, as people are greeting them). Never make them guess.
7 – Talk to me! - One warm smile and genuine conversation can make all the difference.
6 – All in the family - Help children/teens who are first-time guests feel welcome and included, and you’ll score huge points with the entire family!
5 – Newcomers want to blend in - Never, for any reason, ask first-time guests to raise their hands or come forward in the worship service to receive a gift or information. Awkward!
4 – First impressions - Equip your front-line welcoming teams to genuinely connect with guests. Make it more about warmly greeting the guest than giving them 20 brochures about all the ministries in your church. If guests do have questions, make sure these folks are well trained to share about the church and its ministries.
3 – Guests start online - A majority of guests are going to visit your website first. Newcomer or "what to expect" information needs to be easy to find and clear. And it's more than just knowing an address and service times. People want to know where to what to wear, where to park, what kind of worship they'll encounter, what is available for their kids, etc.
2 – Live up - If your website says you’re friendly, your leaders and congregation must live this out.
1 – Try being new yourself - If you are a church leader or play any part in communicating and interacting with guests at your church, make plans now to visit another church (where you know no one!) very soon. It’s great to be reminded of what it’s like to be a first-time guest. You’ll learn something new … I promise!