How much time does it take for a visitor to decide whether or not they will return to your church? Experts pose differing numbers on this.
Some say as quickly as 90 seconds. Others say three minutes. Still others say they take as long as 12 minutes to decide. Whoever is right, making a good first impression is imperative if you are going to retain first-time visitors. Doing this well will change as your church grows.
Churches with attendance under 150 can make a friendly first impression by stationing two or three outgoing volunteers at their front doors. In this size church, newcomers are able to look around the crowd and find the “people like me” pretty quickly. “People like me” is key to assimilating newcomers in smaller churches.
If you ask most churches, they are genuinely seeking how to reach their community. Identifying your target visitor through building a community persona is the first step.
Next, you need to figure out how to reach those you have identified and meet their needs.
One important way to achieve this is through generational marketing. Each audience is shaped by different life experiences, traditions and values and should be communicated to using the appropriate and effective channels.
A young man in my last church cut off three of his fingers while cutting a piece of paneling in a van customizing shop. As he was being rushed to the hospital, he was asked, “Where are the fingers?” A man rushed back to the shop with a bowl of ice, grabbed the three digits and then rushed them to Birmingham in the ambulance along with the young man.
Nineteen hours of microsurgery reattached those fingers to the young man’s hand. Had they been left in the sawdust of that shop, the fingers would have been useless. They were only good to him if they were attached to his body.
It’s the same way when it comes to our attachment to the body of Christ, both globally and locally. We are members of the body—whether a finger, an ear, an eye or a spleen—and we need the rest of the body in order to live. We cannot make it on our own.
When I wrote The Purpose Driven Church, I predicted that church health—not church growth—would be the primary concern of the 21st Century church. I believe that prediction is proving itself true.
The New Testament says a lot about the health of the church. Consider just a few verses:
“As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing. …” (Ephesians 4:16b, NLT)
“The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church.” (2 Corinthians 2:9, Msg)
What people experience in your church has the power to propel them toward Christ or push them away. What we do matters, and doing it well is essential. From your website to the parking lot signage, more than likely your first-time guests have gotten an earful before they’ve even heard the first word of your sermon.
Here are a few time-tested proven how-tos for engaging your community:
Excellence in all things and all things to the glory of God.
At Prestonwood Baptist Church, you’ll hear this phrase often. Everyone on our ministry team and staff take it to heart because it isn’t just what we do; it’s who we are. We serve a mighty God who deserves all of us and the best of us.
His very name is described as excellent in Scripture: “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth” (Ps. 8:1). And in Isaiah 12:5, the prophet calls salvation “excellent”: “Sing to the Lord, for He has done excellent things.”
So from janitorial to ministerial, we strive for excellence. In ministry, just as in life, there must be a commitment—to rise above the mediocre, to ascend above the average, to soar like eagles. We can flock and honk like geese through life, or we can soar like the royal eagle in the heavens.
Creating a Compelling Guest Experience
To us, excellence in all things is about paying attention to detail. The little things mean a great deal. From the moment visitors arrive at your church building until they leave, do they experience excellence? Is there a winsome feel to your church and worship services? I don’t want anything about the worship experience to take away from the mission of the church, which is to proclaim the gospel.
When we started our North Campus, we met in a high school. Our church members took great pride in the “set up and tear down” that helped transform a school into a warm and engaging service each Sunday. We did little things such as placing signage throughout the school welcoming people to Prestonwood and inviting them to make this church their home. It wasn’t opulent, but it was excellent.
We’ve learned that excellence starts long before someone gets to one of our worship services, beginning with the church website. No doubt, this is a media-savvy world, and it’s our responsibility to engage the culture and communicate effectively. Is your website reader-friendly? Do you keep people engaged through Facebook, Twitter or other social media?
From your website to your parking lot, excellence should be a value for you, your staff and your church.
Try this exercise with your team: Ask them to spend the week visiting the church website and looking around church grounds. Then get together and discuss these questions: Was it easy to find service times and direction on the website? Does your church parking lot have potholes? Are the trees and bushes overgrown and unkempt? Is the carpet frayed and stained? Are the walls dingy? Do paintings hang crookedly? When someone walks through the doors, what do they see first? What do they smell?
The Worship Experience
Beyond the website and building, evaluate your worship experience. Train volunteers to greet every guest and help direct them. As people enter the sanctuary or worship area, make Bibles and pens readily available for anyone who may not have a Bible. The worship guide or bulletin should be well written and error-free. During the service, make the lyrics for worship songs easy to read on the screens, and provide notes on the screens that complement the message so that first-time guests can easily follow the teaching.
Our mission at Prestonwood is “to glorify God by introducing Jesus Christ as Lord to as many people as possible and to develop them in Christian living using the most effective means to impact the world, making a positive difference in this generation.”
The most effective means for us includes everything available that will help support and strengthen our church as we share the love of Christ and proclaim the message of salvation to a lost and hurting world. As His church, we should proclaim Him with the excellence He so richly deserves.
Jack Graham is pastor of the 32,000-member Prestonwood Baptist Church, with campuses in Plano, Dallas and Prosper, Texas. He also is the voice of PowerPoint Ministries, the church’s international radio and TV ministry known worldwide. Follow him on Twitter @jackngraham.