Julianne Alkire Church Marketing University

Julianne leads our communications team, which means she’s here to make sure you get connected with information and coaching to help your church get more visitors! You’ll probably see her the most in... read more

What Do Guests Think of Your Church?

Looking to up your church hospitality game?  In this article, you’ll find:

  • Four questions people ask as they visit your church for the first time.
  • Tips on making your church more appealing to guests- no redecorating required!
  • How to tell if your church is truly friendly

What do new people think of your church?

When guests don’t return after their first visit, we’re often tempted to blame our facilities and decor: “Our church is outdated!  Why would they want to come back and look at our 80’s shag carpet?”  While facilities are an integral part of guests’ first impressions, Church Marketing University is not here to tell you where to slap your shiplap or what colors all the trendy churches are painting their nurseries this year.  Instead, we encourage you to focus less on what your guests will see as they enter your building, and more on what they’ll feel as they interact with your people and participate in your programs.

This starts with thinking like a guest.  What questions do you ask yourself when trying to assess your experience at a new church, restaurant, or retail store?  Here are a few to get you started:

  • Is it what I expected?  
  • Is it clean and safe?
  • Do I know where to go and what to do?  
  • Am I being treated well, or am I being ignored or treated like a bother?

Chances are, your guests are asking the same questions.  Here are some suggestions on how to make their first visit a success.  

Is your church what guests expect?

You want guests to leave thinking that your church was better than they thought it would be.  Your church doesn’t have to be flashy to give them this impression, but it does have to be authentic. So, set them up with the right expectations.  This means your online presence needs to be consistent with the in-person experience of worshipping at your church.   So, steer clear of stock photos and graphics and make sure your website is full of lively photos of your people using your facility.

Is your church building clean and safe?

Cleanliness and tidiness are key to first impressions, especially in highly visible areas like your lobby, bathrooms, and children’s areas.  In children’s areas, especially, this means your volunteers need to understand the importance of tidiness. Parents know their kids are messy, but they aren’t going to like dropping them off in a chaotic, overwhelming, or unsanitary environment- and they don’t want to pick them up from one, either.  

While we’re on the topic of children, it’s essential to have policies and procedures that ensure their safety and reassure their parents.  Here’s a short list to get you started:

  • Have up-to-date background checks for every volunteer in your children’s area.
  • Clearly define who’s allowed to take photos of kids, as well as how your church will get written permission from parents before using those photos.  
  • Let parents know how allergies are handled.
  • Notify parents of how you’ll contact them if they’re needed during service.

Another area that requires careful attention is your church’s parking lot.  It should be clean, well-maintained, and safe for pedestrians, even in inclement weather.  The outdoor area of your church is your most permanent- and potentially most valuable- advertising space.  Treat it with the care it deserves.

Is it easy to find things at your church?

Your church building needs to make sense, so new people aren’t overwhelmed.  So, when it comes to way finding signage, clarity and readability trump artistic touches.  But wait! Don’t dismantle your design team yet! Creative, well-branded signage can promote sermon series, events, and educate people on the culture of your church, all while beautifying your facility.  

However, signs are no substitute for caring people.  Our favorite way of helping guests navigate your building is using New Visitor Hosts– people from your church who are strategically placed and trained to spot guests, show them around, and get to know them before the service starts.  New Visitor Hosts not only ensure that people know where to go, they help guests form a natural first connection to your church.

Is your church friendly and hospitable?

At the end of the day, you can have facilities that are clean, safe, and easy to navigate, but if your people aren’t welcoming, guests won’t return.  Unfortunately, it’s hard for leaders- who are often at the center of their church’s social life- to tell if their church is friendly.

Dick Hardy recommends using the “After Service Test” to assess your church’s friendliness.  In his experience, most churches are fairly friendly toward guests before service and during greeting time, but after church, regulars attenders gravitate toward each other. “The churches that will forget that piece,” he says, “and zero in on the guest, are the churches that really demonstrate the type of friendliness they need to have.”

In addition to training New Visitor Hosts, we recommend:

  • Creating a guest reception area.
  • Communicating a clear next step for guests to take with your church, like attending a Welcome Party.
  • Providing multiple avenues for people to enter their contact information.
  • Following up with guests for six weeks after their first visit.  

The end goal of these suggestions is fostering human connection, which is at the heart of caring for others with the love of Jesus.  Because, after all, it’s Jesus’ love- not carpet, shiplap, or paint colors- that will ultimately make your church appealing to visitors.