One of the questions I get asked or see asked in Facebook Groups most often is this: “What’s everyone doing for first time guest gifts?”
It’s a great question, but it’s amazing how many churches get it wrong.
The purpose of the first time guest gift should drive the choice of gift you choose to give. The two reasons for giving someone a gift are to make the guest feel like you’re grateful they took their highly-valuable time on a Sunday morning and spent it with you and, the backend purpose is to get them to give you their information.
It’s a bribe. And it’s a token of appreciation.
I’m going to be so bold as to say if you’re giving out a first time gift for any other reason than those two, you’re doing it for the wrong reason.
Before you write me off as a consumeristic person who cares nothing about sharing the gospel with people, hear me out.
Below are some good guest gifts, but first let’s explore some bad gift ideas and why they’re not-so-great.
A Christian Book
Can we be real here?
People want to read what they’re interested in, not what you’re interested in reading. Unless it’s a close friend or trusted source, most people simply aren’t interested in reading a book someone else drops in their hands.
This is especially true when it’s someone who is skeptical about God and who is just exploring spiritual things (hopefully this describes most of the new people at your church).
Giving your first time guest A Case for Christ when they’re coming to your welcome table expecting a good gift is like leaving a cheap tip and a tract.
I get that you want to impart some bit of Gospel truth into this person while you’ve got them in your clutches, but I emplore you to use the gift to get them to return to your church (where they can hear more about the Gospel truth and God) rather than as a tool to try to teach them something.
Besides, if they never read your book (and, again, most people will not), you’re not really accomplishing what you’re trying to do by giving them the book, right? And, worse, you’re running the risk of offending or underwhelming them.
A Coffee Mug
If you drink coffee, you have a mug that you like to drink out of, right?
The same is true for your guests.
While coffee mugs are a favorite of churches, my bet is most of them end up in the back of a kitchen cabinet for your guests.
By the way…stuffing the mug full of candy doesn’t help.
A T-shirt (Or Anything) With Your Logo On It
Imagine you new to church-y things. Would you want to go cruising through Target with a church’s logo on it?
I’m a long-time Christian and I don’t want to go chill at Starbucks with your church’s (probably cheesy) logo on it.
Your shirt isn’t going to feel valuable; instead it’s going to end up as a dusting cloth or as grass-mowing attire.
A Handfull of Brochures
Nobody wants a hand full of information about your church’s ministries on their first visit. Don’t do it. They’d probably rather have an ugly coffee mug with your logo on it. Maybe. It’s a toss-up.
I know, I know…you want them to know about how great your programs are, but your guest is only concerned with how to get their kids out of children’s ministry and to get to lunch without having a long wait. You can educate them on who you are and what your mission is at a later date.
Besides, if you’ve done your job well, they should already have a great grasp about your mission, ministries, etc. by checking out your website before their first visit.
Think About Who You’re Serving
Please put yourself in the shoes of those who are receiving your gifts. Consider someone who barely knows you, who’s taking a risk by giving you their email address in exchange for a gift, and who is probably on the fence about all things Christian.
Please don’t confirm their preconceived notions by giving a gift that is cheap, cheesy, and not well thought-through.
Consider these gifts instead…
Dinner & A Movie
Partner with your local pizza place to print up some free pizza gift cards. When someone presents one to the pizza joint, they send you a bill (or charge your church card, or whatnot). Bonus: If the guest never cashes in the gift card, you don’t pay for the pizza. Go to Redbox and print some rental codes on some business cards. Bundle the whole thing up with some microwave popcorn, movie candy, etc. in a plastic popcorn box and you have the makings of a beautiful guest gift.
As a bonus, this builds great relationships with restaurants in your community.
Resist the urge to go cheap here. And, resist the urge to plaster your church’s logo on the Yeti Tumbler.
Nothing says we value you more than a semi-expensive, nice, brand-name gift. Yes, it’ll cost you $30 instead of the $5 for a t-shirt, but your guest will walk away wanting to tell their neighbors and co-workers about your generosity.
Side note: I know what you’re thinking… “There’s no way we can afford a $30 guest gift.” That might be true…I don’t know your budget and how many guests you get. However, you could be looking at it wrong. What if $50 is an investment that gets a family to return to your church? What if a year from now, they start tithing? That could be the best $50 you spend as a church.
Just a thought…
If your town has a local bakery, local farmer’s market, or something similar, package up a nice little guest package. Local honey, jellies, etc. that are commercially/professionally packaged or cookies or baked goods that are from a bakery make good gifts. Avoid having someone in your church bake cookies or creating a gift. You might know your baker’s sanitation habits, but your guest doesn’t and it could cause anxiety instead of warm and fuzzies.
Most local businesses will jump at the opportunity to be a part of your welcome packet, and might even give you products for free or at a steep discount.
Donation To Charity
Donate a generous amount of money to a reputable charity (bonus points if it’s local) in your guest’s name. Make sure you give them a nice publication indicating you’ll donate and then follow up after you actually make the donation. Think about charities that aren’t going to come across as weird to your guest (for example, donate to water missions instead of a sex abuse charity).
At the end of the day, it’s better to give no gift at all than to give a bad first time guest gift. Hopefully these ideas will get you started on giving a great gift to leave a phenomenal first impression.