There are four main mentalities first-time guests often bring with them when they’re visiting your church. Understanding the mindset of your guest can keep you from turning them off during their first visit.
First-time guests want emotional and social distance (at first).
I was visiting a church for the first time with my wife. We arrived early and sat near the front. A well-meaning usher walked down our row to say hello. Then he proceeded to ask me things like: Do you love God? Are you being a good husband to her? Are you honoring God through the way you conduct your marriage?
I haven’t been back to that church since, even though it’s the closest one to our house. You see; that was too much too soon. I needed a bit of emotional and social distance when I first visited. I needed to have a safe personal bubble, but that usher unzipped the walls and crawled inside my bubble with me. I felt trapped and uncomfortable.
People visiting your church probably don’t want hugs. They also probably don’t want to be confronted with questions that probe too deeply into their personal lives. Give your first-time guests some emotional and social distance at first.
That isn’t to say your church shouldn’t be friendly. People want a friendly church. They want to feel embraced. But it needs to start slowly.
First-time guests often distrust churches.
One of my least favorite times when I’m emceeing at my church is when it’s time to take the offering. As soon as I say a few key words, I can actually see people starting to cross their arms in the congregation. They’re skeptical. They’re saying, “Here’s where the church asks me for all my money.”
A lot of people still have skepticism when it comes to church. Even if they’re Believers, many come from negative experiences at previous churches.
Understanding that there’s an element of distrust when a first-time guest visits helps you avoid things that might trigger bad feelings from their past. I’m not saying you tip-toe around the concept of giving or approach greeting guests with trepidation. But you should think through the way you say things and the way your service is structured. Look at it from the perspective of distrust, and you’ll find yourself doing more things that foster trust.
First-time guests desire to be in control.
One of the things that makes me laugh so hard is when I go to a clothing store with my wife. In the car, she says, “I need to find a white tank top.” We get into the store, and a sales person approaches us, asking if there’s anything they can help us find. My wife answers, “No thanks, I’m just looking.” Hello! That was the perfect opportunity to find a white tank top quickly.
But this reveals a truth about consumers and even about people visiting your church. They want to be in control of the experience. Usually after five minutes, my wife will approach a salesperson asking where the tank tops are. But at that point she felt in control again because she initiated the contact.
As church workers, we normally prefer to initiate the contact. But first-timers often prefer to initiate the contact, and we should allow them that privilege. We create a great environment. We provide them with everything we anticipate they’ll need. Then we let them initiate a deeper level contact.
First-time guests expect people to be responsive.
When someone fills out a prayer request card, they’ve initiated real contact. Respond quickly. Even that afternoon. Same for guest card. Same for an email. For a message on Facebook.
There’s nothing worse than putting yourself out there, trusting someone with personal information or your email address, and then having them not respond. Honor people’s trust in you by being responsive to them.
Understanding your guest is such a great start for helping them feel welcome. My friend, Jason Young, and I share nine other huge concepts in our book, The Come Back Effect. But knowing these simple four things about your guests could already revolutionize your service and create an experience where guests love returning.