Church Shopping Visit Number 6

We were prepared to be the first time church visitor in our new home town of Port St. Lucie Florida.

The church planting team we are a part of has taken a holiday break, so our family was free on a Sunday morning to be that first time visitor and experience once again the challenge of being a new mover Christian family looking for a church home.  It is another visit in our series on church shopping.

First Time Church Visitor Story

Since we have no church going friends in this city, we are dependent upon advertisements and the internet to find a church to pick from.

We share some of first time visitor experiences here, here,here, here, and here.

How we picked this church

We chose a local church based on some advertisements we saw in a local circular that was delivered to our house.

There was nothing really impressive about their full page ad.

It was full of stock photography of young families and young adults.

The ad contained their service times and location and made it easy for us to make our way there on Sunday morning.

Our First Time Visitor Experience

As we made our way into the massive sanctuary, we discovered that stock photos of young families does not reflect the reality of the service we visited.

We mostly saw retired baby boomer retirees and the preaching pastor regularly referenced retirement and grandchildren.

The young families may be at other weekend services, but the morning service we picked didn’t match the marketing.

We arrived 5 minutes late (having missed a turn during a wonderful conversation in the car).   The parking lot was full, but we found a parking space on our own.  I realized that I had expected a church this size to have parking teams to facilitate this.  Another mismatched expectation.

If the church has morning greeters, we didn’t encounter one.    Another mismatched expectation.

We got a bulletin from an usher who wished us a Merry Christmas and left us alone to find our own way to our seat anywhere we wanted.  Another mismatched expectation for a church this size.

The sermon struck me as mediocre.  The teaching pastor went on for about 45 minutes going word by word from a text.

But I couldn’t tell you what the takeaway point was.  Neither could my family.  We all felt that there was no cohesive point in the verse by verse exposition.  I realize that I am working at improving my own talks and thus have an extra critical grid as I listen to other sermons.

The invitation to the altar call was not related to the sermon in any way, so there was another disconnect for me.  The invitation should always reflect a response point to the sermon, and not a tangential add-on.

When the service was over:

  • We left as anonymously as we came,
  • We talked with no one,
  • We felt noticed by no one, and
  • We were inspired by nothing.

However, the quality of the music, instruments, and vocals was excellent.  We could tell each of the singers and musicians enjoyed what they do and the level of professionalism in their leadership was excellent and something all churches should strive for.

Their Visitor Connection Card

Their visitor connection card was a separate card inside their bulletin.

I saw it after the offering had passed, so I missed a chance to turn it in.

While filling it in, they asked for birth dates of my children, anniversary dates of my marriage.  I think that’s too much personal information to give on a first visit.

The bulletin said I should turn it in at the welcome center for a free gift.  The bulletin didn’t tell me where the welcome center was.

I looked for the welcome center in what I thought was the lobby, but couldn’t determine which of the 4 tables was the visitor center.

No one was at any of them and there was no sign.

I know we will not get any visitor follow up letters or any other contact, as the church has no record of our attendance.

Our final impressions

This is a good church for many people who attend and have become part of its family.

The church is clearly Jesus centered – from the songs to the sermon.

The church is actively involved in the community in various projects.

We could tell from the Sunday bulletin activity list that there is a lot of good activity and potential for discipleship growth and many places we could potentially get involved.

The visitor contact card clearly told us what our first class would be if we wanted to give involved.

I’d still recommend this church to my future friends as an option for visiting.

From a hospitality systems standpoint, there is much room for improvement.   They might benefit from a quick review of my ebook How to Welcome Church Visitors

But our overall experience was so bland that nothing compels us to make a repeat visit.

What you can learn from our first time church visit

Confessions of a Church Shopper – Can I make a friend?

We visited one church 6 times over the course of 3 months since our move to our new place in Florida.

It started off pretty good.  They made a really good first impression.

But we dropped out.

We stopped going.

ConfessionsOfAChurchShopperVisit5

They have an awesome Sunday experience.

Their worship service was both exciting and sacred.

The music was of high quality.  The musicians were skilled.  Singing with the worship band was fun and the atmosphere was worshipful.

They led us into music that was both celebratory and deeply sacred.  They had a mix of hymns and choruses.

Their teaching was biblical.

The teaching team is firm on presenting biblical teaching.  The 45 minute expository sermons through the book of the Bible were full of excellent and practical teaching.

The main teacher / pastor is a skilled communicator and teaches very well.  As one who appreciates expository sermons, I enjoyed every single sermon that I heard.  It has been a fresh relief after years of more topical oriented sermons in my last church that I helped to plant.

Their mission was Christ centered.

The leadership was pretty clear in many ways that this church was Christ centered.  They had a generous mission program.  On one of our visits, they shared some of the ways the church blesses the community through service, though we missed that opportunity because of our schedule.

They have awesome Church Hospitality Systems

Their church greeters were well trained, and easy to identify.

Their ushers were efficient at getting us to the seat.

The check-in process at the children’s ministry was a breeze.

The pastor was clear about how to fill out a connection card and what we should do with it.

The volunteers we interacted with were friendly and facilitated our ability to get to our seat.

The welcome center was clearly marked and we could engage people in small talk conversation if we choose.

The papers in the visitor welcome packet thanked us for coming.

During the service, the pastor clearly welcomed first time visitors in a way that wasn’t intimidating.

This church does all the things that make for a wonderful hospitality vision.  I believe they have been good at keeping that visitor welcome vision in front of their volunteers.

We felt honored to be so welcomed.  They are not like this church that had the right systems but no still no welcome.

After the first impressions, what is next?

We are new movers to a new town, relocating from another country (where we lived for 7 years), and have no personal friends.

After a few weeks, we were asking ourselves about how do we go about meeting people, learning more about the church, and even where do we begin to make a friend.

Sunday morning was simply too busy moving people around between services for any friendships to form.

There was no clear directions for us about where to start.

  • Does this church have small groups, life groups, bible studies, or something?
  • Is there a “Getting to know our church” type class?
  • Is there a gathering with the pastor at some point?
  • Is there a meal where I might sit at table with another family?

As a church visitor, our family doesn’t know all the answers to these questions.  We don’t know where to go next.

So we quit going.

We wanted to invest in the life and mission of this church. We tried going several weeks to learn about it’s mission and work.  We visited six times.

We listened for any relevant announcements. We looked for things things in the bulletin.  We never received any literature from the church about next step opportunities.

We tried one Saturday event spending 3-4 hours with church people on a work day. Our children visited the youth group for 6-8 weeks.

And that the end of all that, we still didn’t have a friend.

We couldn’t get in.

What Your Church can do to overcome this

Here is the question to think about.

How easy is it for your repeat visitor to make a new friend?

Follow up questions to this are

  • What programming exists where newcomers can make a friend?
  • How clear are you in communicating that to your newcomers?

Clear next steps are not hard.

One church gave out coupons to their Wednesday night supper.

One church invited visitors to serve with them in the community on the 4th Saturday, plus bring a friend to help serve.

One church invited us to a guest luncheon at the pastor’s house along with other newcomers for the month.

One church we visited followed this step:

  1. Sent us a handwritten thank you note plus a free meal coupon at Chik-Fil-A
  2. Sent us a letter from the pastor inviting us to a homemade breakfast on the 1st Sunday of the month.
  3. Called us to personally invite us to that breakfast.
  4. At that breakfast, the pastor introduced a little about the vision and mission of the church, and clearly pointed us to a 101 type class.

That church has thought through their process and we are finding ourselves naturally making friends with other newcomers as we experience this process together.

Each church clearly communicated to their newcomers about the one simple next step the visitor could take to get to make a friend.

Mark Waltz phrases it this way:

“In short, how does your church move people from visiting to belonging? The answer to that question is a bigger deal than a guest’s first or second visit to your church. Helping people experience the reality of belonging-to God and others-in a way that causes them to live for God and others is kingdom of God-sized stuff. That’s a really big deal.” (Lasting Impressions: From Visiting to Belonging, by Mark Waltz).

Read more:  The best church visitor assimilation tool.

Now is a good time for church visitor assimilation training.

Since the Christmas season and New Year’s are coming soon, your church will have lots of first time visitors coming.   It is time to review your assimilation strategies and think of intentional ways to utilize the season to impact the life of your local visitor who is looking for a church family.

It is time to refresh your vision for church visitor welcoming and integration strategies.

Are you ready to receive these visitors?

Download this webinar class, you will learn:

  • How Personal Invitations Impact Assimilation
  • How to Open the Front Door of Welcome
  • 5 Must Have Tools for Effective Assimilation
  • How to Close the Back Door and Keep them Coming
  • Some of the specific questions generated by the audience:
    • How do you get this vision into the congregation.
    • What do I do with a chronic hugger?
    • How often should you train volunteers?
    • How do you get your church leaders on board with this?
    • What are key elements to a action plan for a church that has none?
    • DO you have a book list you recommend?
    • Do you have anything that addresses specifically the subject of assimilation of new members into the church family?
    • We have an old lady that insists on hugging all the new people who come to church. Is this good/bad. How to address this? Some members thinks this repels new people. Help!
    • Is the gathering only for new visitors, or any congregants? Specific members turn to stay?
    • What’s the best way to identify a new guest (besides visual observation)?

I want to share insights I’ve gained over the last 15 years to help you plan to help some of your visitors move towards regular attendance.

Order Now:

Click on the big button below and you’ll be taken to the page in the EvangelismCoach.org store to add it to your cart.

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What you can learn from our church shopping experience

In the summer of 2014, our family moved to central Florida due to an expansion of our ministry’s vision and reach.

  • We are new movers into the community.
  • We have no friends yet.
  • We are a blank slate looking for a church.
  • We are the first time visitor.
  • We are the church shopper.

I wrote up our experience of the first church we visited.

A church greeter volunteer joyfully passed out the morning bulletin.  However, our question to her created a chain reaction of clumsy service.  Regular training of your volunteers would fix that awkward church hospitality experience

Last week, we visited a second church as a first time visitor.

Church Shopper Confession

We are church shopping

We are new movers to this area, so we are shopping for a church.

As a family, we have over 22 years invested in churches were we have lived, so we bring an informed experience to our church shopping experience.

Since we don’t know anybody in this town to get a person to invite us church, we have to rely on publicity that a church puts out.

That would include newspaper ads, and of course a really good church website.

Because we are a bi-lingual family, we wanted to visit a Spanish language church.

What you can learn: 

  • Your visitor may be church shopping and brings a mental list of what they want.
  • Your churched visitor will make comparisons to prior experiences.

How we found the church

We started our search with Google, trying to locate a church with Spanish services.   We tried search terms in English and in Spanish and didn’t find satisfactory results quickly.

Shopping at the local Hispanic market, we found a newspaper that had two full pages of advertisements for churches.

Some forgot to state where they were (address), or website, or service times.  If we couldn’t find out more information, that ad cost was entirely wasted.

If the newspaper ad had a website, we spent the morning looking at church websites.  I could talk about all the church website problems I found, but that would be a 6000 word article all by itself.

For the church we chose, the church website had service times easily located, as well as  the directions on how to get there (for me, these two facts are the most important feature of a church website).

Remember these church website facts:

  • 75% of first-time guests have already formed an impression of your church based on your website.
  • Your “greeters” are no longer your first contact with your guests.  According to one poll, 80% of people who visit your church visit your website first.

What you can learn:

  • A working church website is your best “front door.”
  • Do a SEO review of your church website to make sure it shows up in results.
  • Newspaper ads have a place for churched new movers like us.

Our Visit

We made it to the 11am service without much of a problem.  Other than finding the right door to get in, we didn’t have much awkwardness to getting to our seat.

It’s a small enough fellowship that our presence as first time church visitors was obvious.

We were quickly greeted by the founding pastor and his wife before we entered sanctuary.

After filling out a visitor card with our contact information, we found our seat.

Another usher checked with us to make sure we had filled out a visitor contact card.

Just before the passing of the peace, our names were read out from the visitor card and we were made to stand and we received a round of applause.  While this practice didn’t bother me personally, I know that being singled out as a visitor can make your visitor feel awkward and uncomfortable.  I don’t recommend it as a practice.

What you can learn:

  • Friendliness rules the day.
  • Friendliness is measured by the initiative taken by members.
  • Singling out your visits may cause embarrassment, rather than blessing.

Quality Matters

Every slide used had a bilingual setup.

A worship verse in Spanish, with an English equivalent underneath.

This lead to very word dense slides.  Sometimes the font size got so small that we had to squint to read it.

A few times, the English verse would be an entirely different verse from the hymn.  The Spanish would be stanza 3, the English was stanza 4.

When it came time for the Scripture reading, the passage displayed was entirely in English, but the reader read from a Spanish translation.

The slide confusion leads to cognitive dissonance – reading one thing in one language, and hearing it spoken aloud in another.

What you can learn:

  • Readability counts.

The relational factor overcomes everything.

What charmed us about this church was its friendliness.  That is the best tool to getting your church visitor to come back.

A few people took the initiative to talk with us.  We were personally greeted by the founding pastor.

We were greeted by a few other people as well.

The preaching pastor took some time as we walked out the door to visit with us and tell us a little more.

He even went the extra mile and called us on Monday to invite us to a follow up gathering of visitors.  That was a neat touch.

The relational warmth of genuine people easily overcame logistical issues like size of fonts and filing out a visitor card.

The personal phone call from this small church pastor has been the highlight of our church shopping experience so far.

I’ve learned from my church shopping experiences than friendliness overcomes any negative impacts on first impressions.  I visited a Spanish language church for a season of my life.  In spite of all their bad first impressions, I stayed and became part of that church.  Read how I became assimilated into their church.

What you can learn:

  • Friendliness can overcome any negative impacts on awkward first impressions.

Would we go back?

This is a one of the proof-tests of your hospitality experience.

Would we make a return visit?

Yes, this one would be worthy of a return visit simply because of their friendliness.

Ultimately, we know already this church wouldn’t fit all our criteria as a church shopper, so it won’t be our permanent home.

But it is a church that we could recommend to others who are looking for a bi-lingual experience in a particular denominational tradition.

Coaching Call

Do you want to discuss your where your hospitality system is stuck?

I offer a coaching call where I spend time on the phone with you or your committee, up to 90 minutes, where I help you trouble shoot and develop some action plans.  I’ve visited lots of churches as that first time visitor and you can learn from my experiences.

I can help you review your systems through a step by step flow chart that I’ve developed.  Read more about that hospitality coaching here.

photo credit: *PaysImaginaire* via cc

Should unbelievers be invited to church?

A year ago, I posted this question to the EvangelismCoach.org Facebook page.

“Should we invite unsaved friends to church?” Give a Yes or No, and then give a reason.

The answers were pretty divided between Yes and No, with some strong opinions:

  • Yes, the church is on an evangelistic mission.
  • No, the church is for believers only to train believers to go into the world, get them saved, and then bring them in.

It’s not my point here to drift into a full theology of the nature of the church, but to focus on the vocabulary of the question: what do I mean when I use the word church in this question?

I mean the gathered assembly, whether it meets in a high school gym, music hall, or a beautiful church building with stain glass windows and movable chairs.

I worked through the book of Acts to see if I could draw principles about the early gatherings of Christians before the church was more organized.

Invite Unbeliever Friends to Church

Should unbelievers be invited to attend our church?

Since many of you are new subscribers to our weekly newsletter, you may not know these exist in the archives.  Dig around and check out the evidence yourself.

I’m in the Yes camp.

I invite my unsaved friends.

I’ve been inviting my unsaved friends to church for so long that it is part of my teaching.  I teach on

Many of our church hospitality practices are based on the assumption that unsaved persons will be in our church, no matter how that visitor got there.  I’ve never questioned it.

I know many people who came to Christ because a friend invited them to church.   Here is one story.   After a few weeks of hearing the preaching of the word, my friend surrendered his life to Christ.  It is possible that without that invitation, he may have remained lost.  It is possible that God could have brought him salvation by some other method.  My friend was invited to church and came to faith in Christ.

If the church is responsible for evangelism, then it seems that some of it’s meetings will be intentionally evangelistic.

It also seems to me that the church would teach and train church members for evangelism where they live.

The Corinthian Church

We see Paul’s concern for the unbeliever in the midst of the assembly.

First Corinthians 14:23 Paul wants the assembly of the church to be sensitive to the unbeliever in their midst:

Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers.  So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all,  as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” – 1 Corinthians 14:22-25

Paul assumes that there exists a possibility of unbelievers in the midst of the assembly.

There is no indication of how that unbeliever got there, nor is that the point of text.

But what is clear is a concern for the visitor.  That reflects a strong ethic that should reflect in your church hospitality practices.

Start the discussion:

Answer this question in the comments below.

For what reasons should we invite the unsaved to our church?

3 Ways Church Management Software Can Help Your Church Visitors Become Members

One consistent question I receive is how to follow up on your first time church visitors.  Questions like:

Another question I’ve received is related to the data management side of handling visitor contact information.

How can church management software help our visitors become new members?

Today’s guest post answers that question.

It is from Leah Merrill, Software Analyst for Capterra, where she specializes in helping church administrators find church management software.

Church Management Software

3 Ways Church Management Software Can Help

Getting guests to stick around is a big deal.

If you’re like most churches, you have a few guests each week who come to your church looking for something new, somewhere closer to home or, sometimes, an entirely new life.

It’s always exciting to see a new face return for the next two weeks or maybe three.

But with so much to take care of in the church office, guests are often forgotten.

How can you get visitors to become active members?

Software may sound like an odd answer, but it can be more helpful than you think.

Though church management software (ChMS) can’t provide a smiling face to greet your guest on Sunday morning, it can go a long way in helping you convert guests into members.

1) Easily Post Your Services Schedule and Calendar Online

Studies from Grey Matter showed that 1.6 million American non-churchgoers visited a church’s website in the past 30 days, and almost half of them visited to check service schedules (likely to plan a visit). With numbers like these, you can’t afford not to display your church’s services in a clear and helpful way on your site.

Many Church Management Software products come with the ability to create and edit websites, which are often integrated with a member database and schedule. Because of this integration, it’s easy to sync the church calendar with the church website and make sure the service announcements are always up-to-date. And if the web-visitor is there to stream a sermon or download podcasts, ChMS can provide those things too, since that type of content can also draw visitors to your church.

2) Follow-up…Automatically

The visit happens and they’re delighted with your church. Perfect! This guest is great congregant material. However, the guest needs to feel like they belong if they’re going to come back, and it’s hard to find time to contact them personally when you’ve got a lot on your plate. ChMS can help with:

  • Phone calls:

An easy way to let this guest know they haven’t been forgotten is to send an automated phone call. If you already had them fill out a simple contact information card when they visited, you can then enter them into your member database as “guest,” which will automatically place them in the queue to receive a follow-up call thanking them and inviting them to come back. Also, since they’re marked as “guest”, if they don’t come back, they won’t be lumped in with the rest of your congregation in the database.

  • Email or Text:

Maybe phone calls weren’t enough, or maybe that’s just not your style. There are other ways to keep up. Automated emails are one of the most common functions of ChMS, and one of the most helpful. With an email, you can link to the church’s site, provide a way for the guest to get in touch, and send customized messages to different groups, like “guests.” Automated text messages sent straight to their phones can also keep them updated on upcoming services and events.

3) Enable Online Sign-ups

Speaking of emails, why not try linking to a new member’s class sign-up page? Many ChMS programs that provide websites also provide a way to put sign-ups on your church’s web page, so your guest can follow up on their experience immediately and start learning what your church is really about.You could also include a link to a small group sign-up page. As you probably know, joining a small group is one of the first big steps toward becoming a lasting part of the church, and it makes it that much easier if you provide sign-ups online.

So there you go. Using a bunch of great ChMS features, you’ve made contact and followed up with your guests, giving them an easy path into the church community.

Are you ready to start remembering every guest and welcoming more of them as permanent members of your community? Start looking for ChMS software today.

About Leah Merrill

Leah MerrillLeah Merrill is a Software Analyst for Capterra, where she specializes in helping church administrators find church management software. When she’s not helping churches and non-profit organizations find the right software on the Capterra Church Management Blog, you’ll find her reading, writing, and spending time with her family and friends. Follow Capterra for church management news on Twitter @CapterraChMS.


Your Turn

My current church is likely too small for such a software investment.  Most of our communications are email blasts, text blasts, and a chat group on WhatsApp.

But as your church grows, a software system could help you manage your assimilation process, to help your visitors develop that come back habit and make new friends (2 critical steps to keep more of your church visitors)

In fact, a using sequential follow up system based on a church management software is the main point of Nelson Searcy’s book, Fusion, one of my favorite books on church visitor assimilation.

I talk a lot about visitor follow up in my recorded class on visitor assimilation (available for purchase)

Regarding church management software, my question for you:

If your church uses a Church Management Software, what is the best feature you like about it.

Describe the feature and how it helps you.

Answer in the comments below.