8 Lessons from My Church Shopping Experience

8 Church Hospitality Lessons from Church ShoppingIn the past 12 months, our family experienced being a church shopper.

We share some of first time visitor experiences

After a few months, we have found a church home, a new church development that is not yet public.  We are training our welcome teams from the start and buildling welcome and hospitality into our DNA.  Here are some lessons I learned from all 8 visits (I still have yet to write up two)

1.  It is hard to be a first time church visitor.

Even though I’ve been a follower of Jesus over 30 years, going through this experience of being the first time church visitor for my own family is harder than I thought.

In the last 20 years, I’ve been in a church leadership team and have some kind of status.  But visiting churches as a non-staff member looking for a place for our family to give its life away has been harder than I thought.

Your church needs to recall that it’s not easy to be church shopping as a Christian family, nor will it be easy for the unchurched to find their way in.

2.  Your churched visitor has criteria they bring.

We come with a list of criteria we look for in a church.

As followers of Christ, having planted two multi-cultural churches as an associate pastor, served in youth ministry, and involved in cross cultural missions, we discovered that we had a list of criteria that we measured a church against.

Though we liked our experience at one church, it simply didn’t match a lot of our criteria.

Visitors will come and go as they seek churches that match some of their critera.  There is not much that a church can do about the whims of such visitors, myself included.

3.  A working church website is important.

Please do whatever it takes to get your broken church website current and working correctly.

I ruled out a few churches to visit simply because their website had dysfunctional websites with broken links, poor navigation, and hard to find information.

If you have social media like Twitter and Facebook, please make sure you answer questions submitted in those mediums.

Yvon Prehn released her take on 5 Church Website Essentials here.

Don’t let your church website prevent your visitors from coming.  (Read this article from Church Marketing Sucks).

4.  Can I make a friend?

We visited one church 6 times over the course of 3 months.

Their worship service was exciting.  Their teaching was biblical.  Their mission was Christ centered.

But, we found no easy way to make a friend, connect with a group, or get involved in a volunteer service project.

Our children visited the youth group for 6-8 weeks and eventually decided to drop out with our permission.

We couldn’t figure out how to make a friend.

There was no space to form a friendship on Sundays.

There was no clear way to us as a visitor where we could go an make a friend.

We tried one Saturday event, and at the end of it, still had no friends.

Put effort into designing a natural way for your newcomers to start making friends.  You might like this resource on assimilation.

5.  Creating a culture of hospitality takes work.

If those teens at the front door had captured the hospitality vision, at least one of them who saw our awkward entrance attempt at the locked doors could have mentioned to us that the entrance door is around the corner.

At small churches, members could have easily welcomed us as visitors, but left us feeling left out.

It takes a hospitality vision in the entire church to help visitors avoid interesting moments like that.

This audio resource might help you.  Casting and recasting a welcome vision is an ongoing work that takes work from pastors and church leaders of influence.  It’s not set it and forget it.

6.  A visitor packet can be a great place to include a simple gospel outline.

Your website and even your church visitor packet can be a great place to communicate the basics of the gospel.

Though every sermon should have a clear connection to a gospel presentation, you may want to include a simple gospel outline in your visitor packet.

If I was an unchurched visitor looking at this visitor packet, you’d be giving me an opportunity to understand the core of what Christianity is about, what Jesus did for me, and who Jesus calls me to be.

I’ve seen packets that include statements of faith (for church shopping believers).

These are too confusing for an unchurched, unsaved person.  Most are full of theological jargon that make no sense to those outside of your stream of Christianity.

7.  Make it easy to fill out a connection card.

I did a mystery visit recently to one of the local area churches.  It was good visit and they do many of the hospitality things right.

As part of their welcome greeting from the front, I was asked to fill out a connection card, turn it in for a free gift.

But I forgot a writing utensil.  I had no pen, no pencil, and I wasn’t going to sign by pricking my finger for blood.

There were no pencils/pens within my reach, nor in a pew rack or chair pocket.

There was no friendship pad available for me to steal a pencil.

I never filled out the visitor card.

Walk into your sanctuary or worship space this weekend and see if your visitor would be able to access a pen or pencil to fill out a visitor card.

8.  Invite your first time visitors back.

At many places, we left as anonymous as we came.

The was no process to register my attendance, no card to fill out, or no attempt to tell me what next week’s sermon was about.

I will not receive a follow up letter in the mail to invite me to return.

I will not receive a follow up invitation to a special gathering for new comers.

I will have no way of knowing what sermon topic is coming the following week to give me a reason to consider coming back.

I think these churches missed an opportunity – an opportunity to invite us to come back next week.

Consider this short webinar on visitor assimilation and learn some ways to start putting a system in place to follow up with church visitors.

Let me ask you this

If you have been recently shopping for a church, is there a lesson you can share that would add to this list?  Please do in the comments.

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

Book Review: Five Star Church

TheFiveStarChurchCould the same principles that create a five star hotel be applied to the church and its hospitality?

That is the basic structure of the fictional conversation between a pastor and staff and the general manager of a five star hotel, as mapped out in the book The Five Star Church: Serving God and His People with Excellence, by Stan Toler and Alan Nelson.

Utilizing that framework, Toler and Nelson make points of connection of quality, customer service, and exceeding expectation to help a church grow by attracting and connecting first time church visitors with the local church.

“People are attracted to organizations that are run with excellence and that are unabashedly committed to top-quality customer service.”

From other church hospitality books I’ve read about welcoming visitors, this one takes the different angle of utilizing the fictional conversation to cover the same points that are touched upon elsewhere.

The strength I found in this book is overcoming some of the common objections to quality improvement.

Take these quotes for example:

  • Beth wondered, “So we’re not compromising on the gospel by putting people at the center of our ministry?” “It’s not an either-or, but a both-and situation,” Jeff responded. Churches ought to be the leaders in excellence and customer service because we have the highest stakes—eternity.
  • We need to strive for excellence and care about our church property, programming and publicity because God deserves our best.
  • Top service organizations typically gain reputations for the “second mile” service they provide for people. Courtesy, follow-through, giving the benefit of the doubt and service with a smile characterize service-oriented companies.
  • Beth questioned, “Will we know when the shopper will attend? It seems that people might get a little nervous or even defensive if they think they’re being watched or judged.” “They’re being watched and judged anyway,” Jeff said. “The only difference is that we’re not benefiting from the feedback. A church may want to get the board or leadership team to buy into the idea first, and they will have to make the decision of whether the staff is informed. Or you may want to just spring a secret shopper on everybody without warning. Every situation is different. At Family Church, I think that as long as a team of a half-dozen people are aware of what we’re doing and why, that is sufficient. I suppose in congregations where there is rarely a visitor, an announced shopper program could ruin it.”

Who would this book be for?

This book was first published in 1999 when some of these concepts and connections were novel and part of a huge growth focus on quality service.

As such, some of critiques of the book nowadays (in 2014) reflect the passage of time, and it may feel a little outdated if you have read many different books on church hospitality.

The evaluation questions at the end of each chapter can help church leadership evaluate their current level of quality.

Resources

Webinar: Step up! First Steps to Running or Restarting Your Welcome Ministries

Church Hospitality Training WebinarIf you are a new leader in your church’s hospitality or welcome ministry, register for this online class to help you get started in preparing for the upcoming season of welcome.

If you

  • Were recently appointed as leader of your hospitality ministry
  • Want to reorganize a stale welcome ministry
  • Re-launch your hospitality ministry for the next season of growth.

you may not know where to begin.

Where do you begin?

If you are just getting started, you are likely feeling a little overwhelmed with where to begin.

It feels like staring into the fog.  Let me help you get the fog out and help develop an action plan to help you get unstuck.

Sign up for Step up!: First Steps to Running or Restarting Your Welcome Ministries, an online class with other leaders who are in a similar position.

I’ve helped other hospitality ministry leaders breakthrough that log-jam of inaction and set them moving forward again. They felt like they were staring into the fog and not seeing much of anything clearly.

You’ll get your creativity going as you think of ways to move forward with your hospitality ministry.

The cost is an investment in retaining new families in your church membership.

Here is what you can expect to learn:

  • The Two Best Measurements of Effective Hospitality
  • The Master Word that will Help You Find and Remove Hidden Faults
  • 7 Areas to Form Your Action Plan

Details

  • Actions-help-about-iconDuration: 1 hour and a 30 minutes.
  • Instant Access to the recording from the class recorded on July 24, 2014
  • It is a narrated PowerPoint presentation.
  • No travel necessary.
  • Price: $39 USD.

Who is this class for?

  • If you are the new leader of your church hospitality committee and not sure how or where to start
  • Did you inherit a stale welcome ministry and need to re-launch it?
  • Perhaps you’ve been appointed as the new director who oversees the hospitality ministry of your church.
  • Does your hospitality ministry feel stuck?
  • Or maybe your hospitality committee is not quite sure where to start?
  • Or perhaps you are rotating off your committee leadership soon and need to train your replacement.

What will you receive?

  • Instant Access to download the video (MP4 for Windows Player and Quicktime).
  • Copies of MP3 audio to download
  • Copies of the slides as a PDF.
  • The optional handout that accompanies the teaching, along with links to further resources.
  • Permission to use this recording and resources in your congregation.

Cost:

  • This class has a registration fee of $39.00 USD per person.
  • Payable on-line via PayPal OR Credit Card via the order button below.
  • I will not see payment information.
  • You’ll receive a reminder emails with the access codes as time grows closer.
  • You’ll receive your receipt by email which should contain the entrance link that will be unique to you.

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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Who is Chris Walker?

Evangelism Trainer Chris WalkerChris has given Evangelism Training seminars around the US and 9 Countries in Latin America. He is fittingly known as the Evangelism Coach because of his extensive work with churches in the US and Latin America in the areas of evangelism and church growth. Chris is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

His website has over 1000 articles on personal evangelism, congregational evangelism, and hospitality, as well as a podcast feed, all for free.

Ready for Results?

  • Practical. Based on my life experiences teaching evangelism and church hospitality on two continents and in two languages.
  • Biblical – No compromising of Scripture to get butts on benches here.
  • Personal – You’ll work with me to plan and  apply lessons to fit the personality of your church.
  • Affordable – A fraction of the cost of taking your ministry team to a conference or me to speak in person for a few days.
  • Step-by-Step Help. – You get some great ideas and focus to apply right away.
  • Gospel-Centered – It’s all about Jesus, proclaiming the glorious good and making disciples.

Frequent Webinar Questions

Q. What if I’ve been leading the hospitality ministry for a few years?
You may find that this class will spur some creativity or give you different angle to look at things.

I won’t simply say “be nice to people” or “tell your greeters to say this phrase”  but teach hospitality leaders how to identify shortcomings in their own context and think through ways to fix them.

The get started steps will focus on helping provide a framework for action over the next six months or so.

Questions before the live class?

Q.  What happens if I register and then miss the class?

You’ll be given access to the replay, typically within 24-48 hours of the webinar.

Q.  What if the audio is really awful?

Sometimes, there are problems with bandwidth.  If the audio is really awful, I will re-record the webinar in a studio and make the re-recording available for replay.  I did that with the last church greeter training webinar.

Audio quality can vary based on your audio software/hardware manufacturer as well as your operating system. When using VoIP, the following best practices are recommended:

  • For optimum sound quality, a headset is recommended, preferably a USB headset for ease of use.
  • If a headset is not available, a microphone and speakers are required, preferably a USB microphone for ease of use.
  • If using a microphone, it should be a distance of at least 1.5 feet away from any speakers that are built into or connected to your PC.
  • The use of a Webcam microphone is not recommended.
  • The use of a integrated laptop microphone with laptop speakers is not recommended.
  • Ear buds or earphones and use of the integrated laptop microphone is a workable solution.

Q.  Will I hear pitches for products and services?

You will not hear me sell anything during the webinar.    There is nothing more to buy.  You are buying access to a class and the registration fee helps me cover the cost of the technology.

Q.  Why do I need to pay the fee?

People value what they pay for.  I want people who are motivated to learn and will apply what they learn.  Free webinars are great when I am selling a product or service, where I can recoup the cost the webinar.

What others have said about Chris Walker’s Teaching

  • -Inspirational, re-awakening.
  • Do not be afraid! Evangelism is not scary – or need not be. It can be a friendly conversation.
  • “Attend one. ” You will no longer fear, ridicule or avoid evangelism.
  • More people really want to know Jesus and how to help others reach Him.
  • Good. Well worth it.
  • The seminar was awesome.
  • You will lose your misconceptions about evangelism.
  • Go with an open heart and mind and you will leave fulfilled.
  • You’ll learn to listen better.
  • An inspiring motivational speaker with a message for all.
  • Just do it – You will find that the skills are within, this encourages you to put them to use.
  • The seminar helps you feel more comfortable about evangelism.
  • Tools to share one’s faith with others to help them.
  • Your Church Hospitality Webinar Inspired Creativity

Order Now:

Click the big button and you’ll be taken to EvangelismCoach Sore to process your payment and receive instant access to the recording.

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Do you have other questions?

Please use the form below to ask me other questions that you may have.  I’ll reply as well in the comment field.

20 Church Hospitality Goofs and How You Can Avoid Them

You know that churches make all sorts of hospitality mistakes.   You’ve probably experienced a few church hospitality errors  first hand.

Over the last few months, I’ve compiled this list of 20 complaints shared on Twitter.

Read them and cringe. [Read more…]