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

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:

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Useful Small Talk at the Church Welcome Center

In our family’s current journey of looking for a church, we empathize anew with Christian families that are new movers and have to find a new church on their own.

I am re-discovering is the value of small talk when engaging your first time visitor.  (Read these 20 Crazy Church Greeter Comments).

Our church visit this past Sunday drew my attention to the value of small talk. [Read more…]

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:

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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.