Strive for a "WOW" first impression
If you show up on a Sunday morning at Reading UMC and it happens to be raining, no worries! Before you can even open up your car or truck door, a friendly greeter will be standing there with an open umbrella to keep you dry as you get out of your vehicle. And on any day, regardless of the weather, you will not have to open the door into the church by yourself – no matter which entrance you choose – because a friendly greeter will be standing outside the door, ready to open it for you.
Could this be part of the reason that Reading UMC, a small-town, largely rural, old-fashioned bell-and-steeple kind of church located in the heart of Hillsdale County – a county that continues to struggle mightily with poverty, unemployment and underemployment --continues to steadily increase in worship attendance, membership, and general participation in ministry and spiritual growth opportunities when so many other churches that are similar to it continue to decline? YES! I have no doubt about it.
Rev. Rick Ezell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Greer, South Carolina, would agree with me. Here is what he wrote in an article posted on the LifeWay website:
"First impressions are lasting ones. Little hope of correcting a bad first impression is possible. Your first-time guests have some simple desires and basic needs. They decide very quickly if you can meet those criteria. The decision to return for a second visit is often made before your guests reach the front door.
- Are you creating the entire experience, beginning with the parking lot?
- Are you consciously working to remove barriers that make it difficult for guests to find their way around and to feel at home?
- Do newcomers have all the information they need without having to ask any embarrassing questions?
- Are greeters and ushers on the job, attending to details and anticipating needs?
- Does anything about your guests’ first experience make them say “wow!”?
"Your church may have a skillful preacher, and your church may have excellent small groups or the best children’s ministry in the community. But first-time guests will never know unless they make a second or third visit. Will they come back? It all depends on the impression you're making. Make the right one the first time."
Many of our churches – perhaps including yours – have a “Homecoming Sunday” or some special way of welcoming people and inviting them to return to regular participation when summertime ends. If you do, let me challenge you truly consider AND RESPOND to those five points listed by Rev. Ezell above. Strive for excellence!
Here’s an idea: make an appointment -- for some time other than a Sunday morning – with someone who has never been to your church before to walk around the entire facility, inside and out. In fact, make several appointments with several different people at several different times. Have them share with you their first impressions. Listen carefully, Write down what they say. Then go through the same process on a Sunday morning. Gain insight into how a “stranger” views your church. Then CHANGE whatever can be changed for the sake of hospitality – to help a guest or newcomer have a very positive first impression.
~ Rev. Tamara Williams, Albion District Superintendent