It’s been often said that you only have one chance to make a first impression.  And unfortunately the first impression you actually make on someone is hard to overcome.  Few people will give you a second chance if your first impression is a negative one.  It’s been said that excellent customer service is the best marketing strategy.  This is absolutely true for churches!

When it comes to our churches we have to get this one right!  We have been entrusted with a truly life-changing message – one that has the power to transform families, communities and nations.  Sadly many visitors are so put off by easily-remedied issues and situations that they never really hear what we have to say.

I was listening to an episode of the Up In Your Business podcast with guest Jay Baer, a marketing and customer experience expert, best-selling author and global business consultant.  In it he made an excruciatingly telling statement about companies and their lack of self-awareness when it comes to customer service.  It was so shocking that I had to replay the statement to make sure I had heard correctly.  Here were his words:

The research from Forrester shows that 80% of companies say they deliver exceptional customer service.  8% of their customers agree.

WOW!  Being a pastor and church consultant, my thoughts instantly went to how churches connect with “outsiders.”  Based on our experience as church consultants and as visitors searching for a church our family could call home, I believe that close to 95% of churches consider themselves welcoming to outsiders, while closer to 5-10% of their visitors (especially unchurched visitors) would say they actually are.

How did I arrive at these (admittedly) unscientific numbers?  Having coached, served in, planted and pastored churches in Post-Christian Europe and the USA, we have learned to view a church through the lens of visitors, especially “nones” (no religious affiliation) and “dones” (done with church).  So we approach every church we serve, visit or consult with this filter.

Even in the Bible Belt outsiders are unfamiliar with church practices, customs and insider language.  Unfortunately too many church leaders have been on the inside looking out for so long that they can’t see their church through the filter of a visitor.  For them the best thing they could do would be to actively seek input from outsiders.

How A Visitor Views Your Church

Pastors & church leaders, how would visitors – especially outsiders – honestly respond to the following questions about your church (separated by topic)?

  • Was there someone to help you find a parking spot and direct you to the front entrance?  Were they happy and friendly?
  • Did people intentionally engage you with a warm handshake and a welcoming conversation (beyond the perfunctory greeter at the door)?
  • If you arrived after the service started, was there someone to greet you at the door and help you find a seat (and not a seat in the front)?
  • Were the church people as welcoming after the service as they were before it started?
  • Is our signage (church, parking lot, front entrance, Kids Church/Youth rooms, restrooms, etc.) self-explanatory?  Is it sufficient?
  • Is our facility (parking lot, building exterior, classrooms, auditorium, hallways, restrooms, stage, floors and ceilings) clean and updated with a modern style and colors?  Were there spots on the walls or ceilings that needed repair or repainting?
  • Were the restrooms clean, odor-free and stocked (enough toilet paper, hand towels, etc.)?
  • Was the stage clean and orderly or cluttered and disorganized?
  • How can we improve the overall condition of our building to make it more inviting?
  • Is our music engaging and current (i.e. is it the style of music you hear in stores or on the radio)?  Did the words to the songs make sense?  Was the musical quality good (in tune, played together, overall sound quality)?
  • Did the service order make sense?
  • Were the transitions smooth?
  • Was the message engaging?  Did it keep your attention?  Was it practical (something useful on Monday morning)?
  • Was the service…
    • Too long?
    • Too short?
    • Appropriate length?
  • Did someone warmly welcome your children?
  • Did someone explain what happens in the Kids Church / Youth Group during the service?
  • Did someone show you where to drop off your kids, how to register them and where to pick them up?
  • Were the Kids/Youth facilities safe, clean, orderly, fun and inviting?
  • How did you hear about our church?
  • Were the next steps to investigate Christianity, grow in your faith or join the church clearly presented?
  • Are you interested in visiting again?
  • Would you invite your friends – especially unchurched friends – to this church?  What would they say about it?

Unfortunately a church visitor will rarely fill out a lengthy survey like this.  But you might make a shorter version, put it online and ask them to take 5 minutes to fill it out.  Maybe you could even offer some sort of bonus (a gift card or discount at an area coffee shop) if they are willing to complete it. (This would be money well spent!)  Maybe you could make this a part of the church membership class.  The goal is to gather honest feedback from a fresh set of eyes.  Plus, you have the added bonus of showing a visitor that you value their input.

Thankfully all churches can make the necessary changes so our churches can truly be welcoming communities of faith, where outsiders can feel safe to investigate what it means to follow Jesus.  It will take courageous action by the leadership and possibly outside help.  But isn’t the possible payoff worth the risk?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments section below…

BTW, when I went online to confirm the Forrester Research information I found this interesting infographic.