By Christy Heitger-Ewing
I’ll be honest; I’m a “feel it in my gut” type of person. I know within the first 60 seconds of meeting someone whether or not a relationship is going to work out—or at least if I’m going to feel good about it. This is true of doctors, dentists, therapists, mechanics, veterinarians, teachers, pastors, and yes—all church folks. I form a first impression based on tone of voice, eye contact, hand shake, and verbal exchange. Do I get a sense that the other person cares and wants to engage with me or are they simply going through the motions?
Sometimes I’m right. Sometimes I’m wrong. But regardless, the first impression stands.
The truth is that, on some level, we are all “gut people.” We form first impressions of a person, place, or thing typically within two minutes of said meeting. Think about it. The moment you step into a hotel room, you do a once-over of the bed, bathroom, and blinds to check for cleanliness. The same is true when you go out to eat. If you’re greeted by warm smiles and delicious aromas when you step inside a restaurant, chances are you already are feeling optimistic about the experience.
Keeping all this in mind, it’s important that your church makes a great first impression – especially on Easter! Below are some ways you, your staff and yes even your regular church attenders can make an impression that will encourage visitors to return:
- Prepare greeters and children’s classroom workers to be genuine and gentle, engaging in brief, friendly conversation without firing a bunch of questions at your visitors.
- If guests have children, ask greeters to offer to walk the whole family down to the nursery or Sunday school classrooms and show them around.
- Use technology to facilitate connections. People love convenience so provide the option of texting a keyword if they would like to be contacted by someone in the church. This not only gives them the power of the first move, but it also provides them with a quick and easy way to connect.
- Speaking of connection, find a way to connect newcomers with other newcomers. No matter the situation, nothing is worse than feeling like the new guy—at work, at school, and yes, even at church. So coordinate a way to introduce recent guests with other recent guests so that right from the start, they can share a bond.
- The week before Easter, talk to regular congregants about being friendly and welcoming to new people they see in the church.
- Encourage them to share a bit about themselves so that not all the pressure is on them to be forthcoming.
- Suggest your church members invite visitors to an upcoming event, a mid-week church meal or other social activity taking place at the church in the near future. (In other words, give them a specific reason to return)
- And introduce visitors to one or two other people—again, in a natural way. Say, “Oh, hey—on your way out, I’d love to introduce you to Person X.” (Be sure this is a super friendly soul in the congregation whom you know will make the visitor feel at ease.)
- The biggest thing is simply to ask folks to come back the following Sunday. Numerous studies show that the vast majority of people don’t go to church because they received a an invitation – they went because a friend or family member asked them to go. It’s that personal touch that means so much, so don’t be afraid to extend the invitation again and again.
And be sure that one of the invitations come from the pulpit – share what your next sermon or series is about and ask everyone to return. Don’t be shy when extending multiple invites–keep in mind that research shows when introducing a new food to a baby, it can take up to 15 times before they start to like it. The same may hold true of church so don’t give up hope! After all, feeding a person’s soul is more nourishing than broccoli!
Christy Heitger-Ewing is a freelance writer who has written for more than 50 national, regional and local magazine and has more than 900 publications to her name. She is a regular contributor to Outreach magazine.