Churches all over the nation welcomed first-time guests this past weekend. The only difference between churches that are growing and churches that find themselves stagnate or in decline is the retention of those individuals. You’ve probably heard it said, “You get one shot to make a great first impression.” When it comes to ministry, I would add to that statement, “You get one shot to make a great first impression or you won’t ever see them again.”
The question becomes, “How can you create an experience that has a lasting impact and will compel guests to come back?” The key is PREPARATION. When families make the conscious decision to “try out” your church, they expect you to be prepared for their arrival. There is no RSVP or advance notice. Whether you expect 10 first-time guests this weekend at two locations, or 1000 first-time guests at 20 locations, establishing a plan to receive these individuals is a necessity.
When families feel welcome, understand what the morning holds, know where and how to pick-up their child, and make a connection with one or more volunteers or staff, the likelihood they will return increases exponentially. Excellence is in the details. Let’s spend a few minutes examining the practical aspects of welcoming guests. Below you will find questions to help you evaluate your preparedness.
How long does it take a first-time guest to check-in their child? (From the front door to dropping off at the classroom)
Tip: Schedule “secret shoppers” to time the process and get an accurate evaluation of each location.
Tip: Have check-in volunteers wear ministry logoed t-shirts to help parents easily identify those who will be assisting them.
What training have you provided to your check-in teams?
Tip: Volunteers come and go. A quarterly refresher will keep your teams operating with efficiency and effectiveness.
Tip: Check-in systems and database trainings are a great start, but welcome scripts and hospitality coaching is also a necessity.
What VIP treatment will you offer to first-time guests to make them feel special?
- Informational handouts about each area of ministry
- An assigned volunteer to assist each family from the parking lot to the classroom
- A number for parents to text to check on their child throughout the service
- A sticker or lanyard that easily identifies the child as a first-time guest, so he or she will receive VIP treatment throughout the experience
Are you conveying a commitment to safety throughout your check-in process?
Tip: Have a security volunteer or police officer present near the check-in area to reinforce your dedication to safety.
Tip: Following child check-in, have the volunteer escorting the new family to their classroom explain safety protocols, including lock-down times and pick-up procedures.
What steps do you take to make pick-up easy and efficient?
Tip: Consider giving parents a blueprint map of the building, explaining traffic flow and pick-up procedures.
Tip: Think of ways to make it easier and quicker for first-time guests to navigate pick-up lines.
Discomfort, confusion, and uncertainty combined with sluggish check-in or pick-up systems will drive away potential attendees and prohibit growth. Parents’ expectations are high. They walk in your door and expect you will be ready to receive them. If you stumble and fall below the imaginary line of expectation, the gap created is enough to discount your church before you’ve had an opportunity to minister. The opposite is also true. When you exceed expectations, moms and dads will not only notice, but also grant allowances when small hiccups occur throughout the morning. I’ve actually had parents say, “They forgot to feed my child his bottle, but they were so sweet, helpful, and welcoming it wasn’t a big deal.” Parents will excuse small missteps when they know you are committed to excellence. Exhibiting that excellence starts from the moment they step out of their car.
In a multisite model, it’s easy for check-in systems and volunteer training to vary from location to location. I would encourage you to make this a central responsibility, one person dedicated to monitoring quality control, ordering first-time guest gifts, updating and checking weekly database entries, and scheduling volunteer trainings. If that isn’t possible with your current staff org chart, a scheduled meeting-of-the-minds is necessary to examine standards and set expectations.
I hope you will join me again next Multisite Monday as we continue to discuss FIRST TIME GUESTS. Part II will focus on subsequent follow-up and retention.