I’ve written a few posts about first impressions and how important they are to retaining guests and making them feel more at home in our corporate times of worship. This week, I share with you two similar lists–one from Thom Rainer and one from Chuck Lawless–on this topic. Easter Sunday is a great week to ramp up our efforts to welcome the many guests who will enter your church’s doors.

Dr. Lawless lists 12 surprisingly friendly experiences of “secret church shoppers” (people who are hired to visit a church with the assignment of providing honest feedback of the experience):

  1. “The website had a video ‘invitation for guests.’” Clearly located on the site, it was hard for potential attenders to miss it – and harder not to feel invited if they watched it.
  2. “They had clearly marked parking not only for guests, but also for senior adults and families with preschoolers.” And, the parking spaces were close to the most logical doors for these folks to enter.
  3. “Greeters in the parking lot had umbrellas for everyone.” Nobody had to walk in the rain without protection.
  4. “In the small group, somebody asked my name, and then she introduced me.” This approach allowed a shopper to be welcomed without being put on the spot to introduce herself to the group.
  5. “Several members shook hands with me, and the pastor didn’t even tell them to do it.” You can tell that this shopper was accustomed to the traditional, forced “meet and greet” time that few people seem to enjoy.
  6. “Somebody asked my name before the service and remembered it at the end.” It’s hard to underestimate what it means when somebody actually knows your name, especially when you’re a first-time guest.
  7. “A man actually got up and gave me his seat.” To be honest, we don’t hear this kind of report often.
  8. “Everybody was wearing a name tag.” I’ve floated this idea in the past on this site, and several folks took me to task. For this shopper, however, knowing everybody’s name was a plus.
  9. “A member asked how she could pray for me.” Not everyone who visits would like this kind of friendliness, but a gentle, unassuming prayer warrior can surprise lonely hearts.
  10. “All the leaders on the stage introduced themselves.” As a first-time guest, how else would I recognize who they are? Leaders invite others to know them when they tell their names each week. If the church uses screens, at least a name on the screen is a start.
  11. “They had a small gift for my kids at the welcome center.” Most churches that provide a small gift for guests provide something for adults, not for their children.
  12. “The church even had greeters at the doors and in the parking lot as we left!”Greeters before a service are often expected; greeters after the service are a surprise.

Dr. Rainer writes about 9 surprises in worship services that makes people return:

  1. “Someone had an umbrella waiting for me in inclement weather.” This comment was made for both snowy and rainy weather. Some of the respondents indicated that someone actually stayed next to them so they would not slip or fall.
  2. “A member actually invited me to lunch.” I admit I was surprised by the frequency of this response. This invitation had a huge impact on guests.
  3. “The kids area had leaders who were friendly and helpful.” This issue was obviously highly important to young families. I realize more than ever you keep or lose young families at the point you check the kids in or take them to a class.
  4. “There was a time of meaningful prayer.” I continue to be gratefully amazed at how important prayer is to guests. They love the times of quiet when people are asked to pray silently. They also love guided prayers.
  5. “Someone walked us where we were supposed to go.” Every place in a church facility is unknown to a first time guest. They love greeters staying with them and taking the fear of the unknown away.
  6. “There was genuine friendliness outside of the stand and greet time.” I have come to the conclusion that church members tend to like the stand and greet time more than guests do. In fact, most guests see the stand and greet time as artificial, especially if members are not friendly outside that time.
  7. “People followed up with my prayer requests the next day.” Many churches have places on guest cards for prayer requests. If leaders in the church emphasize that people will pray for the guests, many are likely to complete the card. The guests are really impressed if they hear from someone the next day.
  8. “I loved having the opportunity to speak with the pastor.” In some churches, this conversation took place in a reception room after the service. In other churches, the pastor called or wrote a personal email that was obviously not a form email. Guests really love hearing from the pastor.
  9. “I received a gift at the end of the service.” Many guests love receiving a gift for their visit. Their favorite gifts are freshly baked cookies or freshly baked bread. But any gift is appreciated.

Think through ways that you can make your guests feel more welcomed each week. What are some things your church does that are not listed here?

Thanks to Chuck Lawless for granting permission for the reprinting of these points. His original blog post can be found here.

A portion of this article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on December 21, 2015Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam,  Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

See also these posts on First Impressions