In my travel and consulting with churches, I’ve had the chance to see a lot (hundreds) of varying denominations (and non-denoms). Across the board, I have to tell you about two things that discourage me in most (90% or more) of these churches: a notable lack of an intentional and friendly hospitality ministry.
When I first drive up to a church campus, I start looking for the most important first impressions: happy, welcoming people! If they’re not in the parking lot waving me in and helping out, I feel as though I’m going to be the outsider that isn’t welcomed. Let’s face it, unless there’s plenty of easy-to-read signage, I won’t know where to park.
- Will there be first-time visitor parking?
- How will I find it?
- If I have kids, how can I park near the preschool/children’s areas.
The best churches make it easy for a first-time visitor to get help and feel welcome. A dozen people in the parking lot wearing matching shirts or bright parking vests will not only guide me in, but will let me roll my window down and ask questions. These churches will even have a sign near all parking lot entrances that says “First Time Guests please turn on Hazard Lights”. Then it’s obvious to the parking attendants who is new and needs extra attention and preferred parking spots.
And how about parking for single parents near the children’s buildings? And for rainy days, why not have an umbrella patrol that helps get these single parents out of the car and under a covered walkway or into a building while using an oversized umbrella with the church logo on it?
After getting out of my car I want to have greeters at the doors who can help me get to where I need to go, whether that’s dropping off my kids or finding the auditorium. And it won’t hurt my feelings if a hospitality volunteer offers me free coffee, lemonade or even a bottle of water while I make my way around the building.
When I reach the auditorium, I want an usher who’s not just handing out the bulletin/worship guide but who makes eye contact and says “hey, thanks for coming!” or “welcome to (church name here)” or “we’re glad to see you today”.
After having 3-5 people welcome me with great first-touch, first impressions, I’m in a more relaxed state of mind and probably more receptive to participate.
How does your church prepare for first-time visitors, single parents, parents with kids and handicapped parking? How you answer those questions is unique to your church, community and culture; but the questions must still be answered!