Do you remember your first day of middle school?
I can pretty much sum it up into one word – AWKWARD.
Hormones were not the only issue. Don’t get me wrong, those were real. But the first day of middle school was also frustrating. See, I felt like I did all the right things:
I enrolled in the school.
I got all of my supplies.
I graduated from 5th grade.
I even got to school on time.
…and yet, I still felt like I was missing something. Like I was two steps behind everyone else. Like everyone I saw knew I really didn’t know what I was doing.
I felt lost, intimidated, and insecure.
The unfortunate truth is if we’re not careful, the church can feel just like the first day of middle school for visiting guests.
They may arrive just like I did in 6th grade, feeling like they did all the right things…
They researched the church to find the service times.
They found the address.
They made sure to get there on time.
They found the children’s ministry
They dropped off their kids.
They navigated their way to where the adult service is.
They may have even come with a bible in hand.
Look at all that they did to try to fit in. But let’s be honest, did we consider them when we planned?
Did they feel included? Did they feel like anyone noticed them and cared that they showed up?
Did they feel like an outsider or an insider?
The last thing we want is to give someone who found his or her way to church an isolating experience.
So, what do we do? How can we, a bunch of insiders, plan a service with a first timer in mind?
We need to start thinking like a first timer.
Approach every element of your service through the eyes of a first time guest.
Planning for a Sunday service may look something like this:
I am a first time guest driving to the church…
Is there a sign with the church name on it? I want to be at the right place.
Is there special parking for me near the doors? I want to park my car in the right place.
Are there signs pointing out where the main entrance is? I want to know where to go when I get near the building.
I am a first time guest walking into the building…
Is someone there to say hello? I want to feel noticed and welcomed when I am somewhere new.
Are there signs inside that direct me where to go? I may want to find my way around alone. Can I?
Is someone available to show me where to go? I may get lost. Who do I ask? How can I find them?
I am a first time guest dropping off my child…
Is the drop-off process clear? I want to be sure I know where to bring my child and how to drop him or her off.
Are the volunteers in the children’s environment welcoming and reassuring? I don’t want to leave my child with someone who doesn’t care.
I am a first time guest sitting in service…
Am I welcomed in the service? Sometimes all it takes is someone from stage saying, “I am so glad you are here” to make me feel at ease.
Is the sermon directed toward everyone in the room, or just the regular attenders? It’s easy to talk to people you know in the crowd, but it makes me feel left out when I don’t get the inside jokes.
How can I find out more about the church? Is this communicated in the service? Am I given some information at a first-timers table? If so, how do I find my way there?
I am a first time guest leaving service…
Is someone going to say goodbye to me?
Will someone be at the first-time guest location to welcome me and tell me more about the church?
You may have wanted to get out of middle school as fast as possible – I know I did. But our goal is not to have people leave the church as fast as possible.
You, thinking like a first timer = clarity, confidence, and comfort for first time guests.
That is the experience that sticks.
That is the experience that leads to guests returning.
That is the experience that brings them from the outer circle directly into the inner circle.
Think like a first timer. Guide them into the inner circle. Then watch as the church becomes their home.
Want to get more practical help when it comes to engaging first-time guests?