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When our church moved from meeting at a YMCA into a permanent location, we tried to be extremely intentional about what the first-time guest experience should be like. From the moment they pull into our campus until they leave, we want to be sure we’re communicating how much we value our guests.

Here are ten things we’ve learned along the way, mostly from trial and error, in what it takes to turn first-timers into returning guests. If you follow them and contextualize them to your church and your space, I promise it will pay dividends–it has for us.

1. Don’t forget the parking lot.

Some weeks our parking lot is crazy busy and crazy full–especially between services. Other weeks, especially in summer, it’s easier to navigate. Regardless, having parking lot attendants is less about helping a person find a spot and more about communicating the desire to connect with people from the moment they pull onto the campus.

2. Greeters should greet, not have conversations.

I know this is counterintuitive since you’d think you should have the most social, talkative people on your greeting team–but you shouldn’t. Put warm people with a good smile and a firm handshake on this team. Put the people who like to talk at your connection area. Greeters need to focus on greeting, not conversing. First-time guests who miss out on a smile because a greeter is engrossed in a conversation are far less likely to return.

Greeters need to focus on greeting, not conversing. || Tips for #Guests to Return Click To Tweet

3. Have lots of greeters, and make them identifiable.

You simply can’t have too many people welcoming guests into your space. Put greeters at any and every spot that makes sense. This serves a dual purpose. If they are wearing a badge or shirt, not only can they be welcoming to people, but they also become beacons of information for any guest who has a question.

4. Make children’s check-in so obvious guests can’t miss it.

Not everyone has the luxury of building a new space with a strategically-placed check-in area. You may be in an older building that’s like a maze or unable to do anything about your space, but you can be intentional about pointing people in the direction of children’s check-in. Nothing is more frustrating to the first-time guests running late than the inability to figure out what to do with their kids without embarrassing themselves and asking a dozen people where to go. Make this easy.

5. Make children’s check-in fun!

First-time guests should feel like their kid is in great hands. They should think that their kid is going to have the time of her life in a fun, safe environment. That impression is given by the check-in crew, not the teacher, so have solid, enthusiastic people running children’s check-in.

6. Preach one message.

This is the only point I’ll make on what your service should be like. The truth is that a worship service often is the least determining factor for guests’ returns. It will affect them long-term, but not for a second trip. However, if you want to make a great first impression, implement the “one message rule” for your services. Have one main point and weave it throughout every element. Songs, offering, communion, and preaching should all connect to one point.  The more coherent the service, the more likely a person is to “get it” and want to come back. You can get my free tool here to help streamline your service planning.

7. Connect with guests on their terms.

Let guests self-identify. Invite them to a particular space in the building to connect with a pastor who can meet them and share about your church. The space doesn’t really matter. More important is that you clearly communicate your desire to connect with guests and how they can engage. Some won’t do it until their second or third visit. That’s okay–just be consistent and communicate it every week.

8. Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up.

Have some sort of paper trail. It can be digital. It can be a card. Have guests fill out something, and then follow up. Most guests won’t reply to an email or phone call. That isn’t the point. Guests want to know that they were seen, heard, and valued, so follow up.

Guests want to know that they were seen, heard, and valued. || Get #Church #Guests to Return Click To Tweet

9. Make your space warm.

This may be a long-term solution and not immediately feasible. However, it’s critical to see your campus through the eyes of someone who has never been there. What values do the colors in your common spaces communicate? What does a guest smell when she walks in the door? Is your lobby too crowded? How accessible is the bathroom? How serious are you about cleanliness? Your physical space speaks volumes about your values. The church is a people, not a place–but the place informs the people who you are. Make it inviting.

10. Make everything all about the Gospel, always.

In our haste to make our churches inviting! warm! welcoming! fun!, it is easy to lose sight of what matters. If a greeter is supposed to be greeting but ends up spending ten minutes with a person who is hurting, that’s more than okay. The Gospel trumps policies, always. If you want a guest to come back, be a place where the Gospel is preeminent. There’s nothing more important.

The Gospel trumps policies, always. || #Church #Leadership Click To Tweet