First impressions matter. A good first impression immediately opens a person up to you. A negative first impression causes a person to be guarded, skeptical, or uncertain about you. This isn’t just true in a personal connection, it’s also true for those visiting our churches.
Before people ever hear one note of music, an announcement, or a sermon, they’ve most likely experienced multiple impressions and interactions that inform the way they process all these other elements we work on so diligently. Every negative impression we create is a hurdle we have to help people over. This why we want to think about every impression we create from the parking lot to the pulpit.
Here are three ingredients that are often overlooked, but together tend to make up a person’s first impression of our churches.
What people see when they walk into our gatherings is critical. Managing this can be most difficult when you’re in the early stages of church planting. Often, we’re in rented spaces we don’t have control over. One Easter morning at Redemption Bible Church, our first church plant, we walked into the school theater we rented to see the entire lobby, auditorium, and stage decorated for the upcoming “Zombie Prom” musical. Not exactly the Easter “vibe” we were after.
So it can be difficult to say the least, but just because we can’t control everything doesn’t mean we can’t control anything.
Two things I believe are critical for people to see when they get anywhere near our worship spaces are signage and people. Few things make me more anxious than pulling up to a church for the first time and not knowing where to go because there are no signs. It’s equally off-putting when there are no people are around. You start to wonder if you’re in the right place, or maybe missed the rapture. Our spaces need lots of clear, helpful signage, as well as people assigned to welcome others into the space.
I love almost everything about Target - their branding, design, products, and marketing are all spot on. My one complaint about Target (other than the Target card bill we have to pay each month) is that they don’t play any music in their stores. We’re early risers, so we tend to be at Target before most and it’s always eerily quiet. Some may find this relaxing, but I find it unnerving. It makes me feel as though I’m in a library and should whisper. I know we want to be reverent when we gather for worship, but we certainly don’t want our celebration of Jesus’ resurrection to sound like a funeral.
We want our lobbies filled with music and the voices of God’s people gathered in God’s presence. Music helps set the tone and prepare hearts for worship. Hearing people talk, laugh, even cry, communicates the community we’re trying to create. Depending on the size of your space this may take little more than a small Bluetooth speaker, a Spotify account, and maybe some decent coffee to lure people to the lobby. Don’t neglect what people hear when they enter your space.
My wife says I have virtually no sense of smell. There could be a dead animal in my car and it would probably still take me a beat to have any idea. That being said, most people are very sensitive to smell and in my experience, this is a sense we tend to neglect. Maybe you meet in an old building of some kind. Old buildings with old carpet tend to smell like, well, old buildings with old carpet. Maybe you’re in a movie theater. If so, it probably smells like popcorn. At Ridgeline, we meet in a space that throws parties on Saturday nights, so it smells like spilled beer and bad decisions on Sunday mornings.
Again, you may not be able to control all of this, but we have to at least be mindful of it. Get the carpets cleaned, burn a candle, flush the drains . . . do whatever you can to make it as pleasant as possible.
I can hear some critics saying, “We’re not businesses. Why does this matter?” It matters because we’re called to practice hospitality (1Tim.3:2; Titus 1:8). It’s our Biblical responsibility to welcome guests into both our homes and our churches. Being a good host means being mindful of your guests. So give some thought to sight, sound and scent. Walk your space with fresh eyes, a fresh nose, and fresh ears and ask, “What do people see, hear and smell?” God will be honored and your guests will be grateful.
To explore more ways myXP can help you in the areas of first impressions and hospitality, visit our website at myXP.church.