Visitors Not Welcome

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It’s a fundamental rule of life, that people tend to avoid unpleasant experiences.

It’s true for people, businesses, and to an even greater extent, churches. Normal people are leery of visiting a church. They’ve visited church before and it was unpleasant. If you annoy them when they show up, they won’t come back because it’s far easier to sleep in on Sunday.

Does Radio Shack need a phone number before they they sell me batteries? Does the local Christian bookstore need to sell me testamints” with my book? (Does my candy have to be saved, or are Devildogs okay?) Because they unintentionally annoy me, I buy batteries at Target and Christian books at Amazon.

Churches do the same thing. Without realizing it, we hang the “visitors not welcome” sign. Here are a couple ways I’ve seen many churches run off visitors unintentionally.

Poor Website – In the digital age, your website is your front door. The vast majority of your guests “visit” you there before they show up. If it is inadequate or non-existent, people won’t come find you. Period. If it’s hard to find basic information about when and where your services are, you annoy people who want to learn about you. You tell them they are not welcome before they pull into the parking lot…so they don’t.

Poor Signage – Your regulars know where the nursery is and how to find a bathroom. They even know how to beat the crowd out of the parking lot so they get to Golden Corral first, but visitors don’t. Guests need directional cues on where to go. If you don’t have obvious, clear, and eye-catching signage, you make a visit to your church hard on new people. It starts in the parking lot if you have more than one door. Direct them on where to enter and what is inside. Point them to the locations they need to find. Make it easy. Better yet, show them with an warm, engaging guide. If not, they won’t “find their way around,” they’ll just find their way out.

Poor Preparation – Sometimes churches appear to not expect anyone to come, let alone guests. Just like at your house, dirty bathrooms, unkempt public spaces, and a lack of hospitality send the message to visitors they are not welcome. Your service is your “open house” so you have to expect and be prepared for visitors in order to make their experience great. It requires people and focus. People don’t come back if no one greets, guides, or connects them.

If you need help, Mark Waltz has written the definitive book on creating great first impressions for guests at church.

  • What are ways you’ve seen churches annoy people?
  • How many people skip your church because of annoyance?
  • What things show you a church is expecting guests?

Get rid of the Crappy Stuff

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“We had to edit.” That was the conclusion of Mark Parker, CEO of Nike,  He concluded this after a conversation with Steve Jobs where he gave Parker some excellent advice.

“Nike makes some of the best products in the world.  Products that you lust after.  But you also make a lot of crap.  Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.”  Parker said Jobs paused and Parker filled the quiet with a chuckle.  But Jobs didn’t laugh.  He was serious. “He was absolutely right,” said Parker.  “We had to edit.”

Apple, the most valuable brand in the world, derives it’s success from focusing on just a few products. Because of that focus, their products often dominate their category (ipod, iphone), or invent whole new categories (ipad). For Apple, less is more.

Unlike Jobs and Parker, church leaders often believe they’ll be more successful and build the kingdom faster if they offer many programs for people to choose from. More options = more growth, but they are wrong.

Michael Jordan, Hall-of-fame basketball player, tried baseball for two years without success.

Every decision to utilize resources means you cannot use those resources in a different way. Each choice costs you the chance to invest in a different option. IF you launch a campus in city A, you are not launching in every other city. If you hire employee C, you cannot hire employee D. There is a real and measurable cost to every decision to invest money, time, energy, leadership or people. Thus, the more you do, the less resources you have to focus on the few things you can do with excellence. There is no escaping this.

Like Nike, most churches need to “edit” their product offerings (programs, ministries). Focus on what you do with excellence. Identify  your talents, your unique offerings, and put your eggs in those few baskets.

So just get rid of the crappy church programs.

It’s far easier said than done.  Compared to starting,  endings are painful. Each program has participants and supporters who won’t understand and won’t be happy. Far better to establish your focus before a church gets spread so thin they are doing nothing with excellence.

  • How do you focus on a limited set of ministries as a church?
  • How do church leaders decide what the church’s unique strengths are?