“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Nobody knows who first uttered these words. Some say it was Oscar Wilde. Others attribute it to Mark Twain. Some claim that it was Will Rogers since it is posted on a plaque at his memorial. Whoever it was that first made that statement, it is the truth. First impressions matter in virtually every area of life, and particularly in the ministry of a local church.
Some say that guests determine whether or not they will return to the church within the first fifteen minutes after pulling onto the church property. As one who has served as a pastor for twenty years, I believe this to be the truth. How easy is it to find a place to park? Are the grounds and exterior of the church clean and well maintained? Are the entrances clearly and easily identifiable? Are they welcomed before they enter the church or do they have to walk in all by themselves? If they have children, are those areas clean, child-friendly and safe? Are they made to feel welcome and special without being singled-out or embarrassed? Is the service planned to make them a part or do they feel like an outsider? What about after the service? Do they have to gather their belongings and walk out all alone while the members talk amongst themselves and ignore the guests? These are just few of the things that can determine what kind of impression a guest has when visiting a church for the first time.
In churches that I have pastored, as well as the one I currently serve, we have put a great deal of effort, energy and expense into reaching out to those in our community. From mass mailers and signs at the local ballfields, to thousands of Easter eggs dropped from a helicopter and free fireworks displays around the Fourth of July, we have done everything possible and ethical to reach those around us. I don’t apologize for this, and firmly believe that every church budget should have a strong percentage set aside for outreach.
Once we’ve gone to all of this effort to have an individual or family visit one of our services, wouldn’t it be sad – really inexcusable – to not do everything we can to connect them with the ministry of the church? Wouldn’t we want to do everything possible to make a good first impression with our guests so that they would return, come to know Christ or join the church and serve Jesus through the ministry of the church?
So, let me share with you some of the simple suggestions to help make a good first impression that leads to a lasting connection.
1. The facilities should be clean and well-maintained.
2. The children’s and preschool areas should be safe and secure.
3. The atmosphere should be warm and welcoming.
4. The service should be exciting and engaging.
5. The printed materials should be professional and informative.
6. The process for connecting should be simple and clearly communicated.
7. The followup should be prompt and personal.
The church’s calling to reach and disciple people is the greatest, most important responsibility in the world today. It is much more important than a business that sells coffee or cars. Therefore, I believe that we should do everything we can to turn a first impression into a lasting connection that results in reaching as many people for Christ as possible through the ministry of the local church.