Have you ever gotten lost at church? I know that we are supposed to invite lost people to church, but what happens when people get lost at church?
Several years ago I was attending a funeral for a church member’s adult daughter. The funeral was held in a First church in another town. I planned to arrive twenty minutes before the service so I could speak to the family. Those were the days before Google Maps would give you accurate time estimates for travel. Needless to say, I misjudged the time. Instead of arriving twenty minutes early, I arrived just as the service was starting.
Since I was already late, it took me a few minutes to find a parking space. It was an on-street space about a block from the church. As I hurried toward the church I ducked into the first door I saw. It opened onto a hallway. There were no signs telling me where I was. There were no signs telling me how to get where I was going. Like any self-respecting man, I pressed on. Who needs directions, right?
After a few turns and a few more hallways I was lost at church. Still, I pressed on until I found a door with a sign that read, “Sanctuary.” Finally. I paused for a moment, straightened my tie, and slowly opened the door. I was hoping to make a quiet entrance without attracting attention. As I slipped through the opened door I suddenly realized that I was standing in the middle of the choir loft behind the pulpit and in front of the entire congregation. It was one of those moments when you just Wanna Get Away.
It is one thing for a Christian to get lost at church. It can be frustrating. It can be embarrassing. But the lostness of a Christian at church is spatial, not eternal. Eventually, you will figure out where to go. And even if you don’t come back to that church, your eternal destiny is secure.
But imagine a lost person getting lost at church. Imagine someone who is willing to give Christianity one shot. They muster all of the courage they can. They find a place to park. They enter the first door they see. And they get lost at church. They don’t know where to go.
Maybe this lost, lost person will wander around until they figure it out. They probably will. After all, they’ve come this far. But will they come back? I know the Holy Spirit will do amazing things despite our worst efforts. I know that He is ultimately responsible for the work of saving lost people. But I also know that it’s a sin for us to hinder people from coming to Jesus (Matthew 19:14).
Having a plan in place to welcome people who come to your church for the first time is one of the most important issues for church leaders. The old adage is true, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” And let’s face it. Most of our church buildings are not inherently visitor friendly. Members know where to park. They know which door to enter. They know how to navigate the hallways. They don’t give any of this a second thought, and even if they do they are thinking about it from the perspective of familiarity. The church building is home. But visitors are often overwhelmed by our confusing campuses.
The familiarity factor leaves churches open to huge blindspots when it comes to first impressions and being a welcoming church. Fresh eyes can help you see the blindspots. Trained eyes can help you fix them. Here are three ways you can benefit from an outsider’s perspective:
- Ask someone who has never visited your church to be a Secret Guest. Better yet, ask a non-churchgoing person to visit. Not only will you get the perspective of a true outsider, they may respond to the gospel while they are present.
- Ask a consultant to conduct a First Impressions Audit. This is a cost-effective way to get a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your welcoming ministry. It involves asking a trained consultant to visit your weekend services. He or she will evaluate everything from greeters to temperature and help you develop a plan so that no one gets lost at church.
- Have a consultant conduct a Full-Scale First Impressions Study. This goes beyond a single weekend visit and evaluation. This study can be especially helpful for established churches with multiple parking lots, buildings, and/or entrances.
- The full study involves researching parking and foot-traffic patterns. Where do senior adults park? Where do parents with children park? Where do visitors park? What entrances do each of these groups use? What hallways do they use? Do you have enough parking spaces? Are your entrances clearly marked? Do you have good signage inside and outside?
- The full study involves evaluating the current welcome ministry plan including placement of greeters and welcome kiosks based on the parking and foot-traffic patterns.
- In addition, the study asks for guests’ responses to a series of questions ranging from the church website to the worship experience.
- Finally, the study will reveal areas of strength as well as recommendations for growth.
If you would like help with your welcoming ministry, I would be happy to help you decide which option is best for your situation. After all, we don’t want anyone to get lost at church!