woman and man waving to people at church entrance

Four Things Your Guests are Going to Notice

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! With the guests all arriving the greeters are thriving; we’re so glad they’re here. 


Ahhh, Christmas is in full swing, and this season is sure to bring first-time guests who are seeking a spiritual connection in the midst of all the commercialism and chaos. Churches can expect to see a marked increase in first-time guests even without a lot of marketing and effort. That means company’s coming and we need to get ready. Their visit will not only determine whether they may come back but could very well determine their eternal destiny. In other words, we have to get this right!

When first-time guests hit your campus, they come with a super-sensitivity to certain elements that mark their experience as either positive or negative.


1. Smells

Smell is one of the strongest impressions we have, and it implants some of our most powerful memories. Some of us, when we think of Grandma’s house, we remember a particular smell.

Paying attention to smell is an oft-neglected guest experience element.

When we enter a new or unknown place with an unpleasant odor, our subconscious records the data as a negative emotion. Then whenever we think about that place, we literally have a negative feeling even if we don’t remember that it was caused by a bad smell. A bad smell causes one to form the opinion that this place stinks (pun intended), and these people don’t care.

The goal for first-time guests is for them to record positive memories of their initial experience. A huge part of that experience is the smells they notice.

This is why it becomes critical to eliminate and aerate.

First, eliminate bad smells. The top sources of unpleasant smells are your bathrooms and nurseries, both of which formulate powerful first impressions. Do all you can to stifle the stinks!

Second, infuse good smells throughout the building with moderation. What are the best smells? Believe it or not, coffee, cookies, and fresh air are among the top 10 smells worldwide. You just might want to consider some aromatic refreshments at your Christmas services that not only feed the belly but cover the smelly! (See what I did with that?)

One other note on the topic of smell. Less is more. When introducing fragrance into an environment, it should be subtle enough that it’s almost imperceptible.  Don’t overwhelm your allergy sufferers!

2. Smears

Prior to your Christmas services, audit your facilities with fresh eyes.

BATHROOMS – again, this is the biggest first impression room and most frequently neglected.

Touch up the paint.

De-clutter messes (coat racks, lost and found, closets, kitchen, etc.)

Replace burned-out light bulbs.

Fix stuff that’s broken. (like that faucet handle in the bathroom that’s been broken for 2 years)

Clean up all the seating – like envelopes, and old bulletins shoved into the chair pocket or chair rack.

Freshen up the rows – full tissue boxes everywhere, just in case your message really hits home 😉

Bulletin boards that have flyers about an event 7 months ago.

Dust and cobwebs.

Clean the carpets (no, don’t wait until after the services. Do it BEFORE all your services)

One method to do this is to ask a friend who doesn’t attend your church to come audit your facilities. Find someone who’s a clean freak and doesn’t mind sharing their opinion (see, there really is a place for those people!)

3. Smoothies

Yes, I wanted to use an ‘sm’ word.  What I mean by this one is that we have taken the time to remove any rough edges or speed bumps for the first-time guest.  What are some of these?

          • Signage – guests shouldn’t have to ask where to park, where to enter, or where’s the bathroom. I’ve been to so many churches where I literally could NOT tell where the front entrance was. VERY frustrating for a newbie.
          • Announcements – do NOT have any insider announcements at your Christmas service. Announce only what is absolutely necessary and keep that to an extreme minimum. Never announce anything that would not be completely clear to a first-time guest.
          • Participatory aids – Make sure that it is easy for a first timer to fully participate in every element of the service. Pens in the rows if you ask them to fill out a card, etc. Putting things on the screen if you want the audience to recite. Saying, “Take out your Bible…” but not providing one or just putting the words on the screen or printed in a bulletin.
          • Offering – asking guests to give. I was invited to a special Christmas service where the audience was asked to give…3 times! As a guest it was not a good first impression.

Ultimately you want to create an experience that would make first-time guests feel completely at home so that someday they might make it their home.

4. Smiles

I hate to tell you this, pastor, but the guests are not evaluating the friendliness of the church based on the people in the “show.”
They’re evaluating the friendliness of the church based on the people in their row.

That means you must inform your folks that company’s coming, and we want to make a great first impression. Help your people understand that they need to be nice to the people walking through the doors.

Showing people the difference that Jesus makes is something every single member can do through the power of a simple smile.

The bad news is that customer service is at an all-time low in the commercial industry.

The good news is that even a little friendliness stands out.

Love your guests in such a way that they sense the presence of God in your church, and they’ll be back!

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