How to Get Your First-Time Guests to Come Back

As a pastor or church leader, you need to be aware of five significant facts about first-time guests looking for a church home and five vital actions you can take to make them want to return.

Fact #1 – Your visitors make up their minds regarding your church in the first ten minutes.

Before a first-time guest has sung an inspiring song, watched a compelling drama or well-produced video vignette or heard your well-crafted sermon they have made up their mind whether or not to return.  But, you probably spend more time and energy on the plan and execution of the worship service than preparing for the greeting and welcoming of your first-time guests.

Action – Use the following questions as a quick checklist:

Are parking attendants in place?

Is there appropriate signage?

Are your ushers and greeters performing the “right” job?

Is the environment user-friendly and accepting to guests?

Fact #2 – Most church members are not friendly.

Churches claim to be friendly and may even advertise that fact.  But my experience in visiting churches as a first-time guest demonstrates that most church members are friendly to the people they already know, not to guests.

Watch to see if your members greet guests with the same intensity and concern before and after the worship service as they do during a formal time of greeting.  The six most important minutes of a church service, in your visitors’ eyes, are the three minutes before the service and the three minutes after the service.

Action – Encourage your church family to:

Introduce with genuineness.

Find out if they have questions about the church.

Introduce guests to others who may have an affinity or connection.

Fact #3 – Church guests are highly consumer-oriented.

If your church building is difficult for newcomers to navigate, if your people are unaccepting and unfriendly, another church down the street may have what they’re looking for.  You need to look at your church through the eyes of a first-time guest.  Rick Warren says that the longer a pastor has been a pastor the less he thinks like a non-pastor.

Action – Consider employing objective, yet trained, anonymous guests to give an honest appraisal.  Many restaurants, retail stores, and hotels utilize the service of one or more “mystery guests” to provide helpful analysis of welcoming and responding to the consumer.  Churches would be well served to utilize a similar service.

Fact #4 – The church is in the hospitality business.

Though our ultimate purpose is spiritual, one of our first steps in the Kingdom business is attention to hospitality (Hebrews 13:2).  Imagine the service that would be given to you in a first-class hotel or a five-star restaurant.  Should the church offer anything less to those who have made the great effort to be our guests?

Action – Encourage members to extend hospitality to guests by:

– sitting with them during the church service

– giving a tour of the church facilities

– eating lunch with them after service

– connecting with them later in the week

Fact #5 – You only have one chance to make a good first impression.

Your first-time guests have some simple desires and basic needs.  They decide very quickly if you can meet those criteria.  The decision to return for a second visit is often made before guests reach your front door.

Action – Use the following questions as an evaluation tool:

Are you creating the entire experience, beginning with your parking lot?

Are you consciously working to remove barriers that make it difficult for guests to find their way around and to feel at home with your people?

Do newcomers have all the information they need without having to ask any embarrassing questions?

Are your greeters and ushers on the job, attending to details and anticipating needs before they are expressed?

Does anything about your guests’ first experience make them say, “Wow!” and want to return?


by Rick Ezell, LifeWay Christian Resources, copyright 2001-2007


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