Hey, guys, Patrick Steil here with ChurchBuzz. I’m in sunny Galveston, and I want to tell you about our first-time visitor experience at the Moody Memorial First United Methodist Church.
First, I’ll talk about the actual branding of the name of this church. If you look on the website, they call themselves Moody Methodist Church. Their domain name is moody.org, so those two don’t really match up; maybe it should be moodymethodist.org. Then when you actually go to the church, their sign out front says Moody Memorial First United Methodist Church. They have too many names here. While that’s not a huge issue, it does provide the first-time visitor a little bit of a disconnect.
One good thing about their website is I actually found it. Apparently, there are lots of Methodist churches in and around Galveston. I did a search for “Methodist churches in Galveston” and “… on Galveston Island,” and the nearest churches to us were 20-30 miles away. I found a bunch of Methodist churches that were listed in Google Maps, but I actually didn’t find very many that came up as organic online searches. We did find moody.org.
When I went to the website, I didn’t feel like there was a focus on welcoming first-time visitors. I actually had to go and search through the menu and find the About Us section, which still wasn’t a key that I would get information there as a first-time visitor. I did find out where they were and things like that. As I was looking through that information, I had to go back to the homepage in order to find out the worship times, since that wasn’t really included in the About Us section. If you’ve seen one of my other videos, you know how it’s critical to have in the footer of your website your worship times and the address of your church.
In terms of when we arrived on-site, a couple of different points. The signage in the parking lot is not very good, so we didn’t know where to go. We didn’t know there were several parking lots, and there was construction going on, so that made it even more confusing. So how is your church’s exterior signage?
We did find our way in, but there were no obvious signs telling us where to park or where to enter in the building. From the parking lot that we ended up in, we entered the building and walked a long ways to the sanctuary. So I don’t think that was the ideal place to park, especially as a first-time visitor. This would’ve been another opportunity on the website to have a map and directions to show first-time visitors where to park and the best way to enter the building.
After we parked and went into the building, we found ourselves in a long entryway before getting into the building, sort of a covered walkway. That would’ve been a great place to have a greeter; somebody to welcome us as first-time visitors. We didn’t see anybody there.
When we walked into the church, there was a person standing there, a nice lady who greeted us.
We said, “We’re not sure where to go.”
Then she asked, “Well, are you looking to go to the contemporary service or the traditional?”
We decided we would go to the traditional service, so she went ahead and directed us to exactly where to go. That was great, but we basically told her that we were first-time visitors and this was a great opportunity for her to say, “Oh, so this is your first time here. Well, let me tell you a little bit about our church,” certainly giving us a nice welcome. She definitely missed that opportunity. (If you’re reading this, miss, I’m telling you this to help you improve in what you’re doing.)
I’m trying to help all churches understand that when someone walks through the door and they look kind of confused and don’t know where to go, you should go ahead and say, “Hey, is this your first time with us?” And when they say “yes,” then I believe you should take them under your wing.
If you’re the only greeter at that door, then you can’t take these people, show them around, and give them a tour, because you have to man your post. So I think that every church should have a greeter at the door, and two or three other greeters standing in the wings, so that when one of the greeters finds a first-time visitor or first-time visiting family, they can go ahead and show that group around and then someone else can take their place. Depending on how many first-time visitors you get, it might suffice to just have two greeters to start. But my hope is that if you follow my suggestions, you’re going to have many more visitors and you’re going to need four or five, or even six greeters every Sunday morning.
It would’ve been great if she would’ve taken us over to a welcome desk. There wasn’t an information desk, but there was a desk with a lady behind it, sitting as if she was waiting to give out information. But she never said anything to us. So if nothing else, the greeter could’ve taken us over to that table, handed us off to that person, and then that person could’ve showed us around. That’s another way to do it.
Then for that person at the welcome desk, I believe that should be an opportunity to sign people in as first-time visitors. Have them fill out some type of information card so you have a record of them as a first-time guest. You can follow up with them, send emails, call them, have the pastor write a letter … anything that you can do to follow up. You have their information and, most importantly, you have the statistic that says, “Hey, we have a first-time visitor.”
At Moody Methodist, they asked us to do an attendance sign-in when we arrived at the sanctuary, so they know they have a visitor that way; this gets them on the front-end. Then at that welcome desk, I believe what they should’ve done is give us a gift bag, one that is big enough so a lady can’t stick it in her purse and hide it. A gift bag that is big enough that you have to walk into the sanctuary with it, so now other people in the sanctuary, members of your congregation who have been there for 10-15 years, can see, “Oh, this is a first-time guest,” because they’re holding the bag. In previous blogs I have said, “You don’t really need to do the first-time visitor gift,” but now I understand how that would be very powerful. This is a new discovery that we have from visiting the Fellowship Church in Grapevine. So give them a bag, if nothing else, so you can identify them as a first-time visitor, and other people in your church can as well.
We went ahead and proceeded to attend the traditional service. When the pastor got to the place in the service for a welcoming time, where people can turn around and shake hands, it seemed like he just kind of said, “Hey, this is welcome time,” and I didn’t really hear him. Then all of a sudden, people are trying to shake my hand, and then all of a sudden, it was over. It seemed very rushed.
Here’s my take on this. I believe that this is an important part of your worship service, and I’ll tell you why. As a first-time visitor, and even as a longtime member walking into a church, sometimes you’re just not having a great day or you feel a little uncomfortable. I have found — especially when the church doesn’t do it regularly and then all of a sudden does it — that I feel so good after having that time of welcoming because I’m able to connect with people around me. I just feel warmer. I feel like I’m part of this group. It makes worship more powerful.
I believe every church should do this every single Sunday. I think you shouldn’t rush through it. You’re probably going to do it for only three to five minutes. At this church, it seemed like it was a minute and a half, then we were on to the next thing. It needs to be an intentional part of your worship experience. I think that the pastor should introduce this time, saying, “Hey, listen. In a minute, what I want you to do is go ahead and shake the hands of the people around you. But most importantly, find someone who you don’t know and introduce yourself to them. Learn someone’s name for the first time, or if there are guests and visitors with us this morning, go over and reach out, shake their hand, and introduce yourself to them. Hey, maybe you’ll even take them out to lunch today, you’ll never know.” Something to that effect.
The whole idea is to train your congregation to be more welcoming and friendly to each other, and especially to first-time visitors. Perhaps somewhere in your training you can share this video with them. Tell your congregation, “Make sure you’re being cognizant of people with these gift bags. Make sure you’re welcoming them. When you see them walking in, during that welcoming time, go to them — even if you have to move three or four pews from where you’re sitting — walk over and welcome them. Just have it in your mind, ‘Hey, I need to go greet that family and introduce myself.’ ” And I’ll tell you, if two or three people do that to us as first-time visitors, that helps us feel welcome, which is what it’s going to take for us to come back.
Those are the thoughts on my mind about this particular church and our first-time visitor experience. I’m relaying our experience to help churches out there be more welcoming, both in terms of websites, but also as people. The whole idea of your website is to reach out and have people come to your church, right? You want a super welcoming website, and you want to have great photos — real people on there. You want to express the personality of your church. You want to make sure you provide all the information visitors need right upfront so they don’t have to hunt and find it. Today, your website is the number one way that you’re going to draw new visitors to your church.
If your church is about church growth, if you are looking to grow your influence and spread God’s love and his Holy Spirit in your community, then you have to be ready, willing, and able to take care of people as they’re walking in your door as first-time visitors. I believe that most churches that are not growing and are not successful in spreading the gospel are those that do not have this ministry of being hospitable to people who are first-time visitors. I think this is hugely important, and I’m going to continue to do everything I can to help people realize and learn and grow in these areas.
I hope I’ve given you some good insights, and that you will take them to heart and use them in your church. Then please send me feedback. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a message on Facebook. I would love to talk to you more about this. If you’re applying these principles, please let me know. It helps me to know that churches are taking something from this content and are able to do something with it, especially if you see it having a positive impact in the life of your church and your church growth.
Hopefully, we’ll see you at your church one of these Sundays. God bless!
WELCOMING CHURCH TAKEAWAYS
- Be consistent in your church name branding
- Be found online in a Google search
- Have a visitor focus on website
- Homepage should cater to visitors
- Have a visitor section on website
- Access from homepage, drop-down and/or About Us page
- Include helpful information about what to expect
- If necessary, include a church map on where to park, enter, and go for service(s)
- Have church greeters
- Teach greeters to engage visitors in conversation, including telling about church
- Show, don’t just tell visitors where to go
- Have greeters standing by to either replace first person helping a visitor or to take visitors under their wing to engage, escort, and enhance the visitor’s experience
- Have an information desk
- Register first-time visitors
- Give gift bag, large enough to not fit in purse to be hidden
- Teach members to keep watch and welcome visitors they see carrying welcome bags.
- Include a Welcome Time during worship.
- Do Welcome Time every Sunday.
- Do not rush through Welcome Time.
- Find someone you don’t know.
- Find a visitor (with a bag) and make them feel welcome.
My name is Patrick Steil, and I’m the owner of ChurchBuzz. My wife and I started ChurchBuzz about six years ago. We’ve actually been in business for ourselves more than 21 years now. We started ChurchBuzz with the idea of focusing on helping churches with the technology behind their websites. So that has doing into a whole lot of different things to help churches optimize their websites.
We have six children — six boys total. The oldest four are now in college or working, and our two youngest are 9 and 11. We knew that this was going to be a time in our lives when if we were going to make some big changes, it would be the time to do it. We initially talked about moving. Then we finally came up with this grand idea to spend a year on the road, traveling around in an RV, with the two young boys with us. So that’s what we’ve been doing since August 2015.
Once we really got serious about traveling in an RV, I had this idea: “Every Sunday we’re out, let’s go visit a new church and let’s be first-time visitors.” So we’ve been doing that. If you go to ChurchBuzz.org, you’ll see a bunch of blog posts and a couple of videos on our Facebook page. I hope to get all this material on our website and also on our YouTube channel as well.