Top Posts of 2015 #7: “10 Principles to Building a Great Guest Experience at Your Church”

This post came in at #7 this year, and rightly so. Guest Services is one of the areas that stuckness most often shows up in churches.

Do you know how to build a great guest experience at your church? Are you starting with the right building blocks? This top 10 list has been built from my experience of working with churches across the country the past couple of years with the Unstuck Group.

When we engage churches in a Ministry Health Assessment we help them gain a fresh perspective of their strategies, systems and structures. The process gives churches with a current snapshot of their ministry’s health and steps to best position your church to fulfill your vision. Here’s some of what I’ve learned along the way.

1. Stop Acting like a Church

Instead of learning from other churches, begin looking at other public space that people go to. Visit resorts, restaurants, stores and other public venues that have a great guest experience and have people coming back for more. Take your teams, debrief, and build a list of what you can learn and principles and ideas to transfer to your church campus.

2. Give people the Opportunity to Self-Identify

Guest parking, children’s check-in, a physical guest services location, and communication cards in the program/bulletin are all simple ways to create avenues for guests to self-identify. By a guest self-identifying they are essentially “opting-in” or giving you permission to speak with them. Instead of spamming them you are engaging them in a dialogue with their permission.

3. Ask, “What’s Next?”

It can be frustrating going onto a church campus for the first time. It can seem like everyone else (insiders) already know where to go and what to do. It can be intimidating. Make it easier for people by thinking through a “what’s next” exercise with your team. Imagine a guest drives into your parking lot…what next? Imagine they find the right place to park…what’s next? Asking, “What’s next?” moving through the moment a guest arrives on your campus to the moment they leave will help you create an audit of your guest experience.

4. Make it Personal

It’s a nice touch when I make reservations for my wife’s birthday and we show up at the restaurant to be greeted by a, “Happy Birthday Mrs. Alexander,” (and I don’t mind the free dessert either). The more personal you can make it, the more memorable it will be. Instead of a cookie-cutter guest follow up letter, could you write a personal handwritten note? Could the person who greeted them actually be the one writing it? How about a personal phone call to say thank you for visiting, instead of trying to get them to come back. Think: personal without intrusive.

5. Cleanliness IS Next to godliness

If you go into a restaurant bathroom and it’s filthy, how does that make you feel about what goes on in the kitchen? Build a team and give them responsibility for keeping the facility clean. Don’t just make sure it’s clean, (including the parking lot and sidewalks) for guests when they arrive but make sure the bathrooms get cleaned in between services and the facility is maintained during use.

6. Please don’t have a kid watching my kid

I’m not sure about you, but I have kids. And they’re pretty much the most important things I have on this planet. So when I go to check my kids into a classroom at a church and a young teenager greets me and asks me to hand over one of my kids, I get nervous. Now, do I think teenagers should serve at church? Yep. Do I think they can serve with kids? Sure. But have a responsible adult in the room with them coaching them and interacting with the parents.

7. Engage People BEFORE they come to your Church Building

The guest experience begins before guests ever get to your church campus. More and more people are checking out your church before they ever go to it. They’re church shopping online and gauging whether or not they will attend based on what they can learn about you on your website. So does your church website acknowledge and engage guests? Is it easy and intuitive to navigate? Is the Google map correct? Have you posted a short experience video or brief welcome video from the pastor so guests can know what to expect when they arrive? Can they check-in their kids and actually schedule their visit before they arrive on your campus?

8. Call things what they are

One of the worst guest experiences I ever had at a church was when I was wandering around trying to figure out where to check-in my kids. Fortunately I saw someone walking by with a lanyard on, “Finally someone who can help me,” I thought. When I asked where I should go to check in my kids they pointed and said, “The ‘B’ Building,” and kept walking. Great! What’s the ‘B” Building, I thought. Please call the nursery, preschool ministry, elementary, Jr. High and so on what they actually are. I know you’re trying to be cute and cool with your great church brands but it doesn’t help guests. Clear trumps cute or cool all day long.

9. Don’t Single People Out

There is a difference between acknowledging guests and singling them out. Having guests wear a special name tag, a rose on their lapel, or remain seated during the worship service so everyone else can come by and say hello singles people out. Very few people like to stand out. Remember your Junior High years? Most people will go to great lengths to blend in. So don’t single your guests out at church, or they probably won’t come back again.

10. Follow Through

The easiest way to gain or lose trust is to follow through, or not follow through on what you say you’re going to do. If guests take a step and self identify, then follow up with them. This can be a simple email sent the day of their visit, a handwritten note sent on Monday or a personal phone call. If guests ask for help or information, then give it to them. Quickly.

Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list, but it is probably a good place to start. What else would you add to the list? Leave a comment!

Interested in learning more about engaging the Unstuck Group and participating in a Ministry Health Assessment? Follow this link!

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