Welcoming the Unchurched to Church

I recently read an article from a professional “mystery worshiper” who works with churches to help evaluate and improve their friendliness and guest relations.

It was a good and helpful article. I found myself nodding in agreement with almost all of it.

Almost.

Not every guest who ventures to visit your church is created equal. On the broadest level, there are churched guests and unchurched guests. By churched, I mean they have a church background, are relatively comfortable and familiar with church world, and are there as a consumer. The unchurched do not have a church background, are not comfortable or familiar with church world, and are there (at best) as an explorer.

What difference does this make?

Quite a bit.

Consider one of the most commonly suggested steps to making a first-time guest feel welcome: designated parking. I’ve seen this done in many ways, such as signs that direct first-time guests to turn on their headlights (and based on that, they are guided toward special parking), or signage that simply directs first-time guests toward a designated parking area.

The parking is clearly marked for “Guests” or “VIPs”. Beyond being close to the church, those parking there are often met by volunteers who greet them, offer first-time guest materials, and even escort them into the church and through any children’s ministry registration needs they might have.

It sounds impressive.

In practice it looks impressive.

But who wants this kind of treatment?

Only the churched.

Churched people want to be welcomed, recognized, get questions answered, meet staff and, yes, park in designated guest parking.

The typical first-time unchurched guest wants anything BUT recognition. They don’t want to be singled out. They don’t want to be targeted. We used to joke that they didn’t want to “say anything, sing anything, sign anything, give anything or do anything.” We find that many first-time guests do not even want to take advantage of putting their child in children’s ministry.

At least, not at first.

It’s the same with special tabs on websites for “planning your visit”, which can include preregistering your child for children’s ministry, being escorted around by a volunteer, and more.

Again, that’s good.

But for churched people.

(I couldn’t help but smile at one church’s “planning a visit” page that also housed their online giving portal. Forget “churched” or “unchurched” – I’m not sure they understood the idea of “guest.”)

So design your guest experience any way you want. Just remember to put yourself in your guest’s shoes.

And know which guest that is.


 

Learn how to create an Exceptional Guest Experience at Auxano’s Guest Experience Boot Camp August 29-30 in Charlotte, NC.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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COMMENTS

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Recent Comments
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
 
— Laurie
 
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 

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