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Are you a pastor or church leader with a full schedule and only limited hours in the week? If so, are you struggling to find ways to reach more first-time visitors with the limited time you have?

Being a pastor isn’t just preparing for Sunday’s message every week but the scope goes much more beyond that. And on top of all of that, you must find a way to reach more visitors and to spread the message of Christ.

There just isn’t enough hours in the week for everything a pastor must do.

And with that, I am so excited to invite you to the Church Hacks Summit to Reach More First Time Visitors!

They’ve assembled 25 of the world’s leading church first impressions, guest services, and marketing experts to teach you their secrets on how to reach more first-time visitors and grow your church.

I’m honored to kick off the Summit with the opening talk on why hospitality matters. I’ll be making the Biblical case for why you should take this area of ministry seriously.

This is going to be a free online event (no travel) for equipping your church with proven systems and strategies to connect with new first time visitors in your community! We’ll show you how your church can be a magnet for first-time visitors without being gimmicky, breaking the bank, or setting unrealistic expectations.

And the best part of the Church Hacks Summit is that it is 100% absolutely free! If this is something you’re interested in, just click this link and register today! And if you know somebody that would benefit from this Summit, make sure to let them know.

I spend a lot of time with pastors around the country. I get asked all kinds of questions. I’ll write another day about more in-depth communications strategy. Today, I want to write about one of the most common things I say to churches. Here it is:

Always point people to your church’s website. Always. 

Before I finished this post, I took a quick poll of pastor friends of mine. I texted them and said, “Am I the only one that says this or is that what you also do with your church’s strategy?” They all agreed it’s the same for them, too. It’s what I always encourage pastors with when I consult with their church.

Think mobile. Why? Because people will check your mobile website out (most likely) first – before they sit at their computer and look. I’ve written in the past about being mobile. Let me just say this is HUGE. You have to have a mobile website or responsive design these days.

What are some examples of how this aforementioned principle plays out?

  • Your church’s receptionist and voicemail: When I call your church’s voicemail (and I do), I want to hear your service times and directions FIRST and then point me to your church website. You can list the departments and team members’ extensions later. When I call during the day and talk to your receptionist, she needs to be friendly, personable and knowledgeable. She shouldn’t have to ask someone for help answering a question. They need to know the services times, directions/address and they should ALWAYS say, “Please check us out online at www.yourchurch.com.
  • Social Media: Your social media reaches out to your community (and the world) and allows you to connect with your members, their friends, and family. How you use social media is a topic for another post (and others have covered this in great detail), but make sure your social media points people back to your church’s website.
  • Bulletin or Worship Guide: Guests don’t want to be overwhelmed with too much information on their first visit. It’s too much. Always remember: Less is more! Be selective about what you put in your worship guide and ALWAYS list your church’s website and point people to it. That is where they sign up anyway.
  • Announcements: Whether or not a church should have announcements in their service is a topic for another day, but whether you do live announcements, announcement slides, or pre-recorded video announcements, make sure you ALWAYS point people to your church’s website. Don’t stand up and make 10 announcements. Please stop. Please don’t. If you say anything, say something like, “If you’re looking for ways to get involved or plugged in here at Your Church, check us out online at www.YourChurch.com and you can find out what’s going on.” It’s concise, succinct, efficient, and effective. It’s actually more concise than that last sentence and more effective than if you announced each and every one of your announcements or listed them all in your bulletin (see above). To read some really great and well-thought-out thoughts on announcements, read Phil Bowdle’s blog post on the subject. I agree with everything he said.

Why?

Because we get such precious little time in front of, or on the phone with, or via social media to make a connection with people. The stage or platform, the phone, and your church’s social media channels are not the places to hit people with a ton of information or announcements.

What does a pastor speaking, a phone call, and a church’s social media channels all have in common? They are all highly relational. The worst thing you can do with any of those outlets is bombard people with tons of information. Please don’t be broadcast-only on social media.

Dave Adamson recently said that at North Point Church they strive to use more questions marks than periods. “Facebook is a social network, which means that conversation is central to the platform and the best way to create a conversation is to ask a question.” – Nils Smith

Communication matters. How and what we communicate matters more. 

Do I believe in social media? Absolutely! Check out my social media channels. They’re very active. I use social media to connect with people – your church should, too. Church Facebook pages are wonderful. Interact with your congregation and community and respond to all comments.

However, your Facebook page doesn’t have a listing of your staff (with pictures) – it doesn’t have your Vision, Values, Beliefs, your church’s story, What to Expect page, etc. I could go on and on. Your church’s website (when used properly) is a gold mine of really important and relevant information.

Next Level:

Once people come to your church website, please encourage them to sign up for email updates (this is a genius add-on idea from my friend Nils Smith) and THEN you can keep the congregation informed on all that’s going on. Get it? There is a time and place for everything. And your church’s website is THE place to point your people to. You’ll get more “bang for your buck” – if that makes sense.

I’m telling you the same thing I tell all churches. I hope you’ll take this to heart and make the necessary changes. Let’s be clear, concise, and effective communicators of good news!

*** I go into more detail on this and other things I consult on in my book Secrets of a Secret Shopper.

Hello, friends. I’ve been making the rounds doing several podcasts to promote my new bestselling book Secrets of a Secret Shopper.

I realized that I haven’t told you all about them, so I wanted to post them here for you to check out.

I’m in the process of recording several more, so stay tuned for updates.

For now, give these a listen!

It’s 2pm on a Thursday and you are knee-deep in your sermon preparation and coming down the homestrech. The energy, caffeine, and momentum is just right – you feel you’ll finish before 6pm and make it home in time for supper.

Then it happens: You get that knock on your door and look up to see someone standing in your doorway saying, “Do you have a moment?” – they’re not interrupting your work. They ARE your work.

Ministry is about people;  it always has been and always will be.

One thing that bugs me is hanging out with pastors that say (not jokingly), “Ministry would be great if it weren’t for the people.” It pains my heart that pastors and Church leaders don’t get this simple truth. We are the Body of Christ and every member is important and special. We are called to shepherd God’s people and that involves getting our hands dirty and yes, being bothered and interrupted.

IMPORTANT: This isn’t about being an introvert or extrovert. This is about being sensitive to the Holy Spirit, who is always at work around us.

As ministers, we should seek the opportunities to show and express Christ’s love to those we lead and serve.

Speaking of seeking opportunities: You have to be intentional. What does your weekly schedule look like? How many breakfasts, coffees and lunches do you schedule each week? I fill lots of my calendar with people meetings and have for 22 years.

If you go from administrative meeting to meeting and never schedule any time with your congregation members, volunteers and staff, and people in the community, you’re missing a crucial part of leadership and the opportunity to be God in the flesh to someone in need.

Please note: It is very important to set boundaries. I used to do all sorts of late night meetings. Now, I make people schedule a meeting during office hours. There is the rare exception/emergency, but that’s to be expected in ministry.

My encouragement and exhortation to you is to leave some margin in your schedule for the unexpected. Have time set aside in your calendar that is empty, so when the interruptions come (and they will), you’ll be able to get back on track.

So where do you go from here? Here’s an action item:

When you notice someone down, frustrated, hurt or just not themselves, you should take the initiative to ask if they need someone to talk to or how you can pray for them. When you’re in the midst of busy/office work and someone calls, texts, emails, IMs, or drops by your office – take the time to listen and serve.

Be the hands and feet of Christ to those you come in contact with – it’s what we’re called to do and you’ll be a better and more trusted, respected and loved leader because of it.

So – confession time: Have you ever been in the midst of busy/office work and had someone drop by unannounced? How did you handle it? Do you have the presence of mind to be sensitive to the Spirit?

 

*** This is an excerpt from my bestselling book Church Leadership Essentials. Get copies for your team HERE.

I stay busy with church secret shopper consultations during the summer, as wise churches prepare for the Fall. Now that we are in the midst of Summer, let me give you 5 practical tips to implement at your church so you can prepare for a killer Fall. Here we go:

  1. Vision cast to your Guest Services team
    So often, people that serve on a church’s guest services team feel unimportant. They think they are not good enough to sing on stage, lead a small group or are not tech-savvy enough to serve on the production team. It’s vital that your leadership over communicate that this is not the B-team. This is not a place to serve for people that have no talent. This is a vital ministry and is a front door to your church. People make up their mind whether or not they will return in the first 10 minutes. First Impressions matter!
  2. Pray with your team before your first service
    Never, ever forget the God-factor when you serve in ministry. We are but vessels. We need the Holy Spirit of God to love, lead and serve through us. Pray each week with your team that they would be the hands and feet of Christ. Pray for God to break down walls of fear, skepticism, and distractions. Pray that the lost would come to Christ and that the hurting would find healing and hope.
  3. Remember it’s always someone’s first Sunday
    I really can’t stress this enough. No matter the size of your congregation, chances are, someone is entering your doors for the first time. The larger your church is, the more this is true. Churches of 200 can expect at least 5 to 8 guests a week. Larger churches welcome even more into their midst. When you gather with your Guest Services team to pray before your first service, remind your team of this simple truth. Focus them on their mission to welcome all who enter with love and to be a servant.
  4. Free up your hands
    One of my pet peeves is when I see people on the Guest Services team that have a coffee or cell phone in their hand. This is a red flag for me. I want my team shaking hands, hugging regular members, holding open doors and pointing to where people need to go (or even escort them there.) If your team member is distracted by looking at their cell phone, it is one of the rudest and worst first impressions you can give a newcomer.
  5. Focus on your guests and not your team
    A lot of times when I visit a church or even attend my local church, I’ll notice team members in conversation with each other and talking while guests pass by them. Again, this is a red flag and a big no-no. Another pet peeve of mine is parking lot attendants standing next to each other and talking. Parking lot attendants should be spread out and not bunched up together talking. Door holders, ushers, and greeters should be focused on their role and not engaged in conversation with friends. Make eye contact with all who enter, smile and welcome them.

First impressions matter, so take them seriously and do all you can to remove distractions and barriers for your guests. Love and serve others like you would want to be loved and served.

Finally, give all the glory to God. It is He who uses us as jars of clay and melts cold hearts. The cool thing is we get to be a part of that supernatural process.

I hope you’ll implement these tips and have an amazing Fall. If I can serve you and your church in any way, I’d be honored. You can go here for more info on my consulting.

 

Did you know first impressions matter? They do—big time!

Sometimes there’s no coming back from a bad experience.

When I work with churches, I exhort them to put their best and brightest, their positive, smiling, warmest personalities on their front lines. Starting with the parking lot team and moving inside to greeters, ushers, and those working the welcome desk or information center. These people need to be friendly and welcoming. Most of all, they need to know how vital their role is to the mission of the church.

As someone who visits lots of churches for the first time, I have some pet peeves to share that I hope will help your church.

Parking lot attendants

Nothing drives me crazier than seeing parking lot attendants standing next to each other. There should never be two people (or more) standing next to each other and talking. Parking lot attendants should be spread out across your parking lot communicating with hand signals or walkie-talkies.

When I see parking lot attendants bunched up and talking to one another, it tells me they don’t know their purpose.

They don’t realize that their focus and attention need to be on greeting and pointing people in the right direction. Nothing is worse than driving by two parking lot attendants deep in conversation that don’t even acknowledge you. Trust me, I’ve experienced it and it’s a horrible first impression of your church. Give your parking lot attendants posts or positions and have them stay spread out. Remind them to focus on their responsibility and to smile and wave at cars as they drive by. Remember the atmosphere we want to create.

Greeters

Have you ever experienced over-zealous greeters? Greeters that freak you out because they’re too happy, too nosy, or too obnoxious? Greeters need to spread out too and leave space for people to walk. Please don’t form a wall that makes it awkward for people when entering your building. I had a bad experience at a large and well-known church one time. I can’t tell you how many hands I had to shake to enter their building.

Ushers

I think we over-simplify when it comes to training ushers in the church. I can’t tell you how many churches I’ve visited or consulted with who had told their ushers, “Stand here and give each person a bulletin as they pass.” This is a poor vision indeed. If your only job is to hand someone a bulletin, you don’t take it seriously. You don’t do anything else outside that and it’s easy to get in a conversation with other ushers. If you haven’t picked up on it, I don’t like for conversations to be going on with team members. I think it’s rude and a horrible first impression.

No one wants to feel like they’re interrupting your discussion to get a bulletin or find a seat.

Speaking of finding a seat, that is the job of the usher. I’ve seen churches that put bulletins on a small table and let the ushers usher. I love this! Ushers should be seating people and be helping those with special needs.

Hands-free

I have one last bone to pick with all team members, and this is a big one! Make sure your servant leaders are hands-free. This means they shouldn’t be holding a cup of coffee or their cell phone. Imagine a single mom struggling to corral her toddlers and holding an infant’s carrier in one hand, walking in from the parking lot, and the guy or gal at the door is too distracted by their phone to open the door for her. Or the helper is trying to open the door and not spill coffee on her and her children.

You must talk to your team about sacrifice.

The reason they arrive early (at least 30 minutes before a service) is to talk to friends, get some coffee, and do other stuff that they shouldn’t be doing while they’re serving. Once it’s go-time, they must be hands-free and focused.

These are just some of the feedback I hear from church visitors and have experienced myself. If you’d like me to help you make a great first impression, evaluate what you do on a weekend, and give you a report of my findings with next steps, check out my church secret shopper website HERE.

 

This article is adapted from Secrets of a Secret Shopper by Greg Atkinson, published by Rainer Publishing and available from Amazon.

Does your church website have an Easter page? It should.

Here’s why:

  1. People check you out online before they check you out in person.
  2. It shows people that your Easter services are a priority and something you’re really hoping that they attend.
  3. It gives your social media posts, images, promotions, and ads somewhere to point to (a permalink).
  4. It is shareable.
  5. It gives you one spot to announce how many services there are and if there are time changes just for that day.

Tip: Use this special Easter page as a sort of “What to Expect” page for all your incoming guests. 

Tip: Make sure this page is mobile-friendly. People will look at it on their phone to find out your service times.

I recommend creating a page on your existing church website that is located at /easter and is something easy to point all your people and promotions to. Unless like some churches have done, you make your entire home page (above the fold) an Easter promo.

Here are some examples (NOTE: Most are current. Some are last year’s page. Also note: These are not ranked – just listed as I came across them.):

  1. West Ridge Church (I love this church. Easter is so huge to them, that it has taken over their home page.They also have a separate Easter page.)
  2. Life.Church (This is still last year’s services, but I assume they’ll be updating it soon.)
  3. North Point Community Church (This is still last year’s services.)
  4. Willow Creek
  5. Liquid Church
  6. Elevation Church
  7. Water of Life Community Church
  8. Church of the Highlands
  9. 12Stone Church
  10. ThePoint.Church (NOTE: This is a small church that made their whole home page promote Easter.)
  11. Rock Church
  12. Menlo Church
  13. Lake Pointe Church (They let Easter take over their home page)
  14. Bayside Church
  15. First Dallas (NOTE: They have a long permalink. Make it short and simple like /Easter.)
  16. Cornerstone Church
  17. Christ Fellowship
  18. Potential Church
  19. Canyon Ridge Christian Church
  20. Buckhead Church (NOTE: This is still last year’s services, but I’m sure they’ll update it soon.)
  21. Mosaic Church (NOTE: This church simply shares social media content for its members to use and share with their network. I like this idea and would do the same, but I would also have an Easter page dedicated to guests.)

Drum roll please – and winner for the most creative, innovative, and all out awesome web work: Sandals Church

Disclaimer: I have consulted with half of the churches listed above. They had the ability to hear some ideas up close and personal from me – you can, too. Check out this website for info on hiring me as a church secret shopper consultant.

Don’t have the budget to hire me, but still want to learn principles like this?

I have a whole chapter dedicated to Online Presence in my new book Secrets of a Secret Shopper. Buy it today, share it with your team, and do all you can to turn first-time guests into second-time guests.

BONUS READING:

I also wrote these blog posts to help you plan and prepare for Easter. Check them out!

 

If you’re like most pastors and church leaders, you’re probably already planning for Easter. It will be here before you know it. I was talking with a church recently and they said they wanted to help people get “from the street to the seat.” That’s cool and it’s what I do. I also help you turn first-time guests into second-time guests.

As a “secret shopper” in churches nationwide, I report specific reasons why I wouldn’t return for a second visit and why, most likely, their guests aren’t coming back. Whether it’s a church plant, established church, a small church or mega-church, some details are universal and quickly determine the first impression your church makes. Let’s look at eight:

The Front Door

Before a guest ever steps foot on your church’s physical campus, he or she has probably already checked out your church website. What every church should have clearly visible on their homepage is a section or button for first-time guests. Once clicked on, this should take you to a page that addresses FAQ’s, service times, directions, parking instructions (Is there a side of the building that is better to park on if one has kids?), what to expect (upbeat music and relevant, practical, Biblical preaching in a come as you are atmosphere, etc.), what to wear (Are jeans okay? Are shorts okay?), and encouragement for them to be sure to stop by Guest Central or your church’s Information Booth to pick up a first-time guest packet.

What Stinks?

It’s important that no church ever underestimates the sense of smell. While sight is the strongest sense for short term memory, the sense of smell is the strongest and most vivid for long-term memories. If you’ve ever smelled something and had memories you hadn’t thought of in years come flooding back, that’s your sense of smell in action. Every church has the potential for positive or negative smells. Mold is a bad smell. Coffee is a good smell. Bleach is a bad smell. Citrus is a good smell. Many churches have restrooms that are disgusting and smell like urine. This lack of attention to detail can be costly and discourage many from ever returning. As best you can, try to walk into the lobby or entrance of your church with a new nose.

Park Here

One of Tim Stevens’ three “growth lids” that he thinks every growing church should have is someone who is constantly watching parking. Tim says, “This is why Visitor Parking is so crucial. If it’s difficult for newcomers to go to your church, they won’t go.” Some would argue that guests want to remain anonymous and don’t want special parking. Of course some want to go unnoticed and will choose to park in regular parking (a minority), but for the rest of newcomers, they are appreciative for a close parking space; it’s a kind gesture in an already intimidating and nerve-racking experience of attending a church for the first time, especially a large one with a huge campus.

This Way Parents

One way to assure guests will not return is to have a confusing, long or hard to find process, for getting their kids registered and in the right classroom. Wise churches have signage for first-time guest kids’ check-in and make the process quick and painless. Regular attendees may know to go up to the check-in kiosk and enter their phone number or swipe their card, but guests will be clueless and need a manned station that is clearly marked for guests and have a volunteer walk them through the registration. Then have that person or another helper walk you to your kid’s class explaining what will be going on and how to go about picking their kids back up. If they must have a sticker with corresponding numbers on it to get their kids, this needs to be explained to them. Signage for the kids check-in should start in the entryway of the guest parking. Do not assume people know where to go once they enter the building.

Give It Away

Something subtle, but powerful is a church that has a generous spirit. Chris Hodges at Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, AL is big on this. They have a coffee shop, but they also have a designated area where people can get free coffee and not pay anything. They also give away their message CDs. Too many churches charge for everything and wonder why no one buys CDs of the message. If you want to bless people and create a generous spirit throughout your church, give away free coffee and message CDs (and other surprises throughout the year). I know churches that will have ice cream trucks pull up outside the church doors and give away free ice cream to congregants leaving on a hot, summer day.

Security Counts

One issue that is huge to a secret shopper and visiting families is security. If a parent is worried about their child’s safety, they will not enjoy the service and will likely not return. A children’s classroom must be clean, safe and secure. Security also includes the check-out process. If anyone can walk into a classroom and pick up a kid, you’re asking for trouble and will turn off potential newcomers. It’s important that your kids’ volunteers are trained well and know to ask for the parent’s sticker when picking up their kids. This is vital and goes a long way to ensuring a tragedy doesn’t occur and a parent has peace of mind.

The Visible Pastor

Accessibility of the senior pastor is another subtle and powerful statement of a church. Even pastors of the largest churches in America make an intentional and strategic effort to be seen, greeted and hugged after a service. They may have a bodyguard present for security reasons, but they are available and willing to pray with people that need to speak to their pastor. Some churches have a designated “Guest Central”, like Steve Stroope at Lake Pointe in Rockwall, TX or Brady Boyd at New Life in Colorado Springs. Some have a “Meet and Greet.” Some pastors stand down at the altar and meet and pray with people like Kevin Myers at 12Stone in Atlanta. Some walk around the campus shaking hands like Don Wilson at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix. Erwin McManus at Mosaic LA has an “After Party”, at which the pastor is present and available to meet with newcomers. This, especially in a large church, goes a long way toward countering the rock star or unavailable pastor stigma that so many guests walk into the church expecting.

Finish Strong

It’s simply not enough for greeters and parking lot attendants to say “Hello” or “Welcome” when one walks into their church. To go to another level, have your first impressions team stationed at their posts when the service ends to say “Goodbye” or “Have a nice week”. This goes a long way to wrapping a bow around the entire morning experience and will send them off with a lasting positive impression.

I’m really just scratching the surface, but these are some of the most crucial things to have on your radar. I cover all this and more in great depth in my new book Secrets of a Secret Shopper. You can check out that book HERE. If you’re interested in hiring me to serve you as a church secret shopper, go here for more info.

Look out for and be sensitive to these 8 things and you’ll see a greater return of second and third-time guests. Happy Easter!

*This article originally appeared in Outreach magazine and on Pastors.com.

I thought I’d take a look back at the most popular blog posts of 2016. Important to note is that there are a few that are targeted to pastors and preaching. There are also a few focused on Easter – which is good for this time of year.

There are also a couple on my church secret shopper ministry. You can go here to learn more about hiring me to evaluate your church’s weekend experience.

Also, please check out my new book Secrets of a Secret Shopper – which goes into great, practical details on how to turn first-time guests into second-time guests.

HERE ARE THE TOP 20 POSTS FOR 2016:

Leadership and the Power of Momentum

Ministry, Leadership, Worship, and Expectation

Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Life, and Lies

Preaching and the Power of Imagination

5 Ways to Improve As an Active Listener

Digital Real Estate Matters

Always Point People to the Church Website

The Seasons of a Church Secret Shopper

Help Your People Say “No”

5 Tips from a Church Secret Shopper

7 Tips for Guest Worship Leaders

Easter 2016 Review and Learn

The One Thing You Must Do this Easter

3 Ways to Still Have a Team After Easter

Don’t Quit! We Need You.

Don’t Tell Me Men Don’t Sing

You Don’t Always Have to Hustle

Have You Ever Considered a Church Secret Shopper

7 Lessons from Peyton Manning for Pastors

99 Questions When Hiring a Worship Pastor

little-drummer-boy

Some close to me know my favorite Christmas song is “Little Drummer Boy.” Something about it resonates deeply with me.

I think we all long to see Jesus smile at us and know that he loves us just as we are.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Little baby
Pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too
Pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring
Pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give our King
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

Shall I play for you
Pa rum pum pum pum
On my drum

Mary nodded
Pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time
Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him
Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

Then He smiled at me
Pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum