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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.

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.

Nationwide survey shows many churches saw declining or flat giving in 2015, while at the same time seeing the need for modern digital giving solutions.

For a copy of the 19-page report with ten key findings, seven graphs, and recommended resources to increase church giving go to our Sponsor, Tithe.ly’s page here

In the 6th installment of the ground-breaking research on church giving authored by Brian Kluth of Maximum Generosity, we asked nearly 1,600 survey participants from mainline, evangelical, non-denominational, and other Christian groups to report on their giving patterns and practices.

The findings from the 2016 survey reveal a dramatic shift in giving over the past three years, compared to the last time the survey was conducted in 2013.

Giving has flat-lined or decreased for the majority of those surveyed, which has many churches scrambling to implement more modern giving solutions.

Key findings from the 2016 State of the Plate survey:

  • 59% of churches surveyed reported flat-lined or decreased giving over the period 2015 to 2016. (A previous survey from 2013 revealed 53% of churches had an increase in giving that year.)
  • Only 41% of churches surveyed saw giving increase by 5% or more.
  • 79% of churches surveyed offer website giving (up from 29% in 2010), 46% offer cell phone/text/app giving (up from 4% in 2010), and 32% have a kiosk/iPad in the lobby for in-person digital giving.
  • Generous church giving is not limited to the older generations. 63% of those in their 20s-30s give 10% or more to their church.
  • Only 41% of those surveyed said they give weekly, while 46% give once or twice a month.
  • The top five reasons for missing church services are: out of town (74%), sickness (42%), serving during the worship service (16%), social commitments (13%), and had to work (14%).

DOWNLOAD REPORT

 

 

Is everyone welcome at your church? I know you’re thinking, “That’s crazy. Of course, everyone is welcome.” Don’t be defensive my friend. I mean, really, really welcome. Like not just in theory, but in a practice. If we want to be welcoming we have to be on the offense. We need to be proactive but we need to go deeper. Sure everyone may be welcome to come through that door, but what happens next? Entry is just the first step.  I’ve been working in the field of disabilities for over 10 years, and I’ve also been a youth pastor. I can tell you that people with disabilities don’t want to be treated like they’re special, in fact, some people even hate that word. They just want to be treated like everyone else. So the best approach is working in advance to ensure that guests at your church of all abilities feel welcome.  So aside from guests, what about church members with disabilities? One of the most prominent truths that is pointed out to me by my disabled friends is this:  They don’t want to just feel welcome to attend the service, they want to be able to participate in the service. Worshippers of different abilities want to be able to lead or teach or sing and experience God in as many ways as their nondisabled believing friends.  Below are 17 Tips to make your church more accessible for everyone in the New Year.

  1. Resolve to take your disability access to the next level in your church. Church members take their cues from their leadership.  If the leadership makes accessing worship and all the benefits of your church seriously, then the congregation will follow suit. (Well, most of them, but we can pray right?).  Also, some churches may need to adapt or enrich their philosophy from “providing services for respite” for families touched by disability (which certainly may be important) to finding more ways for them to worship together as a family.
  2. Remember this! Disability access is more than just accessible parking. After all, it’s getting everyone into the church and then helping them find ways to engage with God that’s most important– but of course improving your grounds and parking access is a great way to start. Make sure you have plenty of “Accessible Parking.” The term “accessible parking” is becoming more common and is the most acceptable term.  Ensure that the designated accessible parking is located closest to the most accessible entrance and that it’s clearly marked.  As an aside, be sure to offer accessible parking for individuals in cars, and for people in vans or larger vehicles as well.
  3. Look for a Sign. Signage and directions are important and helpful for everyone.  You really can’t overdo the signage as long as it’s clearly labeled. It’s also not much more expensive to add braille to your church doors inside the building as well for your blind or visually impaired guests—especially on the bathrooms.
  4. Let Your People “Go”. Speaking of restrooms. Individuals with a variety of disabilities need the appropriate bars and handles and adequate space. Many churches still don’t have adequate bathroom stalls for disabled members and guests.  Accessible bathroom stalls are non-negotiables really.  Guests won’t be back if a prospective church doesn’t offer a private, adequate space to take care of basic needs. Besides, everyone can benefit from more spacious bathrooms, better signage, grab bars, and appropriately sized sinks, right?  The most intuitive tools are best: example, touchless faucets that don’t require twisting, towel dispensers or dryers that don’t require pushing or pulling.
  5. Labels! Ok so it’s one goal of the church to avoid labels maybe, but not where food is concerned. It’s really best practice for everyone to label foods and snacks that are made available especially at official church functions like Homecoming Dinners, Christmas, and Thanksgiving feasts. When there are ten bowls of potato salad on the table, it’s always good to know which bowl of potato salad is your favorite, like the one made by your Aunt Ethel, right? Some people have strong food sensitivities and listing a name for the dish, the ingredients, and who prepared it is just another way to make the event, and your church all the more welcoming for everyone. It may be awkward at first, but it’ll soon become a helpful tradition.  Important note: visitors with strong or life-threatening allergies beyond simpler sensitivities may not even attend, but just in case they do, show that you care by warning about nuts, eggs, and other serious allergens.
  6. Stop cramming! Make the written word accessible. I’m not talking about THE WORD, (that should always be easily accessible), I’m talking about church bulletins, handouts, and anything you put into the hands of people in your church.  Big tip–white space is always helpful.  We’ve all seen church bulletins that are crammed so full and the words are so small they’re almost illegible. It’s frustrating for everyone, especially anyone over 40 (Yes, I went there).  White space is not only pleasing, it helps readers visually organize information, and it helps those with visual disabilities as well.  No font should ever be smaller than 12pt. in a church-wide bulletin, and yes that means, you may have to use more paper. Remember, it’s about being welcoming and accessible. When it comes to font styles and themes, some fonts are better choices than others for people with visual disabilities, and for learning disabilities.  Avoid using curly, squiggly fonts that can be confusing. Times New Roman, Arial, and Verdana are all good choices, but there are many out there.  Also, it’s super helpful to spread the information around. If you offer information in written form on paper, offer it on the web, and project it onto screens. Why not go wild, and add an audio file on your church webpage, too!
  7. Project your welcome too! Much of what was said in number 5 applies to what you project on your worship screens as well.  Add lots of space between what’s written, and remember certain fonts are better than others while keeping your font size readable.  It’s easy enough to add more slides.  When it comes to your screen projection, pay attention to color contrasts also. Of course, if you have announcements on your slides, try your best to have those same announcements represented in other places as well. Above all make it a point to encourage speakers and worship leaders to describe what’s on the slide as they’re presenting at any opportunity.
  8. Caption this! Add captions and transcripts when and where you can. This one can be controversial because of the costs involved. Many churches are on a limited budget and most churches don’t have captionists or transcription experts on staff (or even in the congregation for that matter). Consider this: when something is spoken, whether on a video or in your church service, there’s probably someone present who can’t hear it.  Captioning and transcription helps everyone, not just people with disabilities access and appreciate the information.  There are some very quick and easy captioning services.  com is a great and quick resource. While sites like Rev may be considered reasonable in the everyday captioning world, captioning is still not cheap (think a dollar a minute on a minimum).  Online services can take your sermon or your church video (with a link or uploaded file) and have it captioned or transcribed literally in a few hours. Captions take your videos and services to another level and everyone can benefit.
  9. Untangle your web. Church websites are becoming increasingly valuable, helpful resources, but many church websites are still not accessible to people with a variety of disabilities– especially those with visual impairments or blindness.  Ask your church web designer to add an accessibility checker widget to your website. Some enhancements are really quite simple.  If you add photos to your website, go in and add a photo description and “alt-tags”. If you upload a PDF, be sure it’s an accessible PDF. Otherwise, a blind person using a screen reader to surf your website will only see a random “image” message rather than the words you intend for them to read.  Also, fancy flashing photos and moving web pages are often inaccessible. Some such effects can even cause seizures. If you have videos or audio on your website it’s always best to caption them. Ask yourself this: Is your website meant to be entertaining or informational? Don’t sacrifice the message for fancy features. You can have a classy, clean or fun site without sacrificing accessibility. It’s about making everyone feel more welcome and letting them know you took the time to make a difference just for them.
  10. Amplify the Word. Many churches are providing headsets, FM systems, or small pocket amplifiers for checkout during service hours. Even a small church can have a couple of those on hand. They don’t have to be expensive. In fact, many have become very reasonable.  It may be as simple as the speaker wearing a transmitter around their neck or pinning it to their lapel which amplifies the message to the person wearing the receiving device.
  11. Adapt Your Curriculum, Programs, and Resources. If you want to be welcoming, look into a variety of adaptable materials. Many are even reasonably low-cost.  For example, people of different abilities and ages may have trouble with small pens, pencils or crayons. It’s best to have a variety of sizes available in the pews and in the classroom. Also, your recreation department may want to have adaptable recreation equipment on hand. It is also thoughtful to have alternative instructional materials, and enlarged print copies of materials or at least the ability to get them.  Assess the needs of students and participants in your classes, courses, and programming. Unfortunately, many people hold back on their needs until they’re asked.
  12. Most church leaders already try to find ways to engage the congregation more. This is particularly helpful for people with attentional issues, and people who like tactile, hands-on activities. Consider purchasing a clicker system (an automatic audience response system).  These systems are integrated with your projector.  Wanna survey the flock or check for understanding? Do you want to gauge your congregation’s opinions or thoughts on a particular subject or check to see if their views are anywhere close to in-line with the latest research? Clicker response systems will give you immediate feedback that will post results and project onto your screen right as you ask the question. Just be sure to purchase an accessible clicker system so everyone can be involved, and remember to read the results with the congregation, otherwise, your visually impaired guests and members won’t be able to participate and that will defeat the purpose right?  Some clicker systems can be easily integrated with your members’ and guests’ cell phones with little to no other equipment needed.
  13. Get Feedback! Speaking of surveys. The best way to know what your congregation needs or wants is to survey them regularly. If there’s something you need to know, take a survey. There are some great free online survey resources. Be sure to offer your survey on paper too.  You might start with topical surveys. “How welcoming is our parking situation?” or you might choose a comprehensive approach about facilities, programs, and services.  Some churches are incorporating online anonymous comments and suggestions.  Be sure to listen, and let people know you used the surveys in your decision-making, and remember some responses should be taken with a grain of salt, and others with expedience. They key is letting them know the feedback matters.
  14. Make your welcome official! Consider making a welcome packet for families with connections related to disabilities or at least make those resources available in your current welcome packet. Sometimes people just need to know they’re welcome, and they need to hear it and see evidence that you really care.
  15. Assume competence! Train your staff to always assume that people with disabilities no matter how seemingly simple or complex the disability, are competent and able to participate, they just may need some adaptations.
  16. Check it out! Church libraries and media centers should provide a variety of materials and resources. It’s great to have plenty of audio resources and books on hand as well or at least a way for members to request or order them. The church library is also a great built-in resource to start a request or check-in/check-out service for assistive technologies.
  17. Go Team! Start an access team, or dare I suggest, “committee”. An access team or committee can address accessibility in your church and find ways to make your services and programs more accessible. If you initiate a team, it’s great to have some people with differing abilities on the team for perspective.  If your church is larger and has the resources, nothing would say you care about these issues more than adding a paid staff member to your leadership—maybe a Pastor or Director of Welcome and Access. These teams or individuals can consistently address not only needs of people with varying abilities, but they can also assist in plugging people into the church service and leadership roles and making sure the facility, events, and resources are accessible to everyone.

 

In the end, the most welcoming aspect of a church is the attitudes, openness, and compassion of its people. Taking action by doing any or all of the tips I’ve listed will begin to send the message that everyone matters at your church and that everyone is not only welcome to attend, but to participate in sharing a message that will impact hearts and ultimately change the world.

 

BIO: Dr. Chester Goad is a university administrator and graduate instructor, a former K12 principal, and teacher, former US Congressional staffer, author, and blogger.  He is co-author of Tennessee’s “Dyslexia Is Real” law and he has presented on disability and leadership-related topics from Appalachia to Africa.  He sits on nationally recognized disability related boards.  A leader in education, non-profit advocacy, parenting issues, access and policy, Chester has been quoted in major media outlets such as CNBC, Yahoo, the Washington Post, Forbes Leadership, and others. He is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, and Edutopia. More importantly, he loves God and is an active member of his local church. You can learn more about Chester by visiting his website at www.chestergoad.com. He and his wife live in Tennessee with their teenage son.

Twitter: CGOAD09

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