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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.

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I’d love to introduce you to my newest sponsor: Tithe.ly. Tithe.ly was one of the first giving apps allowed into the Apple app store in 2013. Giving via a mobile device was born out of both a need and opportunity they saw when they first saw what Apple did with the iPhone and the coming app economy.

Before Dean Sweetman co-founded tithe.ly, he had been a church planter and overseer of churches for 30 years. This put him in a unique position to know exactly what churches needed to help with several 21st-century problems concerning steady and consistent income to fulfill the mission of the church.

Problem Number One:

Church members are not coming as often to services as they used to. And as any pastor knows, if members are not in church then they are most probably not giving. It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s just that they don’t have the opportunity. Simple recurring giving set up in seconds solves this.

Problem Number Two:

Most people under 35 don’t carry cash or checks anymore.

They use debit/credit cards for just about everything. Most millennials don’t even know what a routing number is and where to find it on a checkbook if they even have one. Giving anywhere, anytime with a phone was the easy answer.

This and other obstacles for people giving to the church they love is to provide a simple app that lives on a device they virtually never let out of their sight, their smart phone.

Fast forward five years, Dean has retired from full-time ministry and is the CEO of tithe.ly one of the fastest growing FaithTech companies in the world. They now serve thousands of churches in three countries and plan on adding another 30+ countries in the first quarter of 2017.

They have a product suite that includes everything a church needs to move away from cash and check donations and facilitate digital giving, via text, free app, custom designed church apps, full back office support and a few more exciting additions they are announcing very soon.

At tithe.ly, they love what they do. They talk to pastors and church leaders every day about getting them the tools to increase giving so they can focus on serving their church and fulfilling the great commission of preaching the gospel to a desperate and fearful world whose only hope is Jesus.

I’m proud to partner with these guys. Please check them out here.

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The following are the results of the 2015 Pastor Survey conducted by ExPastors.com. I think you’ll find them very insightful. I also encourage you to participate in the 2016 Pastor Survey, which is currently going on and has new and improved questions to help us collect more data to better serve the ExPastors community. Please know these surveys are totally anonymous.

We wished to concern ourselves with getting accurate information on issues ranging from burnout and finances, to work hours and the demands on families With this objective in mind, we also chose to make our survey confidential and allow the option to answer basic demographic questions, the only exception being the initial question of whether the person filling out the survey was or was not currently serving in the role of pastor.

The 2015 Pastors Survey

Of the following, which is most accurate:
I am a pastor (170 / 62%)
I am an ex-pastor (89 / 32%)
I stepped away from the pastorate but am now serving as pastor again (16 / 6%)

At any time during your pastorate, have you doubted your call to ministry?
Yes (165 / 60%)
No (110 / 40%)

Would you consider yourself overworked?
Yes (166 / 60%)
No (109 / 40%)

At times, do you feel unable to meet the demands of the job?
Yes (222 / 81%)
No (53 / 19%)

Do you feel there are/were unrealistic demands or unwritten expectations of you and your family?
Yes (225 / 82%)
No (50 / 18%)

Have you ever considered leaving the ministry?
Yes (234 / 85%)
No (41 / 15%)

Do you constantly fight depression?
No (146 / 53%)
Yes (129 / 47%)

Do you consider yourself lonely?
Yes (174 / 63%)
No (101 / 37%)

Would you consider yourself having experienced burnout?
Yes (212 / 77%)
No (63 / 23%)

Do you have anyone you consider a close friend or someone you can share your struggles or burdens with?
Yes (207 / 75%)
No (68 / 25%)

Have you or a family member experienced a conflict with a church member within the last month?
No (158 / 57%)
Yes (117 / 43%)

What is the size of your church?
40-200 (147 / 55%)
200-450 (41 / 15%)
400-800 (28 /10%)
Below 40 (27 /10%)
800-2000 (21 /8%)
2000+ (4 /1%)

Next Step

Please fill out the 2016 Pastor Survey so that ExPastors.com may better serve you. Thanks.

I know several people that are coming to Dallas this week for the C3 Conference at Fellowship Church. I’m planning to meet with a few of them and give them a tour of Bent Tree. If you’re coming to town this week and want to get together, just shoot me an email and let me know: greg@gregatkinson.com.

EXTRA:
We have a team of leaders from our church in Pune, India training Church leaders for our adopted people group, the Marathas. This past Sunday we spoke with one of our elders live during our Sunday morning worship service. It was about 9pm his time and it was morning for us. It was very cool. We could all hear him clear as a bell and he heard us with no problem. We did it using Skype!

EXTRA, EXTRA:
galaxy
According to TechCrunch yesterday, a source close to Microsoft says the company will launch a new desktop software called WorldWide Telescope on February 27. Pretty cool. You can read more about it HERE.

BONUS:
I read this in WIRED magazine: You can place a picture of you and/or your family on the moon – that’s right: on the moon. Check out HERE for more info.

I was on the road (or “in the air” would be more appropriate) the past 2 weeks. It’s so good to be back home with my family after 2 trips back to back.

1. Two weeks ago I taught some classes at Church Music Oklahoma, which takes place in Oklahoma City. Like I did last year when I taught at the same conference, I stayed over to visit LifeChurch.tv on Saturday night and Charlie Hall’s church, Bridgeway, on Sunday morning.

  • My friend, Don Chapman (www.WorshipIdeas.com) was with me and got to join me on our whirlwind tour of churches. On Saturday night, we attended LifeChuches’s South Oklahoma City campus for their first Saturday night service, then went to the main OKC campus for their 2nd Saturday night service. They both have 4 services on Sunday, too – keep in mind that LifeChurch.tv has 9 campuses, including an “Internet Campus”. Sunday morning we saw Charlie Hall (not leading worship, but he was there) at Bridgeway, the church he helped plant. Their service lasted ’til noon and wouldn’t you know it – we had enough time to make it back to the main LifeChurch.tv campus to catch a little of their 1pm service.
  • We drove from OKC back to Dallas from 1:30pm to 4:45pm, so Don could experience Irving Bible Church’s 5pm service. We had hung out earlier in the week with Russ Ware, worship pastor at IBC, so Don really wanted to attend one of their 4 services. We made it just in time to be there for the entire 5pm service and then went home exhausted. Don went back to his home in Greenville, SC and blogged about his experience at LifeChurch.tv (including pictures).

2. This past week I spoke at the Christian Supply Choral Festival in SC, which brought together over 1200 worship leaders from around the country. The cool thing for me is that the conference takes place about 10 minutes from my family/where I grew up, so I got to see my mom and sister and her family. Two things worth mention from this conference (I didn’t get to visit any churches on this trip – I left Saturday afternoon, so I could attend my home church with my family on Sunday):

  • The first thing to mention from this 2nd conference is the new movie “Facing the Giants“, which hits theaters next month. Back in February I sat on a panel at NRB with Alex Kendrick, Media Pastor at Sherwood Baptist in Albany, GA. Alex is the writer, director and lead actor in “Facing the Giants”. You may recognize the name from all the media hype. “Facing the Giants” is the movie that the Motion Picture Association rated PG instead of G, because it is so evangelistic. Personally, I’m glad that it got a PG rating (I think more people will attend the movie), but I don’t agree with the reasoning behind the decision.
  • When I was with Alex back in February he was discussing a movie that his church had produced called “Flywheel“, which Blockbuster picked up and carries nation-wide!
  • At this conference they showed a powerfully moving promo and teaser produced for Church leaders about their new movie, “Facing the Giants”. Now I love sports movies anyway, so I was getting pretty pumped up just watching it. What do you need to know? Go see this movie and tell others to see it. Besides being produced and shot very impressively, it represents Christ and His Church very well.
  • The second thing to mention from the SC conference was a 2 hour conversation I had with Rick Muchow, worship pastor at Saddleback. We discused media in worship, my class on multi-sensory worship and a city-wide worship project that I’m currently working on and you’ll hear more about soon. I was surprised to learn that Saddleback has multiple venues and worship styles on their campus. I was intrigued and fascinated as he was telling me about them. Keep in mind, these are all on the same campus. They are also launching their first off-site video venue and are pretty excited about it’s potential.
  • For me (and I told him this), it was extremely encouraging to hear one of the main leaders at the 2nd largest church in the country talking about how they can improve and what they think they can do better and more effectively. There’s a lesson there for us all.

Well, that was my most recent roadtrip. Next month I’m teaching at the National MinistyCOM conference in Phoenix. If you haven’t already, sign up and plan on attending this event. I’ve invited 2 friends of mine to share in my class with me on “Creative Synergy”. Shawn Wood, Communications Pastor at Seacoast Church and Anthony Coppedge from Anthony Coppedge Consulting will be around and sharing in our discussion of creative synergy, which, by the way, is the name of my new weekly podcast “Creative Synergy“, featuring Anthony Coppedge and myself (more to come on that in the near future).