Archives For christmas

It’s the Christmas season and church teams are working hard to prepare for all the expected guests. As a secret shopper or mystery worshiper of churches around the country, I’ve found there are some reasons that I will tell a church I would not return for a second visit and some may be news to you. Whether I’m working with a church plant of 60 people or a mega-church of over 25,000, some things are universal and should be present regardless of church size. Throughout this post, we’ll look at actions and areas every church needs to address.

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 someone who is constantly watching is 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 of a close parking space; it’s a kind gesture of 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 (and they should), 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). Chris Hodges 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. What gift could you surprise your guests with this Christmas Eve?

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 Body 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 used to 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.

Do these 8 things and you’ll see a greater return and higher percentage of second and third-time guests. May you all have a wonderful Christmas and I pray you have many guests to honor and minister to. Love well. Serve well.

 

 

James Taylor

So yesterday I was telling one of my interns that at my home in December we listen to James Taylor’s Christmas album. My kids know his music well and it’s kind of a family tradition. I remarked how much I liked “JT’s Christmas album” and he said, “Justin Timberlake is JT”.

Justin Timberlake

Hold up! Wait a minute. No disrespect to Justin Timberlake, but James Taylor is the real and original “JT”. Anyone got my back? Will the real JT please stand up?!!!

I went away this weekend and took my first Sunday off of the year. This combined with being off earlier in the week for Thanksgiving, made for a much-needed extended time of rest, relief and refreshment. I feel so much healthier (physically, spiritually and mentally).

This came at a great time as we start prep for our busy Christmas season today. I will be working some crazy hours until Christmas Eve, so it’s good to not be running on empty anymore.

My time off (in which I didn’t Facebook, blog, Twitter or check email) reminded me of an article that I wrote for Relevant Magazine a while back. The article was called “Noise” and you can read it HERE.

EXTRA:

What makes me happy? This:


 

This year we are going to do Christmas differently around the Atkinson home. We are just days away from Thanksgiving! – after which we will take down the Christmas ornaments and begin decorating our home for the holidays. We always decorate with Christmas music playing. I’ll also start playing Christmas music at church during the prelude/walk-in time. I’m glad it’s that time of year!

As a family, we are going to participate in this season of giving differently this year. Here are 3 things that I’m trying to use as teachable moments with my children:

  1. Send Christmas cards (made by our kids) to our child that we sponsor through World Vision and shop through their Christmas catalog. Maybe give some ducks… or a goat?!! Who knows?
  2. Shop in the IJM Gift of Freedom Holiday Catlalog. I don’t know exactly what we’re going to give this year, but we’re going to pick one of their great options. 
  3. New this year: we are going to participate in the brilliant campaign: Advent Conspiracy. Watch this video – dream with us. What could it look like if we change our shopping/giving/normal Christmas mentality and gave the gift of clean water? Do you honestly remember what you got or gave for Christmas last year? Check this video out:

I hope you know my heart. My intent is to share what’s going on in my life and my family – to encourage, challenge and stretch you – and hope that you and your family will look at Christmas with new eyes this year. So… what are YOU doing for Christmas?

EXTRA:

If you watched 24 last night then maybe your heart was stirred (like mine) by the issues raised. To get involved and do something about it go HERE.

EXTRA, EXTRA:

Some of you have, but a lot of you have not been following the string of comments on the “Don’t Go to Seminary” blog post. I encourage you to go back and read through all them. It’s pretty exciting to see how that struck a nerve with so many. You might even see a comment that shocks you.

Things are busy around my church (Bent Tree). Here’s what’s going down:

  • Last month we had our Grand Opening (pics HERE). 
  • This month we have our annual Missions Festival. This years theme: GLOCAL. I’ve been using that term a lot lately. Our Visual Arts team is transforming our church for this yearly extravaganza! More info HERE.
  • Saturday, Oct 25: We host the Art+Music+Justice Tour. More info HERE.
  • In November we’ll host the “Hymns of Hope” featuring worship leaders (including our own) from 4 amazing churches. Click HERE to see a sneak peak of them on The Worship Network and hear our worship leader, Scott Dyer
  • In December we’ll have some sort of theatric/dramatic presentation in the early part of the month. I’m told we’ll do something “simple” for Christmas Eve. I’m counting on it!
  • In January we host Leadership Network’s Innovation 3 Conference featuring MANY amazing speakers. Be there!
  • Word on the street is that we’ll also be hosting Catalyst in May ’09.  Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel will be on the Bent Tree stage. Watch out!