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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.

rsz_fall_photo_of_life_and_benchesI have lived with fear and anxiety for my entire life. It’s exhausting. I used to think that trouble was around every corner and lay in my bed paralyzed from a panic attack. You see, I had believed a lie from the enemy. I thought that because my dad died of a massive heart attack at the age of 60, that I too could expect to live 60 years or less. It was something I had accepted.

When I got diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder in 2006 (I can’t believe it’s been a decade now), my psychiatrist at the time told me I was off the charts with anxiety and he had never seen anything like it.

This was after I had taken an anxiety test at one of the largest mental health and psychiatrists office in the United States (based in Dallas, TX) and the doctor that told me this was and is known all throughout the country and has been recognized by many mental health publications as having one of the top practices in the country.

My dad died when I was 21 and it was sudden. He had no prior heart issues. It so totally shocked and surprised me that I vowed that I would never be surprised again. Side note: It’s dangerous to make such vows. So, at the age of 21, I developed what they call “a sense of impending doom.” If my wife was late getting home, I thought she had been in a car accident; not only that, I had accepted it and started thinking about how my life would be without her.

If one of my kids was sick or going through a health crisis, I always thought the worst. When I had health issues, I always thought the worst and had accepted the lie that I would die young. This is how sick I was.

You see, I thought I could beat God “at His own game.” I thought I would beat Him to the punch-line and news that something horrible had happened. Remember, I vowed to never be surprised again.

My therapist (yes, I see a counselor and you should too) has helped me to see that anxiety is about control. I seek to control the outcome of everything and like I said, “It’s exhausting.”

I always joke that I become fully aware of this illusion of control when I fly. When the plane lifts off the ground, I feel helpless and I pray, “Okay God. My life is now in YOUR hands. Please guide this flight safely to my destination.” As if, I’m in total control of the events of life when I’m on the ground, but I allow God to control my life when I’m flying.

This sickness of impending doom and my lie about accepting “the fact” that I would die young started to crash around me at my church in Missouri. At this church, some of the biggest servants, partners in the gospel, healthy, strong, vibrant people in our church were over the age of 60. And not only that, they would ask me to pray for their parents! Say what? You still have parents alive when you’re in your 60’s?

These great men and women of God (in their 60s and 70s) not only served the church faithfully and ministered and prayed for me, but I went on mission trips with them to Haiti and they could do and lift things that I couldn’t do. They were stronger and healthier than me in my 30s.

Recently, I was at a retreat for consultants. I was by far the youngest man in the room. Every other pastor there was in their 60s and had been in ministry for 40 years or more. The man leading the retreat had been a consultant for 40 years. I was shocked. I came home and told my wife about these men that were still serving God in their 60’s and had not retired. Again, I had believed the lie that I was going to die at or before 60 because my dad had.

I was watching the second Presidential Debate on television along with tens of millions of other people and all I kept thinking was how sharp the minds of both candidates (who are about 70 years old) are. Say what you want about either politician, but they both were very quick-witted and knew every single talking point that they wanted to get across to the audience and the viewers from around the world.

I thought to myself, “Will I be alive when I’m 70?” and “Will my mind be as sharp as theirs?” I don’t know, but I’m going to live my life in such a way that I seek to be healthy physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. I started exercising and eating right in the past year. I’m losing weight, seeing a therapist weekly and trying my best to be healthy in every way.

So, how have I made a complete 180 turnaround in my life and mindset? Well, it started by asking friends, family, mentors and godly men in my life to pray for me. It started when I opened up about my struggles. It started when I became vulnerable and asked for help.

I was at a men’s prayer gathering recently in Charlotte. (I go every Monday night) – I had a man come up to me and ask if he could pray for my anxiety and against the “spirit of death” hanging over me. I hadn’t told him anything and had never met the man before.

He prayed for me and I could feel God doing a work in my own spirit. The spirit of oppression started to lift as I settled things once and for all and stopped believing the lie that danger is around every corner, and that I’m about to die.

This man (who I had never met before) told me to read Psalm 118:17. Let me share it with you:

I will not die; instead, I will live
to tell what the Lord has done.
– Psalm 118:17 (NLT)

This is now the passion and cry of my heart. This is my mantra! This is my life verse. And guess what? I have never seen the man since. This took place half a year ago. I had never seen him before and I have never seen him since. God placed that man in my path and brought him into my life at just the right time – God’s timing. And I’ve never been the same.

Now, I look at life differently. Now, I plan for a long life with my wife and I take seriously saving up for retirement. I plan to see my kids get married and have kids of their own (which I never thought was possible before).

Why do I share such a personal story and open myself up to you like this? Because I think some of you, my friends, have believed a lie and may have a spirit of heaviness surrounding you. Maybe you’ve believed another lie from the enemy. Maybe you think because of your past, no one (especially God) could love you.

Hear me: Listen for the voice of truth and stop believing lies that don’t line up with the Word of God. I’m praying for you. I welcome your comments. I welcome your emails. I’m here for you. Your family and friends are here for you. And God is for you. He loves you. He’s close to the brokenhearted and ready to rescue you from the pit (Psalm 103).

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. – James 4:7-8

I just wrote a devotional entitled “Take Courage: Winning the War on Fear.” You can read it daily on YouVersion and The Bible App. I share stories and Scriptures that have ministered to me on my personal journey over the last two decades.

You see, I was 21 when my dad died. I just turned 41. I wasted two decades plagued by fear and anxiety and frankly, I’ve had enough. I’m walking in freedom and newness of life now and I pray you will, too. May you live life to the fullest!

Please check out my devotional and may God rescue you from your pit.