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I love taking online relationships and going to the next level by meeting in person and even breaking bread.

This is one of the joys of travel. I’ve had several meetups this year and am looking forward to more!

I announce national meetups, giveaways, and links to tons of resources in my Facebook group.

Join us online! There are over 8400 church leaders from around the world discussing weekend worship and guest services every single day of the week.

Here’s where I’ll be the rest of the year. Please let me know if you’re going to be at any of these and we can meet.

  • Please note: There may be additional dates added and I will update this blog. *

Here’s where I was consulting over the last month: Albuquerque, Dallas, and Richmond, VA

Here’ where I’m going next:

And please join me online (from anywhere in the world) for our third online conference!

I was a Campus Pastor at a multisite church for 6 years. After just “winging it” for the first year, I talked to my friend, Nelson Searcy, and he suggested I read his book Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church. Now, mind you, many things are discussed in the Fusion book, including first impressions (which is HUGE – you know how much I’ve written about that in the past). I’m just touching on the area of assimilation today.

I first read the summary of the book by one of my sponsors (seen to the right) called Leaders Book Summaries. After I read the summary, I was hooked and I had our entire Lead Team (our Senior Leadership Team) order and read the book. I then ordered copies for my staff at my campus and we read through it together, too. It’s an amazing read and well worth the investment. I highly encourage you to go get the book (paperback or Kindle) HERE. The leaders summary will give you the basics and highlights. The book will give you the full philosophy, principles, and strategy for the Fusion concept.

Continue Reading…

Hello, friends. I’ve had the honor of being on several podcasts over the years. Recently, I was guest on some great podcasts where we discussed my 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!

I stay busy with church secret shopper consultations during the summer, as wise churches prepare for the Fall. Now that Summer has begun, 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 Summer. 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.

I was 18 years old and serving my first church. A little church out in the country. My uncle (a veteran minister) was coming to visit and I eagerly awaited his feedback. I was a worship pastor back then and my uncle had been a worship pastor since the 70’s. His words to me? “Walk slowly through the pews.”

I didn’t understand. I had sung well and led the choir and worship without messing up. I had smiled and sweated and given my all. However, my uncle noticed me rushing through the crowd – always busy and heading somewhere to do something. Flying by the people that were gathering to worship. It’s been over twenty years and I still remember that advice.

I try to walk slowly through my church. I try to make eye contact and shake hands and give out hugs. I go out of my way to be accessible and approachable. This has defined me as a pastor. I seek to put people first and realize it’s all about them. This is a chapter in my first book Church Leadership Essentials.

This is why I’m passionate about hospitality. It’s all about people. Always has been. Always will be people. Ministry is about people.

In the last year, I’ve worked with churches where I saw staff members hurrying around past people. One was a frantic children’s minister. The other was a worship leader with other things on his mind.

Take time to notice people, talk to people, and build relationships. Lead Pastors: This goes for you, too. They don’t want to just hear your message, they want to meet you. I cover this in the next to last chapter of my book Secrets of a Secret Shopper.

How is walking slowly through the pews possible? Preparation. Don’t wait until the last minute to get things done. Be prepared and ready for your duties so that you can relax, worship, and enjoy fellowship with God’s people.

So, my two cents to you, my friends: Walk slowly through the halls of church and in the auditorium. Smile. Shake hands. Give hugs. Let your people know you love them.

Hey, friends! Did you know that there is a Facebook group where we talk about everything that happens on a weekend at the local church? There is!

If you serve as a pastor, church staff member (Communications, Children’s, worship, guest services, first impressions, hospitality – or even on the security team) – this is a great place to share best practices, ask questions, and learn.

Go HERE to join in the discussion. Remember – this week could very well be someone’s first Sunday at your church. LOVE and SERVE them well.

  • And if you haven’t already, go sign-up for the first annual First Impressions Conference. It’s May 1-3 and it’s all online (no travel). Check out the speakers, sessions, and the schedule is posted at the bottom of the website. See you in May!

*** And just for readers of this blog: Use coupon code GREGATKINSON when you check out and save 20% off conference registration. Put the code in right under the word “Tickets.”

 

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So here we are – less than two weeks away from the biggest Sunday of the year. I just left a planning meeting with the worship pastor at my home church. We were talking about ways to turn first-time guests into second-time guests. We brainstormed about setting up a tent outside to welcome guests and give them a gift, as well as info about next steps.

The reality is all we planned to do takes a huge amount of volunteer leadership. I coached him on delegating and equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4).

But here’s the real question: How do we still have a team going forward after such a stressful and busy season as Easter?

Here are some thoughts: 

We live in a digital world. Texting, IMing, Facebook pokes, Instagram posts and daily tweets – it’s truly a whirlwind when it comes to communicating these days. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve found that a personal touch still goes a long way (yes, even in 2018).

1. A Handwritten Note

Everybody loves to receive a handwritten note thanking them for their service on your team. We’re coming up on one of the busiest times of the year with Easter. We all know that Easter is the “Super Bowl” for churches. More people will visit your congregation than any other day of the year.

Your volunteers are going to work countless hours (your staff, too). Take the time to write out Thank You notes to each and every one of them. If you have the budget, include a gift card in the note to them. Sometimes I do Chili’s gift cards for $25. Sometimes I can only do a $10 Starbucks card. Whatever your budget can do – make it happen.

2. Phone Calls

Another thing that goes a long way in this digital world is phone calls. It seems we’ve lost the art of picking up the phone and checking on our team and seeing how they’re doing. I used to go through my team’s list of names and give them a call just to see how they were doing and if there was anything I could pray for them about. This went a long way!

3. Personal Touch

One final thought I’ll mention on a personal touch is to give out hugs. You wouldn’t believe it, but a hug goes a long way. Now I know that some people don’t like to be touched and freak out if you try to hug them. You need to be aware of body language and know if you’re making someone uncomfortable, but by and large, most people like a good ‘ole hug.

On Wednesday night rehearsals, I greeted my team members with hugs and asked how they were doing. This is in contrast to barking “Get to your station!” or “Did you hear about the changes we made?”

I’ve made it a point to not let something “business” come out of my mouth first. The person is always more important than the thing we’re trying to accomplish or produce. Check on them first and then update them on the changes. Lastly, greet them with a warm smile. Let your people know you love and care for them.

This is about valuing people over production. People are more important than what they can produce and we shouldn’t prostitute them and their gifts. God has entrusted them to us and our team and we should value them.

How long has it been since you wrote a note? How long since you called a team member? Given any hugs lately?

Let’s surprise our team and volunteers with a personal touch and an attitude of gratitude this Easter season.

CCV-Communication-Card

We all come from different tribes, denominations, styles of music and sizes small to large. The one thing churches of all kind have in common on a day as huge as Easter is wanting to turn first-time guests into second-time guests. How do you do that?

One tool that I’ve used well over the years and highly recommend is having some sort of response card, info card, communication card or connection card – whatever you want to call it.

You can put these in the seats, in the bulletin or hand them out as people walk in. You can collect them in a variety of ways: Have the guests put them in the offering plate, or have the guests take them to a connection or collection area.

You can see a higher response rate by offering a free gift for people that turn them in at the designated area. Some churches give away books and some give away coffee mugs.

The point is to collect as many responses and connection cards as you can. Please have a circle or box that they can check off that reads “First-time Guest.” Also good to ask is, “How did you hear about us?” Also, have boxes for people to check off if they made a decision for Christ. Also good is space for people to share prayer requests.

What you do with the card once it’s turned in (what you do post-Easter) is key. As I’ve said before, “Assimilation is an often overlooked or under-appreciated part of church ministry.”

You can read all about how I did assimilation at a church where I was a Campus Pastor at HERE

Don’t have a Connection Card? Don’t know where to start? I created this sample pack (which has editable files) for you and your church. Go here to download for free!

I hope you guys have an incredible and productive week and may you see much fruit this Easter season!

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.