The Gospel in Action – A Reflection on My 2022

Greg Atkinson reflects on his past year

 

It’s the end of 2022, and I was reflecting on my very full and exciting year. Where do I begin?

 

Let’s start with my family. My wife is a hospice nurse who helps many people die with peace and dignity. She has a career of purpose, and I regularly try to encourage her. She recently moved to a triage role where she has a home office and helps people via phone. She works long shifts late into the night, and I try to sit in her office and talk with her when I can to help make the time go by easier. I don’t know if it really helps, but I like keeping her company. She now has a family member who got a terrible diagnosis and will be going into hospice down the road. It breaks my heart for her and her family – my family – and I am trying to support her as she walks down this brutal and painful road. Suffice it to say; I’m very proud of her.

 

Next, let me tell you about my three remarkable children. My youngest finished high school in 2022 and started college close to home in the Fall. She’s studying tele-production and wants to be behind the camera. Like me, she’s an artist. She’s been thriving and found a whole new group of friends whom I see on occasion and take out to eat or host in our home to watch movies. My daughter is an activist with a compassionate heart. She’s been active on Instagram about social justice, LGBTQIA+: matters, and women’s rights. Not only that, she has been to several rallies and protests (like for the women of Iran) in downtown Charlotte and even made the news playing percussion and singing a song at a rally. I’m beyond proud of her.

 

My middle child, my son, is a college sophomore and lives in an apartment with three of his friends. He leads worship at a church college group on Wednesday nights and plays guitar, which I taught him, so to say I’m proud is an understatement. He has a very tough academic load, but he continues to make the President’s List and excel, even in his Russian class. Next Fall, he’ll be overseas taking classes in a Russian-speaking country, so I’m just thankful to have him relatively close, just 3 hours away, and treasure the breaks and holidays when he gets to come home. My son chose to double major in International Studies and Religious Studies. Being that I was a worship major and minored in Religion, and have spent nearly three decades serving the church, I love that he chose to study something so meaningful as Religion, and I feel that his faith will be made stronger through the experience.

 

My oldest daughter is a senior in college and will graduate in the Spring of 2023. She’s a Bio-Chemistry major with a minor in Physics, so you know I don’t understand anything she does. I’m just cheering for her to cure cancer as she has worked in a lab the last two years and will continue to after she graduates, as she’s applying to grad schools to work on her Ph.D. She also makes the President’s List and will graduate with honors. She lives in an apartment with her best friend and has been involved in a small group and now college ministry throughout her four years away from home. She also is a musician and plays flute in the concert band at her university. She has a servant’s heart and volunteers often. She’s volunteered since high school, and I admire her. Where I resonate with her the most is that she’s very driven and ambitious. I’m wired the same way and cheer her on when she stretches herself and strives for excellence.

 

My gospel (good news) is that I text my three kids daily and tell them I love them and am proud of them. If I’m up early, I encourage them to have a great day. I tell them I miss them and can’t wait to see them again. No matter what, they know they are dearly loved, and I’m so proud of them. I remind them of their identity – that they’re a dearly beloved child of God. I also try to encourage my wife and surprise her with gifts to show her I was thinking of her. She’s much better at writing handwritten notes, but I know how to shop. My family is my pride and joy. I’m not perfect, but I love fiercely. I look forward to spending the rest of 2022 with them, as my kids are home on Christmas break.

 

Regarding the family I grew up with, my Dad died in 1997. My Mom remarried years later, and I have a kind and interesting Stepdad. We had lunch recently and shared stories of our year. I look forward to getting together with them again over the holidays and exchanging Christmas gifts. I said some kind words about my Mom in my last book and in my new book coming out next year. I thank God for their prayers for me and my family daily.

 

My sister’s oldest kid, my nephew, graduated high school and went to college this year. He’s the same age as my youngest child. We went to his graduation party and caught up with their family. My nephew is a Quarterback on the football team at his college, which is not too far away from where I live. He had a teammate die this year, and I checked in on him and told him I was praying for him and there for him. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, much less someone so young. Needless to say, I’m so proud of my nephew and my sister and brother-in-law for how they raised such sweet, kind, and smart kids.

 

My brother lives in the same city my son goes to college. Earlier this year, my wife and I visited my son and had dinner with my brother and his wife. We shared stories of growing up and laughed way too much. My brother is experiencing some rough stuff with having long Covid. It broke my heart to hear of some of what he struggles with. I continue to pray for his health and healing.

 

The rest of 2022 has been a blur. I run my own business, which has been very fulfilling this year. I am in the process of starting a new business and a few new initiatives. It’s a very exciting time as an entrepreneur. I also wrote my fifth book on the power of kindness, which will come out in the Spring of 2023. I can’t wait for you to read it.

 

We were able to give financially to some great churches, pastors, missionaries, charities, and special things like LifeBoxes, Water Mission, and St. Jude Hospital. I’ve always said that hospitality and generosity are two sides of the same coin. I was taught to be generous, and I have tried to model that for my kids. I hope they carry it forward.

 

I was able to be a good friend to those close to me. My best friend, for thirty years, went through a tough season being accused of something he didn’t do. I was able to support him, encourage him, remind him who he was, and pray for him. He came through his trial by fire, and I’m so happy for him.

 

My second-best friend is my pastor. He and his wife not only had Covid during the pandemic, but his wife has long Covid and is experiencing something like early dementia. Her brain has shrunk, and she’s not the same as pre-Covid. She had to stop driving and can’t really work anymore. With the pressures of running a church, a non-profit, and the demands of a church plant with many needy people, I try to be a fun friend to my pastor and do life-giving stuff that’s not draining.

 

This year we started doing Taco Tuesday. My wife works on Tuesday nights, so I and my pastor and his wife will go to their favorite Mexican restaurant, where I treat them to dinner. We take our time eating and talking for a couple of hours. Nothing church-related – no pressure or demands, just fun. Often, we will go see a movie after we eat at a nearby theater. He was there for me in a tough season, and I’m trying my best to be there for him in his tough season.

 

Another local friend of mine came to terms with his alcoholism this year and spent thirty days in rehab at Onsite. I’ve been to Onsite, and it’s wonderful. I highly recommend checking it out. I heard about it from Bob Goff, Donald Miller, and Carlos Whitaker. When my friend returned from Onsite, I took him to lunch and listened to his thoughts and reflections. You’ll find I break bread with a lot of people. Most of my meetings involve food. Recently, we had dinner together, and he was telling me about how he goes to AA meetings every morning, and his sponsor has been sober for 38 years. I said that’s incredible! We get together regularly and talk about our families and dream up business ideas together. He’s a great business owner.

 

My pastor and my local business owner friend are both Republicans and voted for Trump. So did most of the family I grew up with – and that’s okay. I’m not a Republican and don’t like Trump. My in-laws are Democrats. I get along with both sides of my family. I will not burn a bridge or ruin a relationship over politics. When I get together with my friends or family, we simply talk about everything and anything besides politics. They know where I stand. I don’t need to bring it up.

 

The part of 2022 that nobody sees is what’s special to me. We love to host and have had several house guests in this season of empty nesting. We had two gay friends stay with us – one for a weekend and one for two months. They are dear friends, and it was a pleasure to host them.

 

We also had a homeless man stay with us for six months. He was the third recovering addict to live with my family for multiple months. Most of his stay was when my youngest daughter was still in high school. It was a challenging season and didn’t end as well as the previous two people to live with my family did, but we know God saw that we sincerely gave the man everything and tried to help him get on his feet. We wish him well as he lives in a different state now.

 

Some other special memories of 2022 were having my transgender nieces stay with us in our home – one for a weekend and one for two weeks. They are beautiful souls who have been in my life for a long time. I love them and love spending time with them and seeing them grow up.

 

Another special memory was when my youngest daughter brought one of her best friends by one day, who is a transgender man. It was his birthday, and I asked him if he was doing anything special with his parents to celebrate. He said, “No, we don’t have any plans.” I said, “We can’t have that. I’m taking you to dinner! Pick any place you want to go.” He asked if he could invite his twin brother to come since it was his birthday, too, and I said, “Sure. The more, the merrier.” I offered to take them to my favorite restaurant in town, but they opted for their favorite restaurant, which I was happy to oblige.

 

After dinner, he and his twin brother returned to our home to talk and share stories. While we were talking in the den, my wife (unbeknownst to them) baked them a birthday cake. She decorated it and put some candles on top. They were blown away. We sang “Happy Birthday” to them, and they blew out the candles and devoured the cake. They were so happy, and it made my heart so happy. They took whatever cake was left over to their home, and I was so glad we gave them the opportunity to celebrate their birthday.

 

Friends, as I reflect on this past year, I guess the biggest takeaway that I’ve said for years is that proximity breeds intimacy. The more you spend time with different people, the more you find you have in common with them, and you learn to love and appreciate them for who they are.

 

Whether it be a homeless man, a person of a different ethnicity, a gay or transgender friend, a person of a different political party, or anything you want to fill in the blank, the thing I know to be true is that they are not an issue to argue over or a subhuman being. They are a child of the Living God, and he loves them dearly. Therefore, I love them dearly as made in the image of God.

 

I’m not perfect in any way. I have my faults and issues and regrets. However, my family knows I love them, and they know I love people – all kinds of people. They know I don’t judge and that the gospel, the good news, is available to all. You see, I believe we need to not only preach the gospel of Jesus but “be” the gospel – the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need. We should be good news to a hurting and broken world. Life is tough. We can display love and kindness and make the world a better place.

 

My 2022 was an incredible year, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of all that God did in my heart and life and how grateful I am for another year. I look forward with anticipation and expectation to the new year and can’t wait to see what it holds. I’m praying that God would do exceedingly more than I can ask or imagine in my and my family’s life, and I pray the same for you, my friend. Thanks for reading.

 

 

*Copyright 2022. Greg Atkinson. Written by Greg, not AI.

Introducing the First Impressions Challenge

Who else wants to fix their church’s guest retention problem once and for all?
The average church guest makes up their mind if they’ll come back for a second visit within 7 minutes of driving in the parking lot…
Long before you step into the pulpit and deliver the sermon you’ve been working on all week, people are deciding if they’ll come back for a second visit.
I know what it feels like to be frustrated by this problem because I’ve served for nearly 3 decades as a pastor at small, medium, and large churches that struggled with this exact issue.
In fact, we had so many guests who would show up once or twice then never return that we actually called them “drive-bys!”

That’s why I created the FREE 5-Day First Impressions Challenge.

 

So you can discover how to close the ‘back door’ and get people coming back and plugged into the life of your church.
During this free workshop you’re going to learn:
  • How to collect guests information in the most efficient and effective way possible
  • How companies like Chick-fil-A and Disney WOW their guests
  • This is the same follow-up system I use to train the largest and fastest-growing churches in the world to quickly connect with people and see them return for a second and third visit

Join the free 5-Day First Impressions Challenge today: https://firstimpressionschallenge.com/

Greg Atkinson is The Virtual XP

Greg Atkinson is open (currently) to work with one to two churches as a virtual XP (Executive Pastor). Greg has no plans to move but is available to a church (ideal size is 500 to 1500 average attendance) that is looking to hire expertise and experience without the expense of a full-time staff member with benefits.

Greg has served every size church in his nearly three-decade ministry career, including being on staff at 3 different mega-churches. Greg has also been a consultant to some of the largest and fastest-growing churches in the US, with congregations of 30,000+.

Greg has worked with a number of coaching clients, but this is different and more intense, with more access to Greg, who would be flying in once a month to be onsite at your church. Throughout the week, Greg would be available via text, phone, and Zoom, as agreed to upon the retainer and what the client needs.

Greg can oversee staff and be a great support, friend, encourager, and counsel to the Lead Pastor and Senior Leadership of the church. You can read more about Greg here.

If you’d like to explore this option with Greg, please contact him at greg@gregatkinson.com.

FREE COVID-19 Christmas Resources

Hi. I hope you’re doing well. I’m not going to lie to you. COVID-19 is on the rise and is the highest it’s ever been. This Christmas is going to be the most unique Christmas we’ve ever experienced.

Some churches have canceled in-person services and gone back online-only (I, personally, think that’s the right call). Some are doing a hybrid approach.

We at the First Impressions Conferencealong with one of our speakers, Ben Stapley of Christ Fellowship Miami, have put together a FREE COVID Christmas Resource Kit for you to help you and your team prepare for what’s sure to be the most unprecedented Christmas we’ve ever experienced as the Big “C” Church.

Go HERE to download your FREE resource. No strings attached. Enjoy!

Thanks and happy holidays!– Greg Atkinson, Founder Worship Impressions & First Impressions Conference

 

 

*** Again: Download your FREE resource list HERE.

The First Impressions Workshop featuring Greg Atkinson

Join First Impressions Conference Founder Greg Atkinson as he teaches you how to lead first impressions in the new normal. Greg discusses the Post-COVID Church and how to welcome guests in the new reality.

Sign up here for access. http://firstimpressionsworkshop.com/

 

Greg Atkinson Launches The Church Secret Shopper Certification

Greg Atkinson is a bestselling author, speaker, pastor, coach, and consultant who has worked with churches of all sizes, including some of the largest and fastest-growing churches in the country, as well as organizations such as Josh McDowell Ministries. Greg is considered an expert in church guest experience, first impressions, hospitality, guest services, and worship.

Greg has produced worship services for three mega-churches, served on Worship & Arts staffs, and been a pastor – serving the local church for the last 26 years. Greg also produced several large conferences including Leadership Network’s Innovation3 Conference, Catalyst Dallas, and the Rebecca St. James’s SHE Conference.

Greg was selected as one of the Top 30 Christian Leaders to follow on Twitter in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. To read the list featuring leaders like Dan Cathy, Andy Stanley, Craig Groeschel, Ravi Zacharias, Bob Goff, Russel Wilson, David Carr, LifeWay, Tim Tebow, Brian Houston, The Gospel Coalition, Dr. Sam Chand, Chris Brown, Frank Bealer, and others – go HERE.

Greg’s blog was also selected as one of the Top 35 Blogs Christian Leaders Need to Read in 2018, 2019, and again in 2020. His blog is listed with ChurchLeaders.com, Pastors.com, Michael Hyatt’s blog, and others. You can read the list HERE.

Greg has spoken at numerous colleges, seminaries, and conferences all over North America, including teaching “Intro to Praise and Worship” at Dallas Theological Seminary from 2005 to 2007. Greg has trained several church staff teams, including full-time staff at Saddleback Church and Prestonwood Baptist Church.

Greg is a contributor to many magazines and websites, including ExPastors.com, Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox Newsletter, Pastors.com, ChurchLeaders.com, Outreach Magazine, Relevant Magazine, Christianity Today, Leadership Journal, XPastors.org, Catalyst, FaithVillage.com, Preaching Magazine, ChurchCentral.com and Leadership Network.

You can hear Greg speak on the subject of first impressions on various podcasts here: https://gregatkinson.com/first-impressions-podcasts-greg-atkinson-church-secret-shopper/

Greg started and leads the Weekend Worship and Guest Services Facebook group. Currently, it is a thriving community of 15,000 church leaders from around the world. You can join here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/worshipandguestservices/

Greg also leads the Church Assimilation and Next Steps Facebook group, currently boasting 5000 church leaders.

Greg is a coach and consultant – specializing in areas such as first impressions (also called hospitality or guest services), leadership, and the entire worship experience. Greg is a member of the Forbes Coaching Council and a Forbes featured contributor.

Greg has been a professional secret shopper for several aspects of the hospitality industry, including restaurants, hotels, and various forms of travel.

Greg is the Founder of the First Impressions Conference – the annual event featuring the leading voices for first impressions and guest services from around the world.

Greg is also the Founder of  Worship Impressions – a professional church secret shopper service. Greg has worked hard over the last two decades to build this consulting brand and reputation of a solid ministry to the local church. Greg specializes in church guest experience, first impressions, hospitality, worship, and production.

HERE’S THE BIG NEWS:

For years I have been asked to train leaders to be secret shoppers. I literally wrote the book on it and thought that would be good enough, but over time, the demand for hands-on training and mentoring has increased. So, I’m going to offer a secret shopper certification and train people myself.

If you’d like information, sign-up here: http://secretshopper.church/

NOTE: Like any certification, this will not be cheap. The book is cheap. 😉 If I’m going to invest in you and endorse you, you’re going to have to earn it. I look forward to hearing from you.

Greg Atkinson Knows Church Guest Experience

Someone recently interviewed me and asked me what I do. I thought I would state it plainly here on my blog again. I’m still coaching and consulting – yes, even in this crazy 2020 year.

Greg Atkinson and the team at Worship Impressions specialize in church guest experience. From the basic church secret shopper or mystery worshiper weekend experience to online presence evaluations to coaching and training – we do it all and stand ready to serve you.

I’ve recently partnered with a company and offer all kinds of services including renovation, AVL, signage, platform design, and more.

Greg Atkinson has been considered an expert in church guest experience, guest services, first impressions, hospitality, worship, and overall church leadership. You can read more about him HERE.

Interested in hiring Greg? Contact Greg by filling out the GET STARTED form (found at the top of his business website).

And be sure to check out the fourth all-new: First Impressions Conference featuring a killer lineup of over 100 speakers.

Did you know you can interact with me and nearly 15,000 church leaders from around the world? You can join us at http://guestexperience.church/

Also, we have a brand new group focused on assimilation and helping guests take their next steps. You can join us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/churchassimilation/

10 Questions to Ask Your Congregation Before You Reopen

“When can we reopen our church?” That is the question that keeps getting asked. I want to help you make an informed decision.

Pastor Judah Smith recently said that now is a great time to survey your congregation. We wholeheartedly agree. Our fear is that church leaders and pastors may be assuming things that their people aren’t thinking or on the same page with. 

What if you have a church of 500 people but when you reopen the doors only 100 show up? What if all 500 show up, but your Governor has put social distancing guidelines and maximum occupancy numbers in place?

What if it takes 50 volunteers to pull off a Sunday, but only 10 return? 

What are you going to do about children’s ministry? How will you keep them safe?

Who is going to completely sanitize the church? How will that be communicated to the congregation? 

Will you be adding services? Will you be roping off seats and dividing up sections of the auditorium for seating?

What about the drive-in church? Many churches are talking about starting back outside (drive-in) first before going back inside the church building?

Will you continue to live stream and do all the online church stuff you’ve been doing the past month? 

Will you continue to pass the offering plate? How will you handle giving? Are you adding giving boxes and continuing to encourage online giving?

How will you celebrate Mother’s Day? 

These are things that must be thought through and discussed as church leaders.

Here are some sample questions for your congregational survey to get you thinking. Use whatever works best in your context:

 

  1. When is the soonest you would consider coming back to the church building?
  2. Would you come if we had a drive-in service?
  3. Do you expect the church to provide you a mask?
  4. If you volunteer, are you planning to volunteer in the same spot if we reopen?
  5. If you have kids, will you be putting your kids in children’s ministry?
  6. Do you want the church to serve coffee and refreshments? (If you used to)
  7. When churches resume worship services in their facilities, will you be more likely to attend services in person, or online?
  8. In the last 6 weeks, how many times have you watched services online?
  9. How many times a month do you typically attend church?
  10. Have you ever given online to our church?
  11. Are you comfortable with us passing the offering plate?
  12. Are you comfortable with us serving Communion?
  13. Are you in favor of us rolling out house churches/small groups of 10 people to get back to meeting together physically until it is safe to do so at our full size?

Survey creation and sharing options:

SurveyMonkey.com

Google forms

Gravity form

JotForm

Formstack

Typeform.com

Your church’s ChMS (Example: FaithTeams, Tithely, Rock, Planning Center, CCB, Fellowship One, etc.)

 

SO… When you do decide to open up, here are some great resources like hand sanitizer stations from my friends at Outreach.

 

Articles and resources for consideration as you make these decisions:

 

https://www.whitehouse.gov/openingamerica/

 

https://www.aei.org/research-products/report/national-coronavirus-response-a-road-map-to-reopening/

 

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/church-after-quarantine-5-strategic-questions-help-your-ted-vaughn/

 

https://kenbraddy.com/2020/04/18/20-questions-your-church-should-answer-before-people-return/

 

24 More Questions the Church Should Ask Before People Return

 

https://www.tnbaptist.org/reopen

 

https://www.columbiametro.org/relaunching-your-congregation/

 

https://medium.com/@pastorbrandonweddle/how-to-re-open-your-church-after-covid-19-bd10ad5b2fd6

 

https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/april/what-relaunching-church-might-look-like-over-next-312-month.html

 

https://www.ministrytogether.com/what-to-do-now-as-we-enter-coronavirus-phase-2/

 

https://www.vanderbloemen.com/reopening-church

 

https://www.vanderbloemen.com/blog/reopening-the-church-after-covid19

 

https://malphursgroup.com/ready-to-reopen-church-checklist/

 

https://www.smartchurchsolutions.com/blog/church-facility-re-opening-checklist

 

https://stateofthechurch.com/churchpulseweekly

 

*** For a free downloadable PDF of this resource along with tons of other resources for the Church and Coronavirus (including free webinars), join the Weekend Worship and Guest Services Facebook group and join the discussion of 13,000 church leaders from around the world sharing resources. You can join for free HERE.

SO… When you do decide to open up, here are some great resources like hand sanitizer stations and face masks from my friends at Outreach.

*** If you’d like a downloadable copy of this resource of top questions to ask to pass out to your leadership team, click HERE.

How Your Church’s Website Homepage Should Look

For well over a decade I’ve evaluated church’s online presence across North America. For over 200 churches, I’ve critiqued their social media and website and given them feedback – all without having to get on an airplane. If you’d like to hire me to evaluate your church’s online presence like I talked about on Carey Nieuwhof’s podcast, go HERE to get more details.

However, many of the things that I looked for and advised are no longer relevant. For example, people don’t need to see a homepage with service times and directions like I’ve always advised. They don’t need to see an “I’m New” or “What to Expect” or “Plan Your Visit” button.

Now, in the midst of the Coronavirus, you should have an overhaul of your church’s homepage.

Here’s what people need to see when they go to your church’s website:

  • Online services (You should have your messages/services playing on your home page).
  • Online small groups
  • Online giving
  • Links to social media (Facebook and YouTube)
  • Daily Devotionals (if you do them)
  • Links to what you’re doing in your community

Here are some great churches for you to get inspiration from:

PRO-TIP: You don’t have to stream your service once a week (Sunday at 11am for example). You can have multiple services play throughout the week. As a matter of fact, you could be delivering online content to your people daily. Set up your service to play on-demand!

BONUS: Also, why not do daily devotionals? Why not use an online connection card like my friends at Vous Church? Get creative.

SPECIAL SHOUT OUT AND RECOGNITION TO MY FRIENDS AT ACCESS CHURCH THAT I CONSULTED WITH: https://couch.church/

I’ve been saying: “Digital = Daily” – Greg Atkinson

 

*** Since I’m grounded and not traveling like I normally do for secret shopper consultations, I can do more of my Package Three (online presence evaluations). I can evaluate your church’s social media, website, and online service. If this is something that interests you, go HERE for more details.

*** Looking to start using a true ChMS/church database with online giving built-in? Have you seen that FaithTeams is offering a FREE 60-day trial due to the Covid virus? Sign-up HERE.

*** My small church plant got up-and-going in minutes with our online giving through Tithe.ly. Here’s my link to them.

 

HAPPY EASTER!

  • Here are some essential and insightful thoughts from my friend Carey Nieuwhof about this first all digital Easter. Check them out HERE.
  • Here are all kinds of FREE Easter resources from Life.Church HERE.

Will Your Guests Return After Easter? Here Are 8 Things to Consider

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 of 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 kids’ 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 for 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 used to. 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 book Secrets of a Secret Shopper.  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. And allow me to be the first to say: Happy Easter!

*This article originally appeared in Outreach magazine and on Pastors.com.