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.

Reflections on Nearly Three Decades of in Ministry

I’ve now been in ministry for 27 years. I started in February of 1994. I started thinking about what I’ve learned over the years, serving churches of various sizes and types and speaking to and meeting with countless Church leaders across the country.

Over these nearly three decades of ministry, I’ve served at church plants, small churches, medium-sized churches, large churches, and on staff at 3 mega-churches. I’ve served in rural, urban, and suburban settings. I’ve served multiethnic and diverse congregations and homogenous congregations. As a consultant, I’ve been blessed and honored to serve over 200 churches in the last 16 years.

The following are some thoughts that I had while reflecting on my ministry career. These are in no particular order and I’m sure I’m leaving something out. I may add more later. Here goes:

  • God uses weak people for His Glory.
  • God uses broken people. God will break you eventually. It seems that brokenness is an on-going thing.
  • God uses us despite ourselves.
  • Everyone goes through pain in their life.
  • Hurting people hurt people.
  • Depression is real.
  • We all have highs and lows, mountains, and valleys.
  • Death stings and families grieve – no matter how old the deceased is.
  • God pursues me.
  • Servants/volunteers are precious.
  • As the Word says, “Be ready in season and out.”
  • Often people will come to you for help or counsel and you realize you’re more messed up than they are. Hah!
  • We all stumble and fall – some harder than others.
  • You can’t have success, wins, breakthroughs, and innovations without risks and failure.
  • Smaller churches are usually the most creative and innovative. I watch them for inspiration.
  • Weddings, funerals, and new births happen non-stop.
  • I’ve said it before: Sunday comes every week – it’s relentless!
  • Baptisms are extremely important and special – never take them for granted.
  • Some pastors/ministers are just plain mean. I started to say jerks, but that wouldn’t be nice.
  • Sometimes God asks you to stay somewhere when you’re begging to leave.
  • Sometimes God asks you to leave when you want to stay and fight.
  • Never let a denominational affiliation keep you from pursuing friends in ministry. Some of my closest friends/brothers and sisters in ministry are from different denominations.
  • God can and often does speak through lost people to you.
  • Most pastors don’t know any lost people. I said: “Most pastors don’t know any lost people.” You have to be INTENTIONAL to get out beyond the four walls and form relationships with those that are not like you, don’t believe like you, and may NEVER enter the doors of your church.
  • God’s creation/nature is His gift to you and should not be taken for granted. Let it refresh, refocus, encourage, and inspire you.
  • God changes lives. We simply get to partner with His Spirit.
  • Some people will refuse Christ. I have watched people with blinded eyes reject the Gospel and no academic or theological argument or debate could convince them of the truth. God has to draw them to Himself and open their eyes. You can’t debate someone into the Kingdom.
  • When you feel your weakest, God uses you mightily.
  • The Word truly is a lamp unto my feet.
  • Prayer warriors are God-sends.
  • I’m thankful for my mom, my wife, and a few precious people that consistently intercede and pray on my behalf.
  • Your spouse is along for your wild ride and weathers each storm with you. Sometimes things people say about you hurt them worse than you.
  • Leaders take bullets. Better have your shield up.
  • YOU CAN NOT MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY. Someone will not like you. Get over it.
  • Your devotional life is key. Go too long without it and eventually you’ll get spiritually dry and crash and burn or burnout.
  • Real ministry happens in small groups. Corporate worship is wonderful, but I really see God move in home groups and recovery ministries like Celebrate Recovery and Divorce Care, etc.
  • When all is said and done, the people, the memories, those you’re closest to, those that are so special and you’re special to them, are because of unplanned, out-of-the-ordinary events, crises, emergencies, tragedies, etc. It’s hardly ever your “job” or what you get paid to do or is on your job description that God uses to allow you to grow closer to an individual or group of people.
  • Life is messy. Don’t oversimplify.
  • Stop sending people and money overseas if you’re ignoring your own backyard/city. Some of the poorest and most lost people in the world are in your community. The US is the 4th largest unreached people group in the world. Christians in Africa send missionaries to us. Read that again.
  • I’m still young in ministry and there are many, many far much wiser than I.
  • Don’t boast in your strengths – you can do those in the natural. The supernatural kicks in in your weakness that’s where God’s strength is made perfect/evident.
  • The Bible tells us in Romans 12:18, NIV: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Be kind to everyone, but give yourself grace and realize you will always be the villain in someone’s story.

I’ll end with 5 quotes from men I respect:

  1. “The world for which we were trained no longer exists.”- Pete Briscoe
  2. “We as a church don’t have a mission. The mission has a Church.” – Reggie McNeal
  3. “As I look back over fifty years of ministry, I recall innumerable tests, trials, and times of crushing pain. But through it all, the Lord has proven faithful, loving, and totally true to all his promises.” – David Wilkerson
  4. Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” – William Carey
  5. “Go straight for souls, and go for the worst.” – William Booth

Why Churches Shouldn’t Be Meeting In-Person During COVID

Hi. I’m Greg Atkinson. If you’re new here: WELCOME! I’ve been blogging since 2003. If you don’t follow and keep up with me on Facebook and YouTube, you may not know that I’m working with a new writing agent on a big new book and have been busy prepping for that. I’m taking the whole month to write and focus on this book proposal that my agent will be pitching to major publishers. Pray for me, please.

In my brainstorming session with a pastor friend last night, I told him what I really think of churches meeting during the time of COVID and what it means to love our neighbor and wear masks. He agreed and it was a great discussion because it was a place of safety. Allow me to share with you what I shared with him in a “safe place.”

I asked him to pray for me as I’ve been thinking about blogging and writing an article to help church leaders think through this. We’ve got to realize that Covid/the pandemic is worse NOW than it was in March and April when we canceled services.

I told him that in 2020 (during a pandemic) Elevation Church saw over 9300 decisions for Christ! Saddleback Church saw over 16,000 decisions for Christ! That’s 80 a day. And Mike Todd and Transformation Church in Tulsa saw over 22,000 decisions for Christ!

Friends, you’re not being persecuted. You’re not being discriminated against. Your church isn’t being attacked by the government or the CDC. This IS NOT about your rights. But you say, “The church is essential.” Sure. So go to church online. But you say, “Studies show that people are healthier that go to church every week.” Sure. I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been. I go to church online every week since March 8th, 2020.

As I said on my third podcast with Carey Nieuwhof, the Gospel has never been proclaimed so broadly, so loudly, and so boldly as in the time of Covid. If you’re wondering what Paul (who wrote letters and became all things to all men) and Jesus (who took a boat out on the water to speak to a crowd because it amplified his voice) would have done – they would have used technology. God gave us this technology.

 

Friends, I’ve been blogging about church online since 2008. That’s right: 2008. For 13 years, I’ve been begging churches to use technology and broadcast the Gospel. We have the tools. We have the technology and equipment. There’s no need to gather in-person and put people’s lives at risk and be a negative witness in our community and like SO MANY churches, become a super-spreader and make the news in a negative way. I watched a church in Charlotte get blasted on the news the other night for gathering with a large crowd and spreading Covid.

Why do I write about this all of a sudden today? I guess it’s a tipping point. I had an executive pastor reach out to me last night and say someone that came to their church on Sunday tested positive yesterday for Covid and he wanted my help writing a press release (which I’ve helped several churches with).

Then today: Today, not one, but two different church staff members reached out to me in tears saying that their church is refusing to shut down and is in the midst of a Covid spike in their community. One church just had a Covid outbreak with several people, shut down for one week, and is planning to open back up next week.

Both church staff members asked for my help, my prayers, my advice, and asked me to intervene and talk with their leadership to talk some sense into them and tell them not to meet in-person. I speak with so many church staff members that are on the verge of quitting because they’re putting their lives on the line for bosses that make them show up to work during the highest outbreak of Covid we’ve ever seen, in the biggest outbreak country in the world (the USA). I know other church staff members who did quit earlier this year because their leadership wouldn’t listen to reason.

I encourage you to read Carey’s blog and learn from the shifts that he’s talking about. Listen to my podcast with him about online engagement. Be encouraged by the stories of Elevation and Saddleback and Transformation Church and SO MANY others that are fulfilling the Great Commission and the Great Commandment by not meeting in-person and going online FOR A SEASON.

Lastly, read Rick Warren’s thoughts that he shared recently. I’ll link to his article below. Pastor, this isn’t about your rights and you’re not being targeted. Here are Pastor Rick Warren’s own words:

“U.S. churches,” he said, “have not faced discrimination.” He also said churches should promote the wearing of masks.

“They might have a discrimination case if theaters weren’t closed, football games weren’t closed,” Warren told Relevant. “But they are. We’re not being discriminated against. This is a safety issue.

Regal Cinemas closed down 650 theaters. Disney laid off 28,000 people. We’re not being discriminated against. Some churches are willing to gamble the health of their people. I’m not. The good shepherd prays for his sheep, cares for his sheep. One day I will be responsible. I don’t want to be a super-spreader. I’m not doing this out of fear; I’m doing this out of love. You wear a mask for the love of your neighbors, yourself.”

I’m praying for you pastors and church leaders. I’m here for you. I’ve been writing, blogging, speaking, teaching, consulting, and coaching on the online church for over a decade. I want you to reach people for Christ. I just know for a fact that you can do that through technology. I want you to disciple people. I just know for a fact that you can do that through technology (I’m in a Zoom small group). I want you to love your neighbor and that’s real and tangible and practical now by not putting them in danger and keeping your people safe and not becoming a super-spreader.

Lastly, I was talking with my friend Dave Gibbons yesterday and he lives near LA. My heart hurts over all the hospitals that are overrun and out of beds and out of ICU space and have ice trucks in the parking lot for a morgue. This isn’t political friends. Some in leadership have tried to make it political and partisan and they’ll have to answer for that. This is science and this is about saving lives.
Yes, the US is #1, but not in a good way. We lead the world in Covid cases and deaths and hospitalizations. If the Church would lead the way, we could get this under control. A watching world is watching us and wanting to know if we truly do care for others and if we truly do love our neighbor and our community.
Friends, listen to me: It’s NEVER BEEN ABOUT THE BUILDING. I’m a hospitality guy and even I know that. Take a break for a season. Watch online and trust God. You’ll still see your church grow.
Personally, I gave financially to my home church the most I’ve ever given in my life and I haven’t stepped foot in the door since February. I still worship. I still do discipleship. I still talk with my pastor. I’m still growing in my faith and spiritual journey. You can do it. Just trust God. Trust God to provide for your church financially. Don’t meet in-person simply to collect an offering. I know that sounds harsh, but I heard it directly from a pastor in my Facebook group. God is bigger than that. TRUST GOD.
If we all do our part, we can be a solution to the greatest crisis we’ve ever gone through, and guess what? It will actually help our economy.
I have friends in Australia and New Zealand that used to be under lockdown because they have better leadership and guess what? They don’t have any more new cases of Covid. It’s gone. It’s over and they can go back to their church buildings and they can rebuild their economy.
This isn’t about your 1st Amendment and God forgive those foolish pastors threatening the 2nd Amendment. This is about practically and tangibly loving your neighbor by PUTTING OTHERS FIRST. The first line of Pastor Rick Warren’s bestselling book Purpose Driven Life is “It’s not all about you.”

I have friends in other countries that look at us struggling with Covid and say, “What’s up with Americans and their rights?” We need to live out the Gospel and the words of Jesus. We need to put others first. We need to resist being selfish.
The American Church is bleeding right now and yes, we are in desperate need of a revival, but it won’t come through any political leader. It will come through worship and sacrifice and honoring others above ourselves and when the world sees that: WATCH OUT!
I’m praying for you and I’m stepping down off my soapbox and praying I still have some friends left after this. 😅 I love you.

Here’s Pastor’s Rick article that I referenced: https://www.christianheadlines.com/contributors/michael-foust/rick-warren-most-us-christians-have-a-political-worldview-not-a-biblical-worldview.html

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.

Mix it Up this Christmas Going Old School – Lessons and Carols

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I’m starting out this holiday season with something Christmas themed this week and throwing a free resource your way. I’ve got a great resource for you pastors and worship leaders. I compiled a Lessons and Carols service that you can use with ease. Just follow the script and have a complete service put together for you. You can download it HERE for free.

Ever think about shaking things up? Doing Christmas totally different this year? Think again. Many years ago our church staff, driven by my idea, decided to go totally contemporary at our three Christmas Eve services. I was tired of the traditional Christmas service and thought we should rock out this year and do new arrangements of Christmas carols, led by our full band. It looked great on paper. What happened that night broke my heart.¦

As a worship pastor, my heart’s desire was to see people, young and old, connect with God during our corporate worship. I don’t care about being cool or slick; I want Christ to be honored and hearts to be changed. Please know that our band did “rock out.” We played our hearts out and played well. Quality was not the issue – you could have recorded us and played it on the radio. What broke my heart was the spirit in the room and the looks on the faces in the congregation.

As I was leading the songs and looking out at the people, it hit me as loud and clear as could be: this is not what people want on Christmas Eve. We are pretty contemporary and edgy 51 weeks out of the year, but on Christmas, people really want to sing traditional carols in a classic setting. I noticed a lot of people had family that had come to town for the holiday. Grandpa and Grandma, Uncles and Aunts, Cousins, etc. that hadn’t been to church in 20 years; these are the people that I was looking out at.

The next year I decided we would do a very traditional “Lessons and Carols” service. I looked at examples from all over and then put together our own service. It was a total success. From young children singing with their parents to parents singing beside the Grandparents, everyone participated and the looks on the faces and spirit in the room were totally different – in a good way! I was so amazed at the response and how much people enjoyed the service (which can be done on a Sunday morning or night, not just Christmas Eve) that I wanted to pass on our service for you to use as a launching pad. Please take this sample “Lessons and Carols” service and make it your own.

If you’ve done the modern Christmas thing for several years (like we did last year with glow sticks instead of candles), try this to mix things up and allow your congregation and the children of your church to experience an old-fashioned Christmas worship experience.

Thanks and happy holidays!

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.

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.