Once You SEE What an Outsider SEES, You Can’t UNSEE It.
When my team at The Unstuck Group serves a church, the first phase of our process is the Ministry Health Assessment. We believe you have to get a clear perspective on where you are today before you can plan for where you are headed.
The highlight of this phase of the process is usually the “secret shopper” report churches receive after an Unstuck team member attends and reviews their weekend experience through the lens of a first-time guest.
We’re on the ground in more than 100 churches each year, so we start to see the same things again and again. Here is the Top 10 List—the biggest issues with the weekend that we see the most often. Keep in mind, these are only issues for churches that actually want to reach new people :) I should also mention, many of these issues show up in the secret shopper reports for large churches just as often as in small churches. Ok, here we go…
10 Weekend Experience Issues for Churches That Want to Reach New People:
The Guest Services area is staffed with people who don’t engage with newcomers.
The church feels like a club. Guest service team members are more engaged with one another than with the guests. Guest services is the “first” in “first impressions.” It sets the tone. So if this team is off, my visit is already off.
The church didn’t welcome me and help me know what to expect.
There’s a general lack of guiding visitors through the worship experience and explaining what to do in the different elements of the services, like singing, offering, etc. Specifically welcoming new people is frequently missed. Someone yells “welcome” and then all of a sudden people start standing up, and then they sing. The only place I sing is in my car or my shower. Guide me a little more. Invite me to sing, but give me permission to just take it in.
People on stage don’t reflect the church’s target “customer.”
The people on the platform should non-verbally communicate this is a safe place, a normal place, to the people you are trying to reach… just by being who they are. But many times the platform presence doesn’t reflect that. Many churches miss the 75% rule—having 75% of people on the platform in the target customer’s age range or below (credit to Lee Kricher in For a New Generation for defining it well).
The service order feels like an assembly of separate parts, rather than a cohesive experience.
Stop…start…stop…start… Nothing makes me check my watch more than a herky-jerky service. We sing two songs, there’s a video announcement, there are live announcements, we have a song for offering, message, song, communion, closing announcement, benediction… An unchurched person will be thinking, “Get me out. Land the plane.”
The message is too long.
Especially if there were already a lot of other service elements (see last point), I’m not gassed up for a 45-50 minute message. Tighten it up, add a story, make it applicable, and send me on my way.
Lack of application or next steps in the message.
I’ve given you an hour—give me something specific to take away that applies to my real life today.
Lack of security in the children’s area.
Our culture is no longer accepting of unsecure places for kids. If I can walk off the street into your kid’s area, that’s a problem. My team often finds unlocked, dark, rooms in the same hallway as kids programming, as well as external exits. This is an issue we see far, far too often.
The bulletins/programs are too crowded.
It looks like the Cheesecake Factory menu. What on earth am I supposed to choose to pay attention to? The is a key communications piece (first impression) for a new person. It should welcome them, tell them what to expect and provide key info on kids ministry. Unfortunately, many churches view it as the way to keep all the insiders informed.
Too many specific, insider-focused announcements instead of a few church-wide announcements.
I would add that many churches waste announcement time telling me about all the logistics of what their people could be doing instead of leveraging that time to communicate the “why” behind the activity. They use the time to say, “Small groups will start May 4, at 7 pm, in room 202, which is up the steps and down the hall.” What would be more meaningful? Share a personal story about your small group and then challenge people who aren’t connected to get in one.
And really, just stop announcing so many things all together. Point people to your website.
The feel of the church—the interior design—feels like nothing else I experience outside the church.
It’s brown. There are bulletin boards, plastic flowers in the restrooms, churchy banners that mean nothing to an outsider, and sometimes worn out carpet, furniture and funky smells. The church members and staff have been nose-blind to it all for years; but a new person who steps through your front door will instantly notice all of it.
And yes, I did say this phase is one of our clients’ favorite phases. Why? Because once you SEE what an outsider SEES, you can’t UNSEE it. If you want to reach new people, start trying to see yourself the way they see you. And start looking at them the way Jesus looks at them: with a willingness to leave the 99 for the one.