Help Guest Feel Welcome

30 Ways Spiritual Communities Can Help First-Time Guests Feel At Home

As you’ll see, this list is loaded with touchpoints that make the experience first-time guests have with your spiritual community a great experience. Use it as a checklist to see how many you are offering … and how many you want to add to your repertoire!

  1. A sincere meet-and-greet time immediately AFTER the Sunday service: A genuinely positive meet-and-greet time usually involves congregants warmly greeting those they don’t know before turning to catch up with those they do. Making it a point to cordially welcome newcomers in addition to catching up with members and regular guests helps first-time guests feel genuinely included. Guests expecting to meet regular attenders are usually surprised to find that the ‘greet those around you’ time is truly a meet-and-greet newcomers time as well as a ‘reconnect with those you know’ time. When you greet first-timers, handshakes are fine; however, before you hug newcomers make sure they’re comfortable with hugs. We recommend the Meet and Greet at the end of the service, allowing time for guests to feel more comfortable, and so it can merge naturally into your hospitality time.
  2. Genuine friendliness and interest shown: In other words, guests perceive members and regular guests are sincere in their greetings. Within two minutes of entering your facility, guests have formed an opinion about whether your community is friendly and inviting.
  3. Safe, clean, and well-kept children’s areas: This makes it obvious that your spiritual community gives a high priority to children. Young families feel your community is a family-centered community. The area should be colorful, with age-appropriate furniture and pictures, and adults with warm smiles greeting the children.
  4. A clearly designated place to get information: When members greet and assist guests at a well-identified information center, guests feel the warmth. You’ll have upped the chances of a return visit by 50% or more, which will be 150% above the national average.
  5. A skillfully designed and routinely updated website: Most first-time guests go to your website before they attend your service. It’s one of the first touchpoints in every truth seeker’s journey. Relevant information and well-thought-out content in an easy-to-navigate website sends the message that you take your ministry seriously and are there to help people maximize their spiritual growth. Be sure to include clear directions on how to get to your facility, and what the service times are.
  6. Signage that’s easy to see and well-kept: Your signage is a ‘sign’ of the image you want to project and how delighted you are to make your presence known. Be sure it is attractive and easy to read from a distance.
  7. Insider language is minimized: We’re not referring to theological language as much as language that only the members and regular guests know. For example: “The YOU will meet in the FLC in the room where the IHM usually meets.” All organizations have jargon and mission-centered vernacular – what we call slangage. However, spiritual communities that create a warm and uncomplicated environment for first-time guests know that the time for overused clichés and jargon isn’t going to work for first impressions.
  8. An inspiring and well-organized Sunday service: The importance of this particular touchpoint cannot be overemphasized! First impressions really are lasting impressions. Your service is a microcosm of your collective spiritual journey. Would first-timers want to be a part of that? Be sure you create a flow, emotionally and contextually, that brings the congregation along with you as you build the power of the service.
  9. There are no assigned seats: In other words, members don’t tell guests that they’re sitting in someone’s special seat or pew. Believe it or not, this uncouth practice still takes place in some spiritual communities, and leaves visitors feeling like trespassers. They won’t want to return with that kind of a lurking memory.
  10. Facilities — inside and out — are clean and well-kept: Some of the comments we’ve heard about spiritual communities who don’t pay attention to housekeeping and grounds are: “The back of the sanctuary looked cluttered.” “No trash cans anywhere.” “Restrooms were dirtier than a fast food restaurant’s restrooms.” “Chairs had more stains than a daycare’s chairs.” “The plants near the front door looked dead.” These kinds of situations leave a visitor wondering how you could ever take care of people, when you can’t even manage the facility!
  11. Guests receive a warm welcome from the platform: A sincere, energetic welcome from the minister or platform leader telegraphs your interest in them, and invites them to explore more deeply into your ministry.
  12. A highly coached greeter team. You may already place greeters in the parking lot or at the entry doors, but remember, their job isn’t to prop the door open with one foot while chatting with friends or looking at their iPhones. Their primary ministry is to extend a hand and smile, and offer guidance to help guests feel at ease  These volunteers are the vanguard of your welcome team, so devote time training them to admire babies and infants, help guests find the friend who invited them, hand them a bulletin, find seating, escort their children to the appropriate youth area, share information about the church, etc. This goes a long way toward showing guests that they matter.
  13. The privilege of greeting newcomers is reinforced as a hospitality requirement for the entire membership: Train your members to approach people they don’t know before the service starts. Give congregants talking points that move beyond “How ‘bout this weather?” to “Thank you for coming today.” or “What brought you to our service today?”
  14. Implementation of a strategic follow-up plan for guests: A combination of cards, text messages, emails, and phone calls is used to create a follow-up stream. Experiment to discover what works best for that particular first-time guest. Use an introductory text to schedule a phone call or email where further information can be given. Call guests on Sunday afternoon from the church phone so the caller ID is clear. Guest sign-in cards can offer a minister visit — and while this should not need to be said, let us remind you that if the desire for a visit or contact is checked, be sure it is done within two days! We can’t tell you how often we’ve heard that a person asked for  visit and never heard a word!
  15. Accessibility to your building and grounds is guaranteed: A well-cared-for facility demonstrates a commitment to excellence and communicates that what you do is important. Have clear exterior and interior signage that guides visitors everywhere they need to go. Reserve special parking places for visitors. Encourage members and staff to park offsite or in more remote spaces. If parking lot congestion is an issue, recruit volunteer parking attendants. The goal is to make it EASY to come for a visit!
  16. Childcare areas are safe, sanitary, more-than-adequately-equipped, and visually appealing to children and their parents. (This is an extension of #3.) Space that’s easy to find and convenient to the sanctuary should be evident. Nursery workers and clear check-in and out procedures inspire confidence and warmth. Clean furniture is essential, especially for nurseries. And staff members must be readily available, and generate a warmth and caring for children.(It feels scary to a visitor when people need to run around searching for a nursery worker to take care of their child!)
  17. A ‘tag team’ is organized and promotes name tag use: It is a “best practice” to provide name tags for the whole congregation, and ensure that members have developed the habit of wearing them. Board Members and Team Leaders should have a special designation on their badges for easy identification. Guests should be invited to wear a special name tag identifying their as a visitor.
  18. Bulletins and other printed material are monitored to ensure that information is current, and isn’t ‘insider-heavy’ in terms of its language. Jargon, slangage, buzzwords, colloquialisms, and spiritual community-speak should be avoided in these publications as much as they are during the Sunday service.
  19. Guest packets are handed out by greeters with the information guests need to feel at home: Packet contents need to be updated regularly to ensure the information is current. Gifts, contact information, and bookstore coupons can be included, to add value to the packet.
  20. Children’s packets are given to guests with small children: A small activity packet (with crayons, pipe cleaners, stickers, etc.) is a nice ‘touch’ to show that you’re in touch with children. After all, one of the keys to member loyalty is building relationships.
  21. Names and addresses of first-time visitors are requested. Asking ALL attendees to record their attendance makes it more likely guests will sign. First-time guests are uncomfortable with being singled out. This also provides a way to be aware of which members are attending regularly, and stay up to date with any changes.
  22. Special effort to remember guests’ names and call them by name is a regular practice: People like to feel important – and wanted. Having their name remembered is paramount to relationship-building.
  23. Follow-up contact with first-time guests within 24 to 36 hours of their visit is done as a courtesy and an indication of your interest: A letter from the minister, a phone call, a hand-written note, an email message are all excellent ways to show you value their interest and attendance. The purpose is to communicate friendliness and build relationships, not to get a premature commitment for membership.
  24. A system or data base for keeping track of visitors, their contact information, and the frequency of visits is established: A mailing list of persons who have visited in the past is one of your best marketing tools. This allows you to invite previous guests to a special event or interest group, or to another service. It is also a way to keep them connected through blogs and announcements.
  25. Guests who come to your center for the first time for an event other than Sunday service aren’t over-looked: Lots of folks “discover” a church when they are attending the facility for some other event being held there. It is important to have information readily available for participants to pick up, and even have members present to talk about the church community, invite guests to attend a Sunday service, and inform them of other events.
  26. ‘Bring-a-friend’ Sundays are advertised at least twice a year: According to the research, less than half of your spiritual community’s members and regular guests say they’ve invited someone in the last year. Just so you know, according to the research, over 70% of guests will come to your center because of a personal invitation. These two statistics make it obvious that we need to create intentional opportunities to encourage our members and regular guests to invite others. Make it special and celebratory, so first-timers truly feel they have “come home!”
  27. Members learn how to talk about our community and invite others to come: How to ‘sell’ your spiritual community training should be scheduled twice a year for members, focusing on how to talk about your beliefs and how to invite others to attend. Provide printed cards or invitations to special services like Christmas Eve and Easter, or events like Talent Shows or Musicals, so people can invite their friends. Members are invited to mention special events — concerts, lectures, classes, etc. — that would appeal to friends who haven’t attended or are unaware of your community. Invitations to attend regular Sunday services are included as well.
  28. Special invitations to and recognition Sundays for scout groups, preschool families, Course in Miracles groups, Love in Action groups, yoga, meditation, Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship, Gen-Xers, and other community groups, are advertised for meeting at your center: Some centers even provide daycare facilities and senior timeout and recreation areas as forms of outreach that serve as a basis for reaching first-timers and their families.
  29. You request and listen to feedback from your guests: Guests can provide incredible insight into the first-timer experience, if you just ask them. Gather feedback on what guests think about your community through surveys, focus groups, interviews, suggestion box comments, Facebook, etc.
  30. Use a Mystery Shopper Concept: Have a ‘mystery church guest’ program where several of your community’s members/regular guests visit other spiritual communities/ religious churches (much like retail industry’s mystery shoppers’ program) to evaluate what they’re offering from a guest’s perspective. In addition, invite members from other communities to be a “mystery shopper” at your facility, then ask them for their feedback.

© 2017, 2018


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