Don’t you love a really good steak? Maybe a ribeye, cooked medium with a loaded baked potato, fresh veggies and warm, soft bread. Imagine going to your favorite place for steak and the anticipation of that delicious meal waiting for you.

But when you arrive, the parking lot is full, not well-lit, and muddy. As you enter the restaurant, you wait a couple minutes for the hostess to arrive and immediately you feel like an imposition rather than a welcomed guest.

When you finally get to a table, there are crumbs on the seat and your arms feel something sticky when you lean on the table. Service is slow. The waiter seems rushed, and it takes way too long to get your food. You are just about to dig into that steak until you notice a hair on your plate. Hmmm…that ribeye has not even reached your mouth, yet your overall experience has not only been tarnished, but also possibly ruined.

Fast forward to this Sunday at your church. Hopefully your members think of the weekly sermon as a ribeye, served up as a gift from God through your pastor, to bring great spiritual nourishment to those listening. And hopefully they have worked hard to invite guests who are far from God to attend your church this week.

While the pastor faithfully spends time in prayer and preparation to serve up that ribeye, you better make sure that your guest service teams are working just as hard to take care of all of the other elements leading up to that special moment.

church guests

Whether you call them Host Teams, 1st Impressions or the Welcome Wagon, your “guest service” ministry needs to be intentional, prepared, loving and striving for excellence in all that they do.

Let’s take a look:

The sermon truly does start in the parking lot. Whether you have 50 or 5,000 in attendance, your intentionality of shaping the guest experience starts the moment that someone drives onto your property. You literally need to “script” the experience that guests will take on Sunday morning.

From a parking lot attendant, to a handoff to the greeters, to a staffed Info Center, to ushers that pass out a bulletin and/or help them find a seat. Each of these team members has an intentional role to play from the welcoming of that guest throughout the whole visit.

This includes having the right equipment (name badges, parking vests, flashlights in a dark auditorium, etc.) and being properly trained. Training can be about technical parts of the job (what, where, when, etc.) and also about how to read people (shake hands, say hi, initiate conversation, etc.)

Loving atmosphere:
One of the best things that can be said about your church after guests visit is their evaluation that you have a loving church. This must be a vision that comes from leadership, is modeled, and trickles down to the entire congregation.

From punctuality, to picking up trash, to adjusting on the fly, to meeting the needs of a guest, excellence will stand out and show guests that you highly value the importance of what you are doing at your church.
Creating a “wow” experience is not only possible, but in today’s society it is very necessary. Getting someone to visit your church is hard enough. When that guest finally comes to church and tries the metaphorical steak, be sure that your guest service teams have worked hard to help set the table with excellence. Your guests will leave with a smile on their face—and hopefully return because of it.

Other articles and resources to move the experience from mediocre to excellent for your church guests:

  1. DNA of an Unfriendly Church
  2. Sunday Secret Shopper Assessment – Tells us about your church. Receive a helpful tool.

Matt Vanderbilt is a Michigan-native who has been serving as a pastor for over 15 years in North Carolina. He is currently preparing to launch a new church plant in early 2015.