A few days ago a colleague and I were talking about how many churches forget first impressions. I’m talking about the impressions of the person who first walks in the door of your (or any!) church. Sometimes we forget how little issues influence visitor retention.

church visitor experience


How Little Issues Influence Visitor Retention.

First Impressions
For many years, my husband and I have done just that. Not because we are church shoppers or hoppers, but because my husband’s ministry has allowed us to be involved in seeing other churches and ministries. The Malphurs Group also frequently evaluates The Visitor Experience of churches we consult with.

The fact is that we often don’t see what others see when we’ve been in a place for a long time. It’s like looking at someone you just met who might have an obvious scar or, as my husband does, a different colored eye. You only notice it when you first meet; then it disappears as you grow more familiar. Another case is when you walk into someone’s home and there’s a distinctive smell (not necessarily bad), but it goes away once you have hung around a bit.

What Does a Visitor See?
So let’s talk about what others see when they walk through the doors of the church for the first time…and that’s if they really know what door is actually the front door of the church! Do they feel welcomed?

How does that baby nursery look and is it sparkling clean or smell funny? And what about where you sit? Is it spotted or spotless? And then, there are the bathrooms. We don’t really need to describe what that might or could look like….but we all want them clean, right?

Here are a few things that have caught my attention in churches:

  • Light switches that have no covering
  • Closets with dangerous chemicals and cleaning equipment accessible in or near the children’s area
  • Dirty carpets in children’s spaces
  • Dirty, damaged or unpainted walls
  • Musty odors
  • Poor or no signage
  • Loose, stained or missing ceiling tiles
  • Broken window coverings of all sorts
  • Dirty or broken toys in the baby rooms
  • No handicap parking
  • Dirty bathrooms
  • Parking lots that have pot holes (Just begging for someone to trip!)
  • No rails on the ramps or no ramps at all

Some of these are obviously compliance issues, but others are just because no one cares, no one knows who is responsible, or it’s just been that way for so long that it’s no longer visible or noticed.

First impressions are everything. You can be the very best people and have the very best pastor, but if you want people to come back, carefully look at your church as an outsider would. See what they see and make the necessary changes. Little improvements can make a big impact.

If you would like more information about Mystery Shopping Consultations for you church click here or complete the contact us form to speak with a member of our team.


Susan Malphurs is the Executive Vice President of the Malphurs Group, an HR, Outreach, and Leadership consultant, blogger at malphursgroup.com/blog, wife, mother, and grandmother. | @susanmalphurs