Ask anyone who has been on a first date or a job interview and they will tell you that first impressions are very important. Relationships and careers can be over before they've begun based on first impressions, and the same is true for the church.
Experts say that it takes approximately seven minutes for a first-time guest to know whether they will return or not. On a very basic level, guests use the first seven minutes to decide whether they would be compatible with our church. Long before the first song is sung, or the first lines of the sermon are preached, people are making decisions about the church based on the church atmosphere and the welcome they receive.
We believe that each person who comes to Calvary – from first-time guest to long-time member – is seeking a place to belong, where they can find hope and peace. That's why I am so thankful for our team of Frontline Ministry personnel who work tirelessly to ensure that everyone feels welcomed, loved, and valued. But they can't do the work alone, nor should they!
I want to challenge you to think strategically about Sunday mornings and how each of us plays an essential role in the first impressions of our guests. Consider these:
- You might be one of the first ambassadors for the local church that people will meet.
Coming into a church for the first time is daunting - you don't know what to expect or how you will be received. Some think, "Even though the church says 'everyone welcome' they don't really mean it - why would anyone want someone like me in their church?" Plus there is so much online content for the Christian faith that many don’t see the need to get up out of bed and drive across town to a building filled with people they don't know. You can demonstrate for them that something special happens when God's people meet to worship and study the Bible together. And we greet one another midway through the service, we are showing that we really do enjoy seeing each other every week! A smile and a handshake for a newcomer, or a hug (or a side hug if that's your thing) for a friend sets the tone that we are a family.
- You help to set the tone for the guest experience.
Sundays can be busy - you might be serving in a ministry, trying to keep track of kids, or just distracted by life. But when you get to the church, take a look around. Is anyone new or sitting alone? Choose to move up a few rows so they don't sit alone. Learn their name, and if you aren't sure whether it's their first Sunday here you can always say, "Have we met? My name is..." Invite them to stay for coffee and tea after the service, and then introduce them to one other person. Looking to take it to the next level? Jot their name down somewhere safe so you don't forget it, and next week you can greet them by name!
- You help to set the tone for the worship experience
Singing is not a regular occurrence for most of our culture – some people haven't sung in a group since elementary school! As the church we lead by example when we are engaged with the music and the message of the morning. So sing! Raise your hands! Allow your mind to focus on the words you are singing and your heart to be moved by them. Take notes during the message. Ask a question after the service. Go to the front for prayer when you are prompted by the Spirit.
When it comes to the church I’m deeply impacted by Romans 12 and how it pertains to loving and serving others. Paul writes, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them… Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically… When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality” (Rom.12:9–13 NLT).
Whether you serve as part of one of the official hosting ministries, or you just are looking for ways to connect with guests in the church, meditate on the words of Romans 12 and ask yourself, "How you I take delight in honouring those who come through the doors, and how can I eagerly practice hospitality this week?"
It might mean moving out of your usual seat to go and sit near a guest or someone who is sitting alone. You might have to break out of your usual conversation circles to include others around you, or perhaps it means joining a hosting ministry to serve as an usher or greeter, or at the welcome centre. As you love and serve our guests, you will have the privilege of seeing them become part of the church family and join us on mission to be disciples who love God, love people and serve the world.
Director of Administration, Communication and Frontline Ministries