Tales Of An “Unchurched” Mystery Guest

man alone in churchThe guest reveals… “This is the first church I have ever been to where I felt weird about going to a new church.”

It is not uncommon for a church to see a new face on Sunday or for some churches many new faces.  Do you ever wonder why some people do or don’t return for a second or third visit? We did too. Through our Mystery Guest Program we find people that aren’t regularly attending church and send them to church so that we can learn from their experiences. Each month we feature a unique guest experience.

Here are the first impressions of a 30-yr. old “unchurched” female who attended church services at a church in Louisiana.

Is the church well-known in the area?

Based on the number of people I stopped and asked it’s not very well known. Two out of the three people asked didn’t know whether it was downtown or on the left or the right side of the road.

Could you find your way?

The main sign for the church was on the front lawn and they had a banner out front, as well, informing about the contemporary service. I saw a sign that said fellowship but there were no specifics as to where church parking was, or which door would take me exactly where I needed to go. The windows were all tinted, so I couldn’t see inside to find where the correct place was I needed to go. It would have made it easier and better to navigate if all main locations were on one sign and arrows directing the way.

The first impression:

This is the first church I’ve ever been to where I felt weird about going to a new church. The church atmosphere starting from the outside wasn’t very inviting. There wasn’t anyone standing at the door, or any door for that matter, to greet anyone. It almost looked like a school on the inside. The janitor was the only person I saw walking through the halls and even he looked at me like I wasn’t supposed to be there. I had to ask him where the fellowship hall was located. I walked into the fellowship hall and there was no one at the door like at other churches handing out bulletins, or even greeting guests. There were boxes of donuts as soon as you walk through the doors of the fellowship hall. I looked around for a table with bulletins or some sort of information and all I found was a table in the back with coloring pages for children and a paper with a list of events for the month and the times of service through the week, etc. I didn’t have anyone come up to me to greet me or speak to me.

Finding a seat:

There was plenty of good seating where I wanted to sit, and the seats were comfortable. The small number of people attending though made me feel like the church isn’t growing. I simply took a seat in the back after picking up the papers I did find. I didn’t feel very comfortable at all like I think I should in a church. I think they may have a better turn out if there were some type of interaction with the guests.

The music/worship:

I liked the style of worship music played and sung. It was more of today’s contemporary style. There wasn’t anything specific that I’d say impacted me really any different than any other service I’ve attended.

In-service greeting:

The Pastor instructed people to say hello to everyone. The pastor opened the service by saying good morning to everyone. There wasn’t any specific or special welcome, just a brief explanation of the agenda for that morning.

The message:

The message was mainly about the graduating students of 2018 and about making choices. The message was based on making the right decisions in life and knowing what’s right and what’s wrong and how our decisions will affect our daily lives. I really don’t have any suggestions on how they could have made the message better. I’d say they touched on the relative basis of our everyday lives.

The speaker:

The Pastor was the main speaker for most of the service and the one who delivered the message. I felt as if she was sincere and encouraging and felt very confident about her message.

What about kids?

It seemed as if they were very engaged with the children’s/youth ministries based on the pictures, posts and videos of the children’s activities and learnings that I came across on the website and social media. I was glad to see that the children and youth were active in the church. I didn’t really think that a coloring page should be handed out with what they call bulletins. I think the children should probably have a separate service during this time where they would have a message (same as the adults) but it would be better explained and broken down to where they are able to fully comprehend everything being taught.

What happened after the service?

I wasn’t acknowledged as a guest or a visitor. Everyone once again congregated amongst themselves as the younger youth and kids all rushed out of the hall. I would suggest that in the future they should have a greeter at the doors at the end of service, as well as before, thanking the guests for coming and inviting them back and ask them if they had any questions, maybe even offering them the contact information for someone who would be able to connect with guests.

Friendliness of the church:

I would say that the overall friendliness of the congregation was neutral. I didn’t encounter anyone jumping with joy for having a new visitor, nor did I receive any negative vibes or interaction.

Information about the church:

Online there was information about what services they offer as far as children’s church and the youth groups including what time they meet and what activities they have this month and this summer. At the church, I didn’t find too much information as I thought I would have in a bulletin or flyer. I did, however, find a paper that had prayer requests on it and the upcoming services and a coloring page for kids. It may also be a good idea to add another section in the bulletin that gives a summary of each service, such as the order in which things will be discussed and or presented. That may make the visitors feel a little more welcome and comfortable and want to come back because of the positive feeling they felt during the first visit.

Outreach opportunities:

I don’t recall any outreach mentioned or talked about. They may think about coming up with some ideas and/or events to help develop their relationship with the community, such as a yard sale or bake sale or even a festival type event. I didn’t see much information regarding any type of outreach.

Church follow-up:

The church had a way for me to leave my contact info for additional information or follow-up, but I decided not to leave it.

Overall experience:

My experience was somewhat poor. I suggest they get involved more with guests and the community. They seem like they may be a little closed-in.

Likelihood of return: unlikely

They didn’t seem very welcoming to new guests. They may just be used to their own members. But I would feel more likely to return if they were more inviting and had more to offer as far as events to help spread the word on what they are about and how they want to help the community.

Likelihood of recommending the church: unlikely

There wasn’t much life or involvement from this church that really stood out to me and made an impact for me to want to return or recommend this church to others.

The last impression:

My experience was somewhat poor. I suggest they get involved more with guests and the community. They seem like they may be a little closed-in.

With the help of the mystery guest program, this church is now aware of its strengths and its opportunities to improve the first-time guest experience.  Curious what guests are thinking when they leave your church? Let Faith Perceptions find out for you. Our desire is to help churches become a welcoming place for guests and church that invites the unchurched.

5 Things You Can Do to Make Your Church Website More Welcoming to Visitors

Thanks to all the technology at our fingertips, people are more likely to check out a business or organization’s website before they ever step foot in their physical location. This means potential visitors are scoping out your church website and using the information they find there to decide whether or not they want to visit. Your website’s most important job is to welcome newcomers. Below are 5 simple things you can do to make your website a more welcoming place to potential church guests.

1. Define Your Audience

Is your website overloaded with information? You may be thinking “Of course! Why wouldn’t it be?” Well, too much information is overwhelming to newcomers. All that info is great for your existing church members, but they’re not your focus. The goal of any good website is to connect with its target audience. For churches, that’s people who aren’t already a member. Maybe they’ve never been to church or they’re looking for a new church. Either way, you need to make sure you’re speaking to them and giving them only the essentials. Which leads us to our next point.

2. Give ‘Em the “Inside Scoop”

Your regular churchgoers know that the “Ascent” ministry is for college-aged young lightstock_435447_full_kate.jpgadults or that “Move” refers to your spiritual formation or Sunday school. Newcomers won’t have any idea what those words mean, though. These terms are common knowledge for insiders, but they can alienate your potential visitors. This doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with the names of your ministries. It simply means those names shouldn’t come without an explanation of what they mean. Giving this information freely to potential visitors will make them feel more confident when they decide to attend your services.

3. Have a “New to [Insert Your Church Name Here}” Section

If you haven’t already done so, create a page on your website that’s dedicated entirely to visitors. This page should offer up specific information about worship times and locations, directions, parking, kids’ ministry, where they can find guest information, and contact details. Don’t shy away from other details either. Guests will appreciate knowing whether they should show up in their Sunday best or if jeans are acceptable. The more specific you can be here, the better, but remember: don’t overload this page with information. Potential guests don’t need to know about your sports leagues or fundraisers. They need to know where to go, how to get there, and what time they should be there. For more ideas about what to include on your visitor page, click here.

4. Include Visual Content

Visual content drives engagement. In fact, nearly 90% of the information transmitted to the brain is visual. People don’t just want to visit your site; they want to experience it. Adding high-resolution, quality images or videos to your website will give potential guests a feel for who you are. Whenever possible, avoid stock photos. Show your visitors actual photos of the inside of your church, your members, and worship services. Not only will this help them feel more comfortable when they arrive, but it also makes your website more enjoyable to peruse. Without those images and videos, your church website tells visitors you’re, well, boring.

5. Make Your Site Mobile Friendly

Did you know nearly 60% of the traffic to your website comes from a smartphone or lightstock_173620_full_katetablet? Even if a potential guest already checked your website out from their desktop at home, they’ll probably pull your webpage up on their phone to get your address or directions as they’re headed out the door. Your site needs to be mobile friendly so it’s easy for them to find the information they need quickly. If they have to click a bunch of links or zoom in or out, they may become discouraged and give up entirely.

When was the last time you took a look at your website? Have you ever checked to see how it looks on your smartphone? Do yourself a favor and go take a peek. Then have someone else take a look, too. Find areas where you can improve and incorporate the above tips to make your website more visitor friendly. A clean, organized website shows your guests you care about making them feel welcome. As a result, they’ll be more likely to actually come visit your church.

If you’re worried your church website is making a bad first impression, our mystery guest program can help. We send people who don’t attend church regularly into churches as mystery guests, and we have them start with the website. In addition to finding out how your website is performing with potential guests, you’ll also learn a lot of other valuable information about how welcome visitors feel when they attend your services.

The Do’s & Don’ts of Church Announcements

Church announcements are an essential component for building and sustaining your church community, but there’s a right and wrong way to do them. Over the years, we’ve seen multiple complaints about lengthy or irrelevant announcements in our mystery guest reports. One guest reported,

“The church spent eight minutes passing the mic around for announcements and another eight minutes giving ‘family updates’ (joys and concerns). I felt like I was at a social club rather than worship.”

Making a few short announcements from the pulpit is a great way to communicate the same message to everyone at once. If they’re too long, however, you risk putting people to sleep or seeing them leave early. To ensure your church announcements are informative, yet concise, here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.

Do:

  • Be brief. The congregation is there for the main attraction—The Gospel—not to lightstock_378331_full_katelisten to 10+ minutes of announcements. Keep them as brief as possible, otherwise they’re merely a frustrating distraction.
  • Focus on the essentials. Don’t try to cram a bunch of details into your church announcements—no one will remember them. Instead, focus on what matters most: the event, time, and place. Those are the most important things people need to know.
  • Have engaging volunteers share announcements. These volunteers should not only want to share these announcements, but they should be excited to do so. Their excitement will show, making the process—and the information—more enjoyable and memorable for everyone.
  • Invite people to join. Instead of asking people to participate in an event, invite them. Rather than saying something like, “We need volunteers to help serve dinner to the homeless,” say “Our church is blessed each month to serve meals to the homeless and you are invited to take part.” Be sure to also include where they need to go for more information.

Don’t:

  • Forget your guests. As you saw with the mystery guest quote earlier, church announcements can turn an okay experience into a negative one. Your announcements should always include a welcome to guests, as well as information on how they can get connected.
  • Avoid insider language. You want to be brief, but don’t be so brief that only a few people know what you’re talking about. Make sure you include essential information, like a contact person or where to find out more, like on the church website. Don’t assume your guests—or even regularly attending members—will know where to find that information.
  • Stick to a singular platform. One size does not fit all. Every generation has their Website Viewing on Smartphonepreferred communication style, so you’ll need more than one platform to make your announcements. In addition to your in-church announcements, you may also want to consider videos or rotating slides playing before and after service, bulletin, emails, and even social media.
  • Leave out the good stuff. We’re deluged with bad news and people are constantly asking us for something, all of which is exhausting. Remember to include some good news in your church announcements that everyone can celebrate.

“The worship pastor gave announcements about the connection card, how to share joys/concerns, and other announcements that were on a monitor at the front of the church. I really liked that the announcements were done first. This prevented anything from being done once the service officially started that would have interrupted the worship mindset.”

Your church announcements don’t have to be long and boring, and your members and guests will probably thank you for making them shorter and more exciting.

Is your congregation snoozing through the announcements or are guests left scratching their heads in confusion? Our mystery guest program can help you find out. We send unchurched mystery guests or mystery worshippers into churches of all denominations all over the country to provide unbiased feedback. Armed with this feedback, you’ll know exactly which areas your church excels in and which areas need work.

How to Make Your Church Easier to Find this Easter

Easter is the highest-attended church service each year and Google searches for “church” spike in the weeks leading up to the holiday. People that don’t attend regularly but try to show up on holidays and special occasions will go looking for a church nearby. Your church could be exactly what they need on Easter and beyond, but will they be able to find you online? Moreover, will they find the information they need to feel comfortable coming to your church? If not, consider the steps below to make your church easy to find and attractive to newcomers this Easter.

Clean Up Your Website

startup-photosFor many potential visitors, the website is their first impression of your church. Is yours cluttered and lacking a clear site structure or is information easy to find and placed in logical locations? Proper site structure makes it easy for visitors to navigate your site and find the information they need, but it’s also crucial to showing up in Google search results in the first place. A well-organized site improves search engine optimization (SEO) and ensures Google understands who you are and what you do. You’re more likely to show up in searches with a clean and organized website, and visitors are more likely to peruse it for information. Make sure all the information they need, particularly for Easter services and other special occasions, is easy to find.

Evaluate Your Name

What’s in a name? According to Matt Morrison, if your online name doesn’t include the word “church”, Google may not recognize you as one. So, if your name is “St. John’s”, you might not show up if someone searches “churches near me”. Adding “church” to the end of your name is a simple way to make sure you show up in those search results. While you’re at it, update your Google business account to ensure the right name, location, and hours are listed, along with contact information and your web address. The information should not only be correct, but it should also reflect the information on your “contact” page on your website. (You do have a “contact” page, right?)

Provide Clear Directions

choose-the-right-direction-1536336_1920Helping potential Easter attendees find you online is only half the battle; you have to help them find your physical location as well. Provide clear directions on your website so newcomers can easily find their way. Better yet, embed a map on your contact page. Visitors can simply click on the map and get directions to your location from wherever they are. Plus, an embedded map can further improve your search rankings. A mystery guest at one church said:

“Prior to my visit, I checked the church’s website. I also used Google maps to determine their location. It was easy to find, both on Google and Google maps.” – church visitor

Promote Your Church

lightstock_231553_full_kateYou can restructure your website, update your name, and add a map to your contact page, but if you aren’t advertising, you still may not be easy to find this Easter. If you’ve long-held the belief that marketing is “bad”, it’s time to change your perspective. Instead of viewing marketing as “good” or “bad”, view it as the tool it is, and learn to use it. Post regularly on Facebook and your other social media pages, and try promoted posts, particularly those pertaining to Easter. Doing so will get the post—and your church—in front of more people, and they may feel inspired to spend their holiday with you.

You’re bound to see some new faces at your Easter services, but the easier you are to find online, the more new faces you’ll see. If you’re curious how and where your website is showing up in search results and whether or not it’s attracting visitors, we can help. Our mystery guest program sends thousands of guests to churches across the country to evaluate everything from their websites to parking to the atmosphere, and more. You can use this unbiased feedback to make changes that will make guests feel welcome, accepted and want to return.

8 Things a Visitor Wants to See on Your Church Website

My daughter recently asked if she could attend a Christian outreach event. Since this event wasn’t affiliated with our church (and she’s notorious for lacking answers to basic questions like “Who’s in charge?” and “Where do they meet?”), I did what most parents today do: I went to the church’s website and social media pages looking for information. Unfortunately, I came up empty handed. While their website was certainly attractive, it lacked basic information I needed to know as a parent before agreeing to send my child to an event.

Sadly, this isn’t too far off from what someone visiting a church for the first time experiences. The church website is typically their first stop, but all too often they can’t find the basic information they need. Below are 8 things guests look for on church websites but say the information either isn’t there or was difficult to find:

 1.  Worship Times & Location
This is one of the most important pieces of information a potential visitor will look for, but it’s frequently buried within the homepage or on another page altogether. List this lightstock_69176_full_kateinformation clearly on the homepage and any other relevant pages. Make sure if these times ever change for any reason, you make the necessary updates to your website so potential guests don’t show up at the wrong time.

2.  Welcome Statement
It doesn’t have to be big or flashy but adding some type of welcome statement to your website lets visitors know you’re happy they found you and you want them to visit your church.

3.  Directions
Thanks to GPS, most people can make do with just an address. If you’re in a hard-to-find area, though, directions can be extremely helpful. Plus, it allows you to verify that your location is mapping correctly on GPS.

4. Where to Park
Even mid-sized churches have more than one parking lot, which can be confusing for pexels-photo-753876guests. Add a section on your website that tells guests which lot to park in (and how to get to it, if necessary). If you have a kids’ ministry, you may also want to indicate the best place to park for parents with small children.

5.  Security, Safety, & Qualifications
Would you feel comfortable dropping your children off at a place you’ve never visited and couldn’t find information about online? Probably not. Unfortunately, may churches do a poor job of sharing information about what they offer for kids, who will care for them and what their qualifications are, and the level of security involved. If young families are a group you’d like to attract to your church (as it is for most churches), you need to do a better job of providing this kind of information.

6.  Contact Information
Potential visitors may have additional questions about your church they couldn’t find (or didn’t have time to look for) on your website. Adding a clear contact page with your address, phone number, email, and a contact form shows potential visitors you welcome questions. For your contact form, keep it simple. All you need is their name, phone number, and email address. Don’t make them give you the name of their first-born or their blood type just to get a call back.

7.  Guest Services
If you have a dedicated spot inside your church where guests can stop to get more lightstock_418692_full_kateinformation or ask questions, make that clear on your website. In addition to pointing them to the right location, you’ve also got to give them a reason to stop by. Have someone there who can show them around, answer their questions, and introduce them to other church members so they feel welcome.

8.  What You Believe
It happens all the time. A potential guest visits a church website and has no idea what their beliefs or core values are. Make your beliefs known from the get-go so your guests know what to expect and whether those values align with their own.

So where do you put all this information? If you don’t already have a dedicated visitor page on your website, we recommend creating one and calling it, “New to {Insert Church Name Here}?”and include the above information. This page should be easy to find and should have everything a potential guest needs to know in an easy-to-read format. Having a place on your website dedicated for your guests lets them know you’ve thought about and prepared for them, which makes them feel welcome before they’ve even set foot in your church.

At Faith Perceptions, we regularly send mystery guests into churches and gather feedback on everything from the church website to parking to the services themselves. Our mystery guests frequently tell us the above items are the most difficult to find on a church website or are absent altogether. If you’re curious about how well your site is working for visitors, our mystery guest program can provide all the feedback you need.