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.

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.