I had a rare Sunday off a couple weeks ago and decided to drop by a local church that I’d never visited. I’d discovered the church on my annual Christmas Light Tour (where I drive aimlessly through random neighborhoods looking for great light displays) and I discovered this church tucked deep inside a neighborhood I’d never driven through. Its church sign was prominent and I realized I’d never even heard of this congregation. So on this particular week, I decided to drop in.
They did a lot right. The hospitality was above average. The music was spirited and worship was well led. The sermon kept my attention. I even filled in their “friendship pew pad” in all caps so the info was readable. And before I left, I made it point to meet the pastor. Overall, I had a fairly positive experience.
Until Wednesday. That’s when I received one of the most inane mail-merged letters one could get from a church. The block paragraphs (there were a BUNCH of them) informed me how thankful they were that I visited. The note went into details about the congregation that an unchurched visitor would have had no interest in – and honestly, either did I. The note ended with what may or may not have been the pastor’s signature. And just below that blue ink was the tip off that guests really aren’t very important to this church:
Apparently someone went to business or law school and learned the “secret” that when you write a letter on someone else’s behalf the CAPITAL letters are the initials of the person who dictated (supposedly) the letter and the lower case letters are the person who did all the work, probably scrawled the signature line, and stuffed the form letter into an envelope before running it through the metered postage machine and affixing the mailing label just before dropping it into the out box. Feeling special yet?
Of course, it would have been nice if someone had bothered to proofread the envelope … my name was butchered something terrible (did I mention I filled out the friendship pad in BLOCK CAPITALS to make it easy for them?).
So far, the positive impression I had with the church was slipping fast. If I was a first-time prospect, my “prospectiveness” would be waning fast.
Then came Friday. That’s the day I received their high-quality, four-color newsletter. They get very high marks for producing a quality mailing.
But I suspect if there were any other first-time visitors in the congregation that weekend, the newsletter may well have been the door closer for them. The front page had a great Easter Sunday graphic, but what was the real news? “We want your money for the upcoming capital campaign” (see illustration). Then when I opened the newsletter, the Youth Garage Sale flier slid out out and overwhelmed everything else.
Conclusion: The most important thing to this church is getting members (and guests) to write checks.
Sure there were other things in the newsletter, including a half page of people’s names I didn’t know who were having birthdays and an invitation to save $20 by signing my child up for preschool if I was a member. Apparently, visitors’ kids have to pay extra.
A perfectly good worship experience and positive first impression were seriously marred by shortcuts, thoughtlessness, and simply not thinking about hospitality and making guests a priority. You don’t have to let this happen to you. Here are a few tips:
1. Double Check Names
“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language” – Dale Carnegie. It’s perhaps even more important to get the name right in writing. I’m on their mailing list now and will be reminded of their carelessness every time they send me something.
2. Send a Handwritten Welcome Note
A form letter isn’t hospitable or welcoming … at best it’s junk mail and shows just how little the church values their guests. Pastor, are you simply too busy to write fourteen letters each week? Then pastor, write ONE – and get your staff or volunteers to write the rest on your behalf (only use same gender staff members – for some reason, it’s pretty easy to tell one gender’s handwriting from the other).
3. Skip the Author/Writer Initials
There are times when business school practices should remain at business school. Do you really think we’re impressed if your secretary writes and signs a letter on your behalf … and that we wouldn’t pick up on that? As I wrote in #2, if the pastor is too busy to write the note then do the above – or get someone else to handle it and to sign their name. But don’t tip off the receiver that they’re not important enough for a personal touch.
4. Rework Your Newsletter or Else …
If you’re going to put all your visitors on the newsletter distribution list – a good practice, by the way – then write it as if they were the primary target. Ask of every single article, image, list, etc. what effect it would have on a first-time visitor. If you’re not 100 percent sure whether or not it puts the church in a flattering, good-first-impression light, then leave it out.
If you need to communicate something to your members – such as an invitation to the Capital Campaign Banquet – then only send it to your members.
So, if your newsletter is a members’ rag, just own it and DON’T send it to visitors or guests. Otherwise, keep everything guest-friendly. You only get one chance to make a great first impression. But you can undermine that first impression pretty easily.
Question: What are some of the most important “guest friendly” tips that you have experienced? Share them in the Comments section below.
I would like to see more churches do away with the “passing of the peace” section of the service. I was brought up on the theory that: “We talk to God before the service; God talks to us during the service; we talk to each other after the service.” This was something that my dad (the minister) used to have printed on the bottom of the bulletins. To me the peace passing is disruptive – I am just settling in, listening to the prelude, and absorbing the atmosphere; then I have to get up and greet people. This is not agreeable – just uncomfortable waiting for everyone to sit down so we can get on with the service.
I hear you on that one Lynda. The congregation we are visiting has it at the end of the worship service. It seems natural there and offers varying levels of interaction.
One bit of warning about newsletters. Keep contact info to the church name address and phone ONLY. One church had a clothes closet, and asked for donations. They included the contact persons name and phone only. The church then made the newsletter open to visitors. One nefarious person, (over the course of a year), when to the phone book with the name and phone and found the address. They then went and got a drivers license replacement in person with their own photo. Then applied for a store credit card, which was approved because the church member had good credit. Long story short they didn’t get caught till they bought a house across state-lines, making it a federal crime and FBI involvement.