Why First Impressions Can Change Your Church

Your first time guests often decide if they will return within the first ten minutes. Some are more forgiving and will give you a second chance, but most won’t.

The unchurched look for reasons not to return. Even though they were probably invited by a friend, even friendship can’t override a blown first impression.


It’s like your first visit to a restaurant. Your first ten minutes usually determines if you will return. Even if your experience “gets better” through the meal, your initial perspective is so skewed that it’s difficult to see past those first impressions. The way the hostess greeted you, the way you were escorted to a table, and the way you were treated for the first few minutes largely determines the remainder of the experience.

The same is true in your church. Your first impressions absolutely determine if the first time guest returns for a second time.

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Colossians 4:5-6

Here are three simple questions to help you improve your first impressions.

1) How do you Greet people?

We’ve all been in a restaurant where it seemed like we were intruding on the hostess’s reception area. It’s a terrible experience. We wait and wonder. We check in and are told, “As you can see we are very busy, we’ll get to you when we can.

In stark contrast, one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in San Diego always has a wait. They learn your name, bring out free chips and salsa, and if you wait too long, bring you a free iced tea!

How are people greeted in your church? What do your guests experience in the parking lot – smiles or impatient waving and pointing? Do your greeters make people feel like a million bucks or an inconvenience?

2) How do you Seat people?

That twenty second walk means everything. I’ve visited restaurants where the hostess walked slowly, made pleasant conversation, and asked if I was happy with the table. I’m already smiling. I’ve also experienced hostesses who seemed to sprint off, look back impatiently because I stopped to say hi to someone, dropped the menus off at the table and leave.

Whenever I see an usher pointing rather than walking a guest to a place to sit, I cringe. If the visitor knew where to go, they wouldn’t need an usher. Especially when a guest is late, they know they are late, so make them feel even more welcomed! Worship has already started, it’s dark, they can’t see well, and people are standing. That’s intimidating. You can put them at ease. You can make the difference that inspires them to come back! It’s the little things that matter.

3) How do you Treat people?

Whether it’s the leaders in the nursery, the person serving coffee, or the prompts from the worship leader, your guests should know if you care about them.

Treat each guest like they were a king or queen!

Go the second mile. If you don’t know the answer to a question, find the answer. Do all you can to make their experience warm, personal and engaging.

Serve with joy.

Be real, be yourself, and help each person feel right at home.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 7:12

11 thoughts on “Why First Impressions Can Change Your Church”

  1. Great thoughts and comparison. You may never get a second chance to be rewarded by growing relationships.
    LOVE & Peace

  2. Spot on. In the past three years as we have visited and spoke at many churches, I would encourage every pastor to teach the church family to be warm and engaging – beyond the smile at the front door – anyone can do that. It’s their “treat”ment of guests that will really make the difference. Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well in John 4 teaches all of us to engage with others – specifically others that are very different from us – with hopes that that initial engagement will lead towards deeper conversations. Thanks Dan!

  3. One of the obstacles we face is helping our Guest Service teams understand we want to provide better customer service than their favorite restaurant. The complaint we hear at times is that we are getting too much like a business. We try to explain that we want our guests to receive the best service at our church. Our competition is the restaurant or hotel that gives 5 star service, not the church down the road. Any suggestions on helping our awesome volunteers understand that yes, we are a church but we also add a piece of customer service to our DNA?

    1. Steve, I think it may be largely in how you package it. Yes, business provides customer service. Some companies do great, and some companies do poorly. But why should business lead the market in serving when Jesus set the standard long before modern business existed? Jesus modeled servanthood to the ultimate measure. For your next training time, I think I might give a 10 minute devotional from Mark 10:45 to teach “service” in a completely different light. I would not make the compassion the restaurants down the street. Then emphasize the reason why you do it, not how you do it — To help make people who are far from God feel welcomed and at home. Since you asked, I’m going to offer a leadership insight. It is not your whole team that feels like you are getting too much like a business. It’s nearly certain that only 2-3 people are influencing others with their opinion. Figure out who they are and meet with them. Have an honest conversation over a cup of coffee. Honor them, love them, but speak the truth in love. Listen to them well, understand their point of view, then share yours. I bet the conversation will go well.

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