The millennial generation is sometimes referred to as the “experience generation”. According to research conducted by Eventbrite, 78% of millennials would choose to spend money on a desirable experience or event over buying something desirable, and 55% of millennials say they’re spending more on events and live experiences than ever before, with no signs of slowing.
This emphasis on experiences carries over into all experiences, at least it does for me. I expect every experience I have; grocery shopping, eating out, getting my coffee, going to the doctor, and attending church to be not only satisfactory but excellent. If I visit an establishment for the first time and I don’t have a good experience, there’s a good chance that I won’t return to that business or organization.
Several months ago (before Covid-19 changed everything), I visited a local doctor’s office for an appointment. The receptionist had called me earlier in the day to inform me that I would have to use cash or check for my co-pay when I came in for my appointment. Now I have never balanced a checkbook much less carried one around with me ever in my life and I don’t regularly carry cash on my person either. This should have been my first clue that I was about to embark on (IMO) a less than desirable experience later that day. My appointment was towards the end of the day so that I could go by the doctor’s office on my way home from work. I was almost to the clinic when I remembered that I needed to stop by the ATM to get cash out for my co-pay. I had to go 10-15 minutes out of my way to visit one of my bank’s ATM’s (because I hate paying additional fees to take money out of my account) which made me 10-15 minutes late for my appointment.
When I finally entered the medical suite about 15 minutes after my scheduled time, I paid my cash co-pay, sat down and was told the doctor would be with me soon. Forty-five dreadfully impatient minutes later I finally saw the doctor. Several times in that waiting period I thought about leaving, but I decided to stick it out…determining that once I left I would never return.
Have you ever had an experience that didn’t meet your expectations? Sadly I often recollect the negative experiences that I have more than the positive ones. My hope is that the experience you are providing for those who visit your church is an intentionally excellent one. Now excellence is simply doing the best with what you have. Every church has a different approach to engaging with guests, but each process should be crafted and created with the guest in mind.
Today, I want to provide some tips on creating an ideal guest pathway for your church. Your pathway will look different from mine and it should. You should create a pathway that is specific to your facility, staff, volunteers, size, and region.
The primary purpose for having an intentional guest pathway is to provide clarity for our Connections Team and for our guests. I want our team of volunteers to understand how their role fits in to the overall experience for our guests and how important it is for them to do their part. Being a parking greeter or door greeter is a vital component in helping our guests have a great first impression of our church.
I want a guest of Highlands Community Church to feel that we are prepared and expecting them. I don’t want them to feel like they are on their own figuring out which level and which hallway they have to navigate to arrive at the appropriate classroom or auditorium. Having an intentional pathway provides layers of team members who are available to answer questions, provide direction, or even accompany the guest on their journey to the service.
One of the strategies that I have employed in recruiting volunteers is to provide an easy first step into serving at our church. For some people, they are ready and willing to step into a “higher commitment” ministry like children’s, students, or worship right away. Other people are unsure if they have the time or ability for a larger commitment and Connections opportunities provide a great entry-level ministry for them to “get their feet wet”. We have intentionally set the bar lower for people to serve on our Connections Teams by not requiring membership, a background check, or even a salvation testimony. Now obviously there needs to be discretion in this process but if someone is willing to serve as a greeter and they are able to create a warm and welcoming environment they are a candidate in my opinion even if they are still “seeking”.
For key roles in our Guest Pathway I am looking for not only friendly and outgoing team members, but those who possess the right amount of emotional intelligence to handle various kinds of people and situations. For example, our Response Team is responsible to pray and talk with guests at the conclusion of our worship experience. This team is hand-picked because they will encounter personal, emotional, and spiritual stories and situations. They need to be able to not only handle surprising and possibly embarrassing information, but in that moment go to God in prayer on behalf of that guest.
If you’re in the process of creating or re-creating your guest pathway it’s understandable to recruit anyone who is willing to serve in that capacity at first. What I have found to be a good pool of people to invite to serve in this important ministry are those who are the newest to your church. These folks can probably remember what their experience was like, whether good or bad and can easily catch the vision of providing an excellent experience for future guests. However, you also want to ensure that the majority of people serving in your Connections Ministry are able to engage with guests and those they may not know easily. This means that if someone doesn’t have an outgoing personality they can still serve if they are placed in the right position or paired with the right person.
As I conclude, I want to make sure you understand that once you’ve developed a guest pathway things don’t go perfectly every week. I still struggle to have enough volunteers serving in each role for each service. I am occasionally scrambling on Saturday night or Sunday morning to fill spots for those who get sick or don’t show up. We still have guests who slip through the layers of our pathway and don’t fill out a connect card. I recognize that there will be mistakes made by our team members and staff. We still have guests who have a less-than ideal experience and who may never come back. Having a Guest Pathway gives you a target to shoot for in creating an experience that will encourage your guests to come back to your church.
The best thing you can do, if you have a pathway or if you’re thinking about creating one is to put yourself in the guest’s shoes. If you can, walk from your parking area into your facility the way that a guest would. Do you have the right amount of signage? Are there facility improvements that need or can be made? Are your team members positioned in the right place? Are your bathrooms, classrooms, or auditorium hard to find? Look at the experience from an end-to-end view and not just a frame-by-frame perspective.
For the majority of your guests, their experience at your church is going to factor into their decision of whether or not they come back. Your church’s preaching and/or worship could be top-notch, but if your guest can’t figure out where to go, can’t find a place to park, or they encounter a rude or unhelpful team member, that could be what causes them to not return.
Did I miss the mark? Do you have a different opinion or strategy that has worked? Are you curious how the Guest Pathway I created works? Reach out to me firstname.lastname@example.org.
A resource that I have found helpful and one that I have passed on to my Team Leaders is, “The Come Back Effect” by Jonathan Malm and Jason Young.
Highlands Community Church