By Chet Gladkowski
What church doesn't give out coffee mugs with glossy advertising whenever a first time visitor arrives. I personally have a nice 8-piece set of non-matching church coffee mugs that adorn my kitchen.
Inc. recently published “Make a Great First Impression: 9 New Rules” by Tom Searcy1 where he updates this truth in light of today's business environment. After reading this great article, it seemed time to update first impression rules for the church. So here goes, new rules for making a great first impression at church, even without a coffee mug...
Digital introductions – once upon a time, first impressions came as people pulled into your parking lot or were met by greeters at your door. Today your first impression happens well before you ever shake hands. It's your digital presence that gives your first impression.
- Your single largest investment of time and attention needs to quickly, graphically and effectively explain what you and your church are all about. Don't assume that people will scroll down or follow links; this must appear as soon as they are directed to your web page. This is your vision “elevator speech” where you have a very small window of time and real estate to passionately explain what God has called you to. Failure here is worse than your greeters having really bad breath. And the tragedy is that so few people pay attention to what their landing page ends.
- Since everyone and everything is plugged-in, you need to provide fresh digital content and connections. This means rapidly replacing past events and outdated information. Nothing says “stay away” and “we're boring” more than yesterday’s news.
- Have you ever looked at the information trail from your digital footprints? If you searched on your church and its leaders, what would you find? For the most part, you don't need to pay for this service, what is publicly available through search engines is more than enough. I once did this on a pastor of a local church and was really surprised, and not in a good way. The wake of poor references and broken relationships was tragic and discouraging. While you need to be circumspect about any information on the web (because anyone can say anything), you need to be aware of what’s out there and why.
Team message – while an individual might provide some attraction, “stickiness” for new people is directly tied to more than one person (aka the local Body). The entire Body needs to be unified and on point when it comes to vision and direction. The exponential increase in personnel connections becomes 3-fold when staff, leaders and members all understand, support and “walk” the vision. Needless to say, if your church does not have a clear vision/direction, this is all a moot point.
- Staff needs to actively and passionately support the vision and clearly understand their part in it. Does their ministry description on your web site point to how their roles and responsibilities support the vision? Can they clearly and excitedly explain the vision, their part in it and how God is using it in the lives of people?
- Leaders also need to be aligned with the vision and message. You need to invest time, energy and focused communication with your total leadership and support team. This takes more than a monthly meeting to set the stage and invest time into your leaders. Your leadership selection process must also include their personal agreement and passion for the vision. Since they will meet so many more people than you ever will, this investment always pays off.
- The average person in church becomes so UN-average and energized when they see their part in the vision and direction. This means that the vision needs to be repeated and reinforced every week through voice, bulletins, email, blogs, Sunday school classes, small group/community meetings, even at special events. Rather than inviting people to get up and shake hands, have them go and share the vision. It's great practice and reinforces the vision, message and values.
Details – I'd like to recast the age old expression to say “the blessing is in the details” as opposed to the devil. Sweat the details so they all fit together and in harmony with your vision. But don't just drop them once things are in place, you need to keep up with the details. Just like you continue to invest time and energy in a garden, you need to continually invest in the details to ensure that you keep an ongoing and expanding harvest.
- First person messages of changed and growing lives are perhaps the single most powerful thing that you can do. This is not just stories of great success, but also of human hurt and disappointment as seen in light of Jesus and the Gospel. At least one “testimony” needs to be on your web landing page, and it needs to change from time to time.
- Icons and links for other digital connections (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, etc.) need to be front and center so visitors can easily and quickly connect with you on a regular basis.
- We need to do as much as possible to ensure that we get it right the first time. I know that we are all human and that life is full of surprises, but how many times have you received a second (dare I say third) update with changes and corrections about dates, times and details. I'm all about grace and forgiveness, but when I consistently see these kinds of changes and corrections, at best it makes me wonder whether all the details were nailed-down in the first place. At worst, I start to question the training, skill and abilities of the people behind the corrections.
By paying attention to your digital introductions, team message and details, you help people find Jesus and His people. What deserves our attention more?