How to Make a Guest’s First Sunday Count

Sure, you have a mission statement for your church.

We do, too. I bet our statements pretty much say the same thing, with only a variation of adjectives and action verbs. After all, God sort of gave us the statement in the first place.

Having a mission statement is obviously important, but ensuring the mission statement comes to life is more important. How we design for that is important. After all, if what’s written on the wall isn’t happening down the hall, then what good is the statement after all?

I recently heard a story that so beautifully illustrates the power of taking the mission personally, and it was birthed from our organizational design. I’d love to share it with you, because it was a massive reminder to me of what’s at stake very single Sunday in our churches.

A few weeks back a brand new guest came to Woodstock City Church (where I serve). She was new to church. Not just new to our church, but I believe new to church. Although she is married, she came alone this day. As she entered the doors, a volunteer at our New Guest kiosk greeted her (let’s call her Amy). We have kiosks just inside the doors of every entry point at our church to answer questions and help new guests navigate our building. After talking with the new guest for a short while, Amy offered to give her a tour of the building, getting to know her more along the way. As they walked by Waumba Land (our preschool area), the new guest shared something very personal — she had lost her pre-school child. Through the obvious emotions of that moment, she confessed she didn’t know where else to turn, but knew she needed to turn somewhere, so she came to church. Our church.

At this point, Amy realized this was a significant moment for this guest. Not just the sharing of her child’s death, but being in our church in this moment, seeking comfort of some kind. Amy knew of another Guest Services volunteer (Let’s call him Jim) who had experienced a similar loss, and so she found him at his station. After an introduction and an explanation of the situation, the new guest and Jim walked into the auditorium together. He showed her where he usually sat, and invited her to sit with him (even though he wasn’t planning to be in the auditorium for that particular service).

As they waited for the service to begin, Jim shared his story with her, reminding her that she’s not alone. A moment later, she turned to Jim and commented, “I’m not sure I can make it through the entire service.” Jim understandably responded, “That’s okay, you’re here now. Just stay as long as you want, and I’ll sit with you the entire time.”

Probably not a surprise, but our new guest stayed for the entire service. That alone is amazing in many ways, but it got better. During this particular service, we were promoting community groups and encouraging people to consider joining a group. When the service ended, our new guest decided to register for our GroupLink event and is now getting connected with a small group of ladies who can engage with her in a deep and meaningful way.

From a brand new, hurting guest to joining a community group in roughly 60 minutes. From being afraid of not making it through a full service to not only making it through, but enjoying it enough and trusting the experience enough to engage.

I realize that’s somewhat dramatic, but is it? These types of stories might not occur every Sunday, but it did on this particular Sunday. And that matters. And it reminded me, not simply that our mission matters, but that the experience people have with our mission can absolutely dictate if the mission stays only written on the wall.

A few reminders for us all:

Our reputation in the community matters.

People discover a lot about our church before they attend our church. They might watch a service online or check out our social media. More likely than not, a potential guest will talk to a current attendee before attending. People will talk with others in the community about our church. Our reputation (or brand) matters, because people will most likely decide how they “feel” about our church long before they ever interact with our church.

The actions of our church community matters.

As a continuation from the first reminder, our reputation in the community is primarily built by the people from the community who are a part of our church community. That’s a mouthful, but it’s true — and it’s a double-edge sword for sure. Their kindness matters, but they realness matters, too. People want to see themselves when they walk in the doors, and seeing people like them from our church in the community can ease their tension before they attend.

Side Note: This is the primary reason our church gives away thousands of Woodstock City car stickers. They are great conversation starters. They help increase the brand recognition in the community. But even more, potential attenders see the people in these cars, and these people are just like them — and that matters.

Empowering volunteers to live out the mission matters.

Volunteers need to feel empowered to do what is necessary to serve anyone and everyone at our church. Of course, there are some spaces where systems must be followed (like our parking lot procedures), but even in these areas, volunteers need to feel empowered to do what needs to be done as situations require interventions.

We try to accomplish this by not only training volunteers on the “what’s” of their role, but the “why’s” behind their role. When volunteers understand the why, they can better decide on the what.

Creating a volunteer community matters.

Community is important for many reasons, but in many cases, when a volunteer feels connected, they are more comfortable asking for help, advice, or in this case, grabbing another friend to step into a unique situation. This would never have happened if our volunteer teams didn’t feel connected to a community.

Every Sunday matters.

And the most important reminder of all: Every Sunday in your church a new guest is giving God and the church one more shot. Literally one more chance. How we welcome them, treat them, engage with them, love them, accept them, serve them, and help them will determine if they come back – maybe ever. We try to remind every volunteer of this reality every Sunday. It’s a huge part of our “why.” That drives their “what.”

The scary part is that we often have no idea “they” are in the room, driving onto our parking lot, walking through our doors, and experiencing our church, so every interaction must be treated as the most important interaction of the day. From the parking lot to the hallways to the check-in areas to the auditorium to the music to the message and back again, every moment matters, because every moment communicates something. And every week, there is a new guest giving God and the church one more shot.

It is amazing to think how easily this story could not have happened. I’m grateful it did. And I hope it continues to happen every single Sunday.

How have you seen your mission come to life through your church or volunteers?

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One Response

  1. Gavin,
    I am so glad this was sent to me via Morgan Wands who I volunteer with on Thursdays in prep for Sundays. This is a remarkable story. I volunteer every other Sunday on 9A team in Santuary seating and have become much more comfortable with the first year (2016) passing. The new church was overwhelming till recently to serve, but very enjoyable, inviting and now in my comfort zone. I can easily understand how new visitors/guest may feel, as I was in their shoes a couple of years ago at Watermarke. WWC is a great place to feel the care & love of Christians and know that God’s presence abounds there during fellowship or wherever we are throughout the week, if we seek Him. Thanks for the message & God Bless.

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