Your Building Matters

What is your church lobby like?

Our building footprint matters. So how do you prepare your facility to be inviting to guests? Look at your building through the eyes of a guest. Better yet, invite unconnected guests into your building, walk along with them, and ask them to give you their first impressions of what they see. An outsider perspective is very important. Sometimes the issues are large, but many times, they are a series of small issues that can be resolved easily. From the time guests are nearing the arrival at your facility until they leave the grounds, you have multiple opportunities to show hospitality and care toward them, and connection with them. Your building can act as an evangelist or a deterrent. What could you do to freshen up the outside of your building? Let’s meander through your facility and worship experience with a checklist of items to consider in preparation for guests.

1. Exterior Signage and Accessibility

It all starts in the parking lot! Curb appeal matters. Start at the street and work your way into the building. What do you see? What is missing? What needs attention?

How easy is it to identify your building from the road? Is the time of worship clearly displayed and easily read while driving at the speed limit? How easy or difficult is it to find your building from the closest main thoroughfare? Once the building is identified, how easy is it to find where to enter the parking lot? Do you have parking spots designated for guests? Are those spots easily found and near the main entrance?

Once parked, how easy is it to find the entrance? If you have multiple entrances, how is the guest to know which entrance to use? Is there an easily accessible spot for people with special needs, such as those with walkers, wheelchairs, babies, and small children, to be dropped off at a door protected from the elements?

2. Welcome Center

Once inside, does a visitor know where to go? Greeters at the door can assist with this, as can visible and attractive signage. Even better is a designated area where guests can find information about your church and its ministries. Is there a welcome center? Is this welcome center staffed throughout all the Sunday morning activities? Are the people who staff the center well trained in the ministries of the church? Do they understand the importance of connecting with guests? Do they understand the importance of escorting guests to points of interest rather than pointing them in the direction? Is the welcome center well equipped with updated information about current and ongoing ministries? Is printed information available for guests to take with them?

3. Lobby

Is the area right inside your main entrance warm and inviting? Is the area congested? Does it radiate the welcome feeling of “come on in”? Does it allow for fellowship? Is it up to date in its décor and furnishings? Is there a digital screen easily viewable with information? Is the lobby area free of clutter? What era are the pictures from that are hanging in the lobby? Is there a fresh coat of paint in a modern (non-white) color on the walls? Are there refreshments and coffee available and easily found? Are the furnishings modern and comfortable?

4. Nursery

For guests with young children, this is a critical area. How easy is it to find the nursery? Is it conveniently located in relationship to the sanctuary? Is it clean? Is the furniture updated and safe? Is it child-friendly? Is the décor appealing to the entire family? Is there staff trained with appropriate child-to-caregiver ratios? Has the staff been given a background check? Is the staff trained? Is there a check-in and check-out process? Is there a system to reach parents during worship if they are needed? If so, is that process explained to the parents? Is this a place where you would feel comfortable and safe in leaving your loved one (child, grandchild, niece, or nephew)? If children are first attending service and later taken from the worship area into another area, do the parents know where their children are going and where and when to find them? Are parents prepped for this to occur before it actually happens in order to make an informed and comfortable decision?

5. Pre-Worship Atmosphere

The ten minutes before worship begins and after worship ends are the most critical times for guests. If guests are brave enough to be a few minutes early, this can be an awkward time. What is going on in the sanctuary? Is there soft music playing in the background? Are there videos or other messages displayed on the screen? Are people talking among themselves, or are they inviting guests into conversation? Are guests sitting in an area where no one else is around? Do guests feel like they are in a spotlight? Is the room deathly silent? Is there laughter all around, excluding the guests? Do the guests feel as though they crashed someone else’s party? For those who arrive ten minutes after worship begins, is the greeting process still in place? If not, you are going to miss people. Guests arrive early or late, but rarely on time. Be prepared.

6. Worship Space

During a recent experience I (Bob) was attending worship in a church where I had never attended before. The sanctuary was only a third full when everyone was seated. This felt empty and did not create an atmosphere where you felt comfortable singing. In your church, how does it feel? If the room is at 80 percent capacity, it will feel full. Is the room comfortably full or awkwardly empty? Do all the insiders sit in the back and nobody up front? Do they all sit on one side? Are they strung all over, where you could shoot off a cannon and hit no one? Are you at or over 80 percent capacity and considering adding another service?

If the room you worship in doesn’t create the feeling of critical mass, here are a few strategies you might consider:

  • Take out a few pews in the back to create some lobby or hospitality space. Put rocking chairs there for new parents.
  • Take out a few pews in front to create more of a stage area.
  • Do some pews need to be removed or shortened to create some special access space?
  • Are there too many worship services for the number attending? If so, consider consolidating worship services to create critical mass.
  • Spread the pews out. The pews are traditionally spaced 18 inches apart. People were smaller when the church was built, so consider removing some pews to allow instead for 24 inches of spacing between pews.
  • Use large banners or fabric streamers in the pews to move folks forward and sit nearer to the front and together, especially if the size of the worshiping congregations varies dramatically between services in the same space.

Hospitality isn't just about having friendly people—it's also about your building. Create an environment that will make visitors feel welcome, comfortable, and eager to return. Read the second part of this article "Connecting with Guests Not Visitors"

Excerpted and adapted from Get Their Name: Grow Your Church by Building New Relationships by Bob Farr, Doug Anderson, and Kay Kotan. Copright©2013 by Abingdon Press. Used with permission. Order information below.

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