Churches need their most positive, smiling, warmest personalities on their front lines, says Greg Atkinson. Your parking lot team, greeters, ushers, and welcome desk volunteers need to be friendly and welcoming. And most of all, they need to know how vital their role is to the mission of the church.
First impressions matter — big time! Sometimes there’s no coming back from a bad experience. As someone who visits lots of churches for the first time, I have some pet peeves to share that I hope will help your church.
Parking lot attendants
Nothing drives me crazier than seeing parking lot attendants standing next to each other. There should never be two people (or more) standing next to each other and talking. Parking lot attendants should be spread out across your parking lot communicating with hand signals or walkie-talkies. When I see parking lot attendants bunched up and talking to one another, it tells me they don’t know their purpose. They don’t realize that their focus and attention need to be on greeting and pointing people in the right direction. Nothing is worse than driving by two parking lot attendants deep in conversation that don’t even acknowledge you. Trust me, I’ve experienced it and it’s a horrible first impression of your church. Give your parking lot attendants posts or positions and have them stay spread out. Remind them to focus on their responsibility and to smile and wave at cars as they drive by. Remember the atmosphere we want to create.
You must talk to your welcome team about sacrifice. They should arrive early to talk to friends, get some coffee, and do other stuff that they shouldn’t be doing while they’re serving. Once it’s go-time, they must be hands-free and focused.
Have you ever experienced over-zealous greeters? Greeters that freak you out because they’re too happy, too nosy, or too obnoxious? Greeters need to spread out too, and leave space for people to walk. Please don’t form a wall that makes it awkward for people when entering your building. I had a bad experience at a large and well-known church one time. I can’t tell you how many hands I had to shake to enter their building.
I think we oversimplify when it comes to training ushers. I can’t tell you how many churches I’ve visited or consulted with who had told their ushers “Stand here and give each person a bulletin as they pass.” This is a poor vision indeed. If your only job is to hand someone a bulletin, you don’t take it seriously. You don’t do anything else outside that and it’s easy to get in conversation with other ushers. If you haven’t picked up on it, I don’t like for conversations to be going on with team members. I think it’s rude and a horrible first impression. No one wants to feel like they’re interrupting your discussion to get a bulletin or find a seat. Speaking of finding a seat, that is the job of the usher. I’ve seen churches that put bulletins on a small table and let the ushers usher. I love this! Ushers should be seating people and helping those with special needs.
I have one last bone to pick with all team members, and this is a big one! Make sure your servant leaders are hands-free. This means they shouldn’t be holding a cup of coffee or their cell phone. Imagine a single mom struggling to corral her toddlers and holding an infant’s carrier in one hand, walking in from the parking lot, and the guy or gal at the door is too distracted by their phone to open the door for her. Or the helper is trying to open the door and not spill coffee on her and her children. You must talk to your team about sacrifice. The reason they arrive early (at least 30 minutes before a service) is to talk to friends, get some coffee, and do other stuff that they shouldn’t be doing while they’re serving. Once it’s go-time, they must be hands-free and focused.
This article is adapted from Secrets of a Secret Shopper by Greg Atkinson, published by Rainer Publishing and available at Amazon. Used by permission.
- An Open Letter to Churches Seeking New Members by Lyda K. Hawes
- 50 Ways to Welcome New People, a free Lewis Center resource
- Top 10 Learnings about Welcoming Newcomers by Keith Anderson
- Be the Welcoming Church Video Tool Kit