Don't Park There: How to Craft Meaningful Visitor Experiences

This is a post about parking lots, mugs, and spam. Confused about how those three fit together? Well, the answer is visiting a church.

Don't Park There: How to Craft Meaningful Visitor Experiences
Photo by Chantel / Unsplash

This is a post about parking lots, mugs, and spam. Confused about how those three fit together? Well, the answer is visiting a church. This Sunday all across American people will walk into the doors of churches for the first time. This isn't the case at every church, but most go something like this...

Top-down drone shot of a car meet
Photo by Brydon McCluskey / Unsplash

Visiting Church

Sam and his wife Morgan are new in town. Since the pandemic has opened up more remote work opportunities both Sam and Morgan are now able to work from home. They decided to finally make the move. Yep, ever since they first considered marriage (about 4 years ago) they've wanted to move to Churchville, but because of their education and new careers it just hasn't worked out. You see, Sam and Morgan got married in November of 2019 and are hoping to start a family soon. They want to raise their kids in an atmosphere like Churchville making it a perfect fit for their growing family. Life is going well for Morgan and Sam.

After getting everything moved and unpacked, with the help of family and friends, they've now started to settle in. After doing some Google searches for churches in their area they've found a few churches they want to visit. The first church on their list is Epix Church. A cool trendy name for cool trendy people like Sam and Morgan. It looks perfect!

Morgan and Same follow Google Maps to take them to Epix, but when they get there they're not sure where to go. Maps says  "You have arrived at your destination," but how do we get into the parking lot? After a few minutes of circling the block, pulling into the wrong parking lot, and dodging traffic they find the entrance to the lot. Shew.

Well, that victory was short-lived. Now to find a parking space! The entrance isn't clearly marked so their only guess as to where to go in is where the most cars are congregated. But most cars are congregated there. Yeah... so now Sam and Morgan park at the back of the parking lot, walk up the hill and are winded by the time they reach the top.

How's it going so far? Perfect. Never been better. Miserable...

After regaining their composure Sam and Morgan approach the door. Then out of nowhere, they hear a loud "Hey! What's your name?" Morgan looks at Sam and then to the direction the voice came from. There stands a man wearing a three-piece suit that cost more than Sam's first car. Sam, being an introvert, quietly says, "I'm Sam and my wife's name is Morgan." The greeter then says, "My name is Joe. Nice to meet you! Welcome home!" Joe then opens the door and hollers at the top of his lungs, "This is Sam and Morgan. They're new here!"

As Sam and Morgan's eyes adjust to the light inside what appears to be the church lobby they're stunned by a room full of people all with their hands extended trying to stir up some small talk. "Are you guys new in town?" asks one voice. Another says, "How long have you two been married?" Another man is making his way through the crowd holding a strangely colored clipboard. Morgan thinks, "Are we in a cult?" The man hands Morgan the clipboard and after giving a quick skim she thinks, "I've seen doctor's offices want less information" but she instead smiles and tells the greater, "Thank you," then moves on.

After finally making their way through the obnoxious crowd into the sanctuary they start to look for a seat. Finding a seat is never this hard at dramas or movie theaters, yet every row they come to contains personal belongings scattered across the seats. After finally finding an open row they sit down. Wow. That was stressful. Sam leans over to Morgan to start to ask a question about what time it was supposed to start (the website said 10:00 but it was already 10:04), but is interrupted by an indiscreet uhtumm. From their rear they hear an elderly woman grunt, "You're in my seat." Sam says, "I didn't know it had your name on it" then stands up and starts to walk away. As Morgan and Sam try to find yet another seat they see one opening. However, it's on the second row. Sam thinks, "I hate the second row!"

Church finally starts at 10:08, albeit 8 minutes late... The first song is good. The worship band and leader play three songs from Elevation and Bethel's latest albums. Original choices? Nah. But at least it's on key - most of the time.

After the second song the pastor walks onto the stage and exclaims, "We want to welcome all of our visitors! After church come right up here to the second row and make Sam and Morgan feel a part of the family! We've got a special gift waiting for you when you bring back your blue clipboard!"

Through the worship service, both Morgan and Sam looked around the room noticing how everyone was dressed. Morgan whispered to Sam, "I didn't know there was a dress code." Sam replied, "Me neither. The website's photos didn't look anything like this." Morgan added, "I think those ladies whispering over there are talking about us." Sam replied, "Look at those awful faces! I guess we don't look the way right to go here."

The sermon has to be good at least, right? Well, yeah actually. It was called The God Nod and was about God seeing something amazing in you even when you don't see it yourself. Oh, wait. Nope. no. As Morgan closed her sermon notes app she noticed an entry she had made a week earlier from listening to Steven Furtick's podcast. Yep. The sermon too. Are there any original ideas around here?  Which sermon series starts next week? At The Movies? After the sermon, a lengthy alter call with everyone in the building trying their hardest not to look up at the pastor in fear of being counted as getting "saved" for the second time in as many months started to conclude with a few announcements.

"Now's our chance Morgan!" said Sam, "Let's sneak out the exit!" As the two inched their way down the isle through the large double doors back toward the lobby they ran into Joe the greeter. Joe said, "Hey! Not trying to sneak off are you? Haha! Here's your special gift!" Joe then traded the blue clipboard for a coffee mug inscribed with the text "Epix Church" and said, "Remember, now you're family!"

After finally getting home the couple checked their phones. "Eight new messages? What could be happening?" said Morgan. Both Sam and Morgan's phones both were being hammered with message after message. What's going on?

A Trailer of the Future
Photo by Rahul Chakraborty / Unsplash

Whelp. Turns out it's Epix Church sending a barrage of entirely useless messages with links to everything from sending money to signing up to volunteer. What? Why? Marked as spam.

What went wrong?

Let's analyze.

#1 They Didn't Know About the Church Until Google Searching

Your church can and should be targeting people who move into your area. With digital and traditional media you can make the first contact.

#2 Signage

Sure your church has a sign. It might even have those little letters that you can use to share snarky Bible verses and sayings, but do you have signage pointing visitors towards how to get into the parking lot or where to park once they get there?

#3 Parking

This one gets a part two. Where do you park? Does your team always park in the closest parking spaces or do you park the furthest away? Do you have designated visitor parking? What about handicap accessible parking? Are there parking attendants who help guide people towards spaces?  

#4 Dress Codes

Does your church want to be inviting or repulsive? That's right. How do you want people to view your church? Someone once said that the reason they don't go to my church is that the people there "don't look the same." Wow!! If your church dresses "up" and is worried about how people dress you might have a problem.

#5 Don't Single Out Visitors

The number one way to repel visitors according to this Lifeway Research article is to single out visitors. Don't do that. People don't want to have a spotlight shown on them. Having a mob of people descend upon visitors doesn't show that you care (quite the opposite actually) and doesn't allow the visitor to see what church is really like. Engineering artificial social experiences and fake friendliness only sets up situations of disappointment and loneliness down the road.

If you never talk to the person that worships beside you every week why would you talk to a visitor? Be genuine and consistent.

#6 Be Punctual

Nothing says I don't care about you like being late. It's disrespectful, unprofessional, and makes everyone look bad because of your selfishness. The same God that designed the laws that hold together the fabrics of our universe is the One you're supposed to be worshipping. Start on time.

If you're having trouble getting everyone on board implement a countdown timer. Schedule the timer to automatically end at the start time using your presentation software, then start the service on time even if no one is there.

#7 Don't Be Rude!

Being rude to a brother or sister in Christ is never okay, but especially when they're a visitor! Going out of your way to be unwelcoming is a surefire way to never see a visitor again.

#8 Don't Spam

Sending an automated text message or email is NOT following up with a visitor. It's not real. It doesn't form a connection. It isn't genuine. It's spam. Don't spam people. It's 2021, haven't we moved on from the intrusive in-your-face marketing tactics of the 2000s?

Wrap Up

What are you doing to improve your visitor experiences? Are you being genuine or putting your best foot forward? People crave what's real, they're longing for a true relationship with Jesus. We're surrounded by fake influencers and shady marketing tactics. Is it not the church's responsibility to be a light in the world? Make your church stand out as genuine, loving, kind, joyful, peaceful, patient, honest, loyal, gentle, and self-controlled.

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