A couple of weeks ago I took my kids to our local community centre to take part in a pottery class to create a bird bath. 

It was the first time I've ever been there. We were all really looking forward to it. After parking our car we walked to what I thought was the main entrance. As I approached the door I could see people inside and what I thought was a kids birthday party in full swing.

But there was one small problem. The door was locked.

After waiting for a few minutes I saw a staff member walking past the door. I knocked on the door and after being ignored a few times by the same staff member the door was opened with the greeting "we normally shut this main door on a Saturday, you should of used the side doors." Besides the rather unfriendly welcome we eventually got to our class where we all had a great time. It was great to spend a couple of hours with my kids making a bird bath. The teacher was really good and engaged well with myself and the children. We have a rather abstract looking bird bath but had a great experience.

I wondered to myself what would of happened if I hadn't persisted and pushed back the desire to leave after being ignored at the main doors. We all would of missed out on a great family experience.

In contrast, my wife booked for my 40th birthday a meal at one of Melbourne's finest restaurants at The Press Club. On arrival we were warmly greeted at the door by the concierge who checked our booking and invited us to have a drink in the bar while our table was prepared. Halfway through our drinks we were invited and escorted to our table. As well as the waiter who guided us (The bar and restaurant are in two separate areas of the same building) another waiter took our drinks and placed them on our table after we were seated.

Once seated our waiter returned, my wife who has some dietary limitations mentioned that she had some limitations and before she could finish her sentence the waiter politely interrupted and said that he aware of her dietary limitations and proceeded to list them off. (When my wife made the booking a full four months beforehand she mentioned her diet.) He then proceeded to run through the menu and provide options on what she could eat and what food she could modify.

The flawless service. The superb food. Their attention to detail was magnificent. I've told just about everyone I know what a great night we had. They really hit the ball out of the park.

Well, I can hear you saying, great story but what does have to do with churches? and even if it does have anything to do with churches what does it have to do with communications?

Absolutely. Everything. Why?

1) You only get one chance to make a first impression. Churches aren't immune to this and should pull out all the stops for our guests. How we treat our guests at church is profound unspoken communication that often speaks louder than spoken warm welcome, or a well designed brochure. I'm not an expert on this but Mark Waltz is. He has 47 best practice tips to help you improve your first impressions on his blog.

2) If your brochures say they are friendly, warm, you had better back it up with friendly service and greeters. No matter how well designed your brochure it will mean nothing if it isn't a reality in your community and in your welcome team.

3) If you create wow experiences expect your visitors to rave about how good their experience was. If you don't create wow experiences expect your visitors to rave about how bad their experience was.

4) Your staff and volunteers are strategically central to creating a great or bad experience for your next guest. Are you teaching them best practices in first impressions?

5) Do you know how your guests feel when they come to your church? Do you have a realistic view of yourself?

6) You may have an incredibly warm, friendly, engaging community, but a person has the potential to miss out if you don't get the guest fundamentals right.

Get your guest practices right and you can be sure that your guests will tell others how they enjoyed their experience at your church. Word of mouth marketing is priceless. However, get it wrong… while our God may be a God of second chances. Your guests may not be as generous or patient. You may never have a second chance to make that first impression. 

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