Last fall, I found myself at the end of a busy day in an unfamiliar part of town. My smart phone was a little shaky on directions since my signal wasn't great, but as I followed the road, a big sign appeared to let me know that I was in the right place and cued me to follow the driveway. Parking was easy to navigate and there were lighted paths from the lot to the entry. When I stepped inside, a smiling face told me where my group was meeting. I passed a room with lockers which I later found out was a volunteer station. (As a woman who has hidden her purse under every possible bench, pew, table and cabinet while volunteering at churches this seemed very thoughtful.) Each person on the church's team seemed genuinely interested in those of us who came to visit. Not only that, but I was given a new worship CD and treated to a latte.
It was one of the most holistically welcoming environments I've ever encountered. Not just at a church, but anywhere.
This was at Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas.That evening, it was as if Gateway lived its mission to be "all about people," just for me. It is easy to get excited about a church like that.
MAKING GUESTS FEEL WELCOME
Churches can learn a thing or two from Disney, Apple and other companies that excel at guest services, church guest services experts report. What is familiar and comfortable to one churchgoer may be confusing and uncomfortable to another guest attending a facility. Signage and smiling faces can help people navigate with confidence.
Few of us see our world the same way a guest does. What is comfortable and familiar to us can be intimidating or difficult to navigate by someone new. Terminology, space layout, procedures and technology can create unintentional roadblocks that make people feel like they don't belong. While the corporate world is in awe of brands such as Starbucks, Apple and Disney who have built empires on caring about the experience they provide to customers, for the church, creating a welcoming environment is even more significant.
"Each person brings a week's worth of worries and concerns in with them on a Sunday morning. Guest Services removes the obstacles so that people can get where they need to be in worship. Not just to a physical location, but to get there mentally, spiritually and emotionally," explains John Bell, Associate Pastor at Redemption Church in Gilbert, Ariz. "If you have kids, you are going to be late. If you are new, you won't know where to go. If you are unsure exactly what is happening on a particular Sunday, you need information. Volunteers are trained to identify what people need and then help love them. Each one of us has been on the other sidewhere we were rejected or removed ourselves. As God loves us, we love otherseven in a brief moment."
Bob Adams, the lead church development consultant of JH Batten in Charlotte, N.C., has a personal passion for helping churches create environments that engage. "My No. 1 piece of advice to churches who want to become more welcoming is to eliminate the word visitor' from their vocabulary. A visitor is like the salesman that came to my door todaya distraction. Guests' are people you expect. If there are guests coming to your home, you will do all you can to get ready for them."
Adams continues, "In many circles, the whole idea of guest services' gets pushbackas if choosing to focus on the attractional is in conflict With the missional. But when you are talking about your church home you have to address how new people encounter your space. In fact, Guest Services itself can be missional. In my home church, Elevation, homeless people serve on the parking crew. It is both/and."
Guest services defined
Guest Services is a large umbrella that encompasses any ministry, design, technology or procedure that helps people on your campus be more welcome, comfortable or connected. It encompasses traffic/parking, hospitality, greeters, ushers, security and the people who staff the information desk.
Sean Buchanan who is responsible for key account relationships at Church Community Builder in Colorado Springs, Colo., explains: "Guest Services is the hub of any churchthey know how to connect you. The better ones create alignment online, in person, or on the phone. The best connect you to the church's core purpose."
Buchanan leverages his firm's enterprise-level web-based solutions to make sure that people don't fall through the gaps. To empower churches to follow up with the people they've worked so hard to engage.
"If you move my heart, you've captured my attention," says Buchanan. "But what do I do once you've stirred me? Often the gaping hole in Guest Services is getting people connected once you've engaged them. It is important to have something intentional for those who become inspired. To take them through steps where they can identify their spiritual gifts and find what they care about. To find their fit and sense of belonging."
Buchanan continues, observing, "My family has different, and sometimes, competing needs. How do churches make it easy for the guest instead of saying: For your kids call this number, email here for men's groups and somewhere different still for your wife'?" And he adds, "Churches often communicate through their preferences rather than their guest preferences, when we could begin to think about connecting people based on their preferences rather than our own convenience."
Bell shares some of the communication strategies of Redemption Church. "We're currently implementing TheCitywhich is designed to allow communication within different sets of Groups. Each week we put out a summary post that details everything that is happening. Then on the day of the service, ushers and greeters arrive about 45 minutes early to get a run-down of the day, where we pray over the events and for each other. Communication is a combination of written materials, computer terminals, email and TheCity."
"If we are talking about designing and constructing a facility space we want a very inviting from door", Adams closes. "That starts before the parking lot digitally. We have to just at the physical spaces, but stuff behind it. Process, place and people. Then continually refine those to meet the needs of those who hanen’t joined us yet".
ASSISTIVE LISTENING SYSTEMS (ALS)SAY WHAT
While many churches offer assistive listening devices for compliance, there can be an art involved in actually getting them into the hands of the people who need them.
"My father wears a hearing aid," explains Cory Schaeffer, co-founder and vice president of sales worldwide for Listen Technologies Corp. based in Bluffdale, Utah. "I learned when I attended a service with him that while he wasn't intimidated to use ALS, he was intimidated to ask."
ALSs are personal devices designed to improve intelligibility for the hearing impaired. For those with hearing aids, there is a personal loop with a t-coil that creates an induction loopwhatever would come through the sound system comes through the ear. For those without hearing aids, there is an infrared receiver, or RF, with an external earphone. In both cases, the user retains volume control.
Schaeffer reports that churches can help get ALSs into the hands of guests who need them by training greeters to recognize people who might need the technology. Other strategies include showing slides, indicating availability, during announcementsor simply having the devices accessible on entry.