We are in the last week of a series of blog posts all about our values as a staff. This week, hospitality.
We define hospitality as “wow-ing” people with extraordinary service. We want each guest who steps onto our campus to feel like every aspect of the experience was designed with them in mind. Here are a few ways we try to make that happen:
Focus on the First Impression
Most parish hospitality strategies start when Mass begins. At this point, a volunteer (probably the cantor) might offer a greeting from the altar before prompting the congregation to introduce themselves to those around them. This approach may or may not be a good one (in some churches, it becomes awkward). However, first impressions are created long before a first-time guest ever gets to their seat.
Increasingly, first impressions are no longer physical but virtual. Nearly all potential visitors to your church have visited your website long before they step on your campus. Your website is essential because it can answer some questions every potential visitor has: “Are there people like me there?” or “Will this experience be relevant to my life?”
Additionally, your website can address more logistical subjects, such as:
- What happens in a typical service?
- What do I wear?
- Is there anything for my kids?
- How do I get to your church?
But perhaps the most critical question that your website can answer is: “Will I be welcome?”
If your site can successfully engage potential visitors by answering their initial questions, a first-time guest will be far more likely to consider visiting your campus.
Most likely, this visit will occur on the weekend. And that’s why, at Nativity, our primary focus is creating an attractive, even irresistible environment during our “weekend experience” (which is how we refer to everything we do on the weekend).
The first impression begins in the parking lot where our Parking Ministers welcome each and every car onto our campus. Visitors, if they so choose, can put on their flashers and park in reserved spaces in the front row. When they arrive at the front doors, they are welcomed into the entrance concourse by staff and ministry leaders, and, once inside the sanctuary, by our Host ministers. By the time an unchurched person gets to their seat, they have had four or five positive, welcoming experiences, and they’re probably smiling.
Know The Welcoming Paradox
When making our first impression, we are mindful of how first-time guests want to be welcomed. The manner of the welcome can convey just as much, if not more, than the reality of the welcome.
Contrary to popular practice, we have found that most guests do not want to be singled out at any point during their visit. Rather, they want to blend in and get comfortable. At Saddleback Church, everyone is greeted with “Welcome back!” For returning members, they feel right at home. For first-time guests, they feel relieved that they look like they belong.
At Nativity, this process extends to the sanctuary. First-time guests worry that they will stand out because they don’t know what to say or do. Because we now have the technology, during Mass, we project song lyrics, prayers, and responses onto large screens, so the unchurched don’t feel excluded. We even broadcast the Liturgy of the Word into our Café, for those who are not yet comfortable crossing the threshold of the sanctuary. The experience is not intended as a substitute for Mass attendance but an invitation back to it.
Define a Path
Finally, give your guests a clear path to follow up on their experience. We don’t ask visitors to raise their hands or stand up to be recognized because the last thing a nervous, unchurched visitor wants is to have unwelcome attention drawn to them. Instead, we invite them to visit our Welcome Center after Mass, where they receive a free gift package and more information about Nativity. Not everyone chooses to follow up, but we have given them an opportunity.