As we discussed earlier this month, Easter is a big attendance day rivaled only by Christmas. And those attendance numbers include an abundance of new or bi-annual guests.
So your Easter service may be your first (or second) impression. It’s an invaluable opportunity to welcome newcomers or returning guests so that you can convert drop-ins into disciples, and help shepherd new visitors or returning guests into a new (or renewed) relationship with God.
But how you convert a passive pew occupant to active disciple depends largely on how you welcome them.
So recently, Sean Buchanan of Aware3 sat down with Amy Anderson, director of consulting at the Unstuck Group, to talk about the importance of first impressions on Easter for first-time guests of their church and how to have the best Easter yet.
Why does excellence in a service make a difference – why does it even matter?
When people come to our church, we have about one hour – maybe even just five minutes – for them to make an opinion on what they think about God and what they think about the church. So I just think excellence matters; we need to do our very best to maximize their experience.
Are there any common mistakes that churches make when planning their Easter service?
First, I think they plan it for ‘insiders.’ Easter actually is a celebration for believers. But there can be a lot missed about the Gospel message if we aren’t thoughtful about the nonbelievers in the room. If we talk about ‘the blood of the lamb’ and the crucifixion – those things are all phrases for those of us who know Jesus and know what they mean but are completely foreign to a new person. So I can tell a church has planned for the insider when they don't think through those things.
The second thing is sometimes I see churches make their Easter service so different than their regular weekend service. And the problem with that is that if the new person loved it, they aren't really going to like next week because it's not going to look anything like that. And worse, if they didn't like it at all, you don’t get to say, ‘Yeah, but it's not usually like this. You'll like it next week instead.’
Make Easter like we do every weekend because every weekend hopefully we have people checking out our church. But just give it a bump. Just give it something extra. Because it is Easter. But just don’t go completely off script. Be authentic.
And the third thing – and this might be too late in the game this year – is where they've got Easter pageants or an Easter play or extra services. What happens is the whole team cashes in all their energy and all their creativity on those other things and they're just tired. So their Easter services just lack that extra something.
When you talk about that ‘extra bump’ or special things that we can do, what should we be doing to make first-time guests feel special that weekend?
First, I'd say they should probably do these things every weekend. But even more so on Easter because Easter is more of a come-and-see environment, and we’ll have more guests than we usually have. As you think through that whole experience, start in the parking lot all the way through the service. Just put yourself in the shoes of a new person. It’s intimidating for people outside the church to come to church.
When you prepare the service or greeting, talk like them. Again, get rid of language that doesn’t connect. Even the word ‘worship’ means different things to different guests.
And the last one is to welcome them – without calling them out. Let them know that you know they’re there. Use phrases like, ‘If you’re new to church this weekend, we invite you to sing along. If you’d rather observe or just take it in, that’s great. We’re just really glad you’re here.’
Phrases like that really put people at ease so they know what to expect. You demystify the things you can demystify.
Is there anything that churches can do regarding Easter to go the extra mile to make sure guests feel extraordinarily welcome?
This is pretty basic – and it’s free – but I’m amazed at how often it’s missed. But make them feel like you've been expecting them. Have amazing greeters in place. Coach your staff and volunteers to avoid the Christian huddles that can happen in the gathering spaces. Nothing is worse than walking through the doors and immediately feeling like you don't belong.
How can churches make sure the facilities and environment are welcoming for their guests?
Have a great signage. Again, people like to feel like they can at least fake it like they've been there and that they belong there. So great signage helps people know where to go for kids, restrooms, and where the auditorium is. Just make it easy for them to come in and find a seat. In fact, have a great ushering team that can quickly and comfortably help them find a seat because that's what they want to do; they just kind of want to disappear at first.
Any final thoughts that we may have missed?
Give them a reason to come back. Create an amazing guest experience for them at Easter; tell them a compelling message about Jesus and how God's word still applies in their life. But literally invite them to come back. Hopefully, you've got a new series coming up that you can promote that'll be applicable to their lives – so tell them about that.
And again, create an experience they want to come back to.