As church members and staff, it can be helpful to have a “second pair of eyes” experience your congregation, worship services, and processes—especially someone who has never visited or come in contact with your church before.
Having an unbiased person(s) experience your property, signage, feeling hospitality, and experiencing the worship flow, usually brings to light a few areas of improvement to better serve those who may be new to your church or new to church in general.
Over the last two months, the Evoke team completed a few “secret visitor assessments” for churches on the East Coast and in the Midwest.
During our last few assessments, we found four common recommendations that churches should consider to become a more hospitable congregation:
#1: Hospitality Begins Before Arrival
Before a visitor even steps foot on your property, you can assume they will visit your website and online worship services if you live stream. Having an easy-to-navigate website that showcases your visual identity/personality is helpful in inspiring visitors to take action and engage with your congregation.
#2: INTENTIonal Inclusion of people with disabilities
As we explore our biblical call to welcome all of God’s beloved people, you must consider how you welcome people with disabilities. The ELCA has some great resources from their Disability Ministry as a place to begin your exploration of what true inclusion looks like.
We commonly found a lack of visible signage for accessible entrances on the outside of buildings, aisles that were not wide enough for wheelchairs or walkers, very few or no chairs with arms for those needing extra support while standing/sitting, and a lack of communication about where to find large print bulletins or hearing devices.
#3: The Right Signage in the Right Places
You may not want to crowd up your walls outside and inside a church building with too much signage, but our team has yet to experience what too much signage could look like at a church—not enough or not in a helpful place is the most common issue.
Right type: What we mean by “right type” is the method by which the signage is displayed or hung.
If you have long hallways, consider installing wall-mounted signs that stick out above the door of highly trafficked rooms (fellowship hall, nursery, restrooms, etc.). A sign displayed on the wall next to a door is completely unhelpful when a visitor is looking down a corridor.
Reduce the volume of signs needed by using directional signage for multiple areas. Directional signage in common areas can be helpful in pointing visitors in a general direction of where they wish to go.
Make sure these signs are SIMPLE—architectural sketches of the building and all of the emergency exits are usually more confusing than helpful. Directional signage is also incredibly helpful in parking lots and around the church property.
Right Place: As members or staff of a church, you get so used to navigating the church building that it becomes second nature. It is not second nature to your visitors. The location of signage matters to visitors so that they never feel lost along the way.
#4: It's Not Enough to simply say hello
During one of our assessments, our secret visitor was on a church property for four hours attending two services and a fellowship hour.
Want to take a guess how many people out of approximately the 200 in attendance introduced themselves to this 30-something person?
One person took the time to introduce themselves to the visitor—that’s only .5% of the worshipers who took a moment to welcome an unfamiliar face. At that rate, it is no wonder churches are struggling to “fill the pews” or “grow membership”.
Plenty of folks said “hello” throughout the morning. But a quick hello is not enough. People want to be seen, heard, and in a community with people that care about them. Without genuine connections, visitors won’t feel like they were welcomed into your community of Christ and will most likely not return.
It is easy to say hello as we pass by, but it takes courage and dedication to welcoming all people into the church community to say “Hi, my name is Jan! I don’t think we have met before.”
Evoke’s secret visitor assessments consist of: