Making Your First Impression a Lasting Impression

A common picture at many churches this weekend would look something like this: a couple of people – maybe even a literal couple – stand outside the church’s main entrance. Depending on the weather, they may actually be inside the doors. As people approach the door, they open it and give a brief “hello” or “good morning” or some other similar platitude. Across the lobby, at the doors to the sanctuary or auditorium or large gathering room used for worship, the scene is repeated. Only, this time, the doors are usually propped open and an usher is standing there with a stack of bulletins, giving them out as people enter.

After all, isn’t that the purpose of greeters and ushers? Don’t they have a job description that outlines what they do each weekend?

Danny Franks, Connections Pastor at Summit RDU, gives a brief and compelling argument that hospitality teams serve more than just a utilitarian purpose. While acknowledging the importance of system and process, he challenges us to look at the beauty of hospitality:

The beauty of guest services is that it serves as a signpost to the gospel. Our planning and strategizing and vision casting and volunteer recruiting may indeed reduce combustion points and increase efficiency, but that shouldn’t be the reason we do it. Guest services should ultimately point to the kindness of Jesus. Our hospitality should be a catalyst.

What about your church? Your hospitality teams, in whatever form and name you give them, are literally the first face of your church as guests engage your campus and worship environments. What kind of gospel-impression are they making?


THE QUICK SUMMARY – Be Your Customer’s Hero by Adam Toporek

On the front lines of customer service, every day presents new and unexpected challenges—and even the most dedicated employees can be caught unprepared. They need confidence. They need training. They need help.

Be Your Customer’s Hero answers the call. The book provides customer-facing professionals with short, simple, actionable advice designed to transform them into heroes in the eyes of the customers they serve. Quick chapters show readers how to:

  • Achieve the mindset required for Hero-Class service™
  • Understand the customer’s expectations—and exceed them
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You see that guest pulling into your parking lot? What are his or her expectations? Who set them? How will you know if you met them, let alone exceeded them?

The first interaction or comment your guest encounters initiates two very valuable aspects of the rest of your guest’s experience:

  1. It creates a first impression
  2. It sets the expectation for what the guest is about to encounter.

Creating a First Impression

As a starting point, here are some points to a positive first impression:

  1. Everything matters – the more important the impression is, the greater your focus should be on everything
  2. Focus on the other – as in the other person’s needs, wants, and concerns
  3. Be your best self – making the effort and discipline to present the best of who you are to the guest in front of you

Setting the Level of Expectation

You should examine carefully and think thoroughly about the initial impression and expectation-setting ritual you follow when a guest first approaches you. Think about it: when you go in a store or a restaurant, and if you are greeted at all, does it sound genuine and sincere – or just a bored, memorized greeting with no emotion behind it?

The initial, front-line team in your Guest Experience ministry is crucial to establishing a high expectation, and then exceeding it.

When a customer walks into your world for the first time, seize the opportunity to start the relationship off well by making sure you create a great first impression. You only get one shot at it, and the payoff is well worth the effort.

What I love about first impressions is that they are an opportunity to set the tone for the rest of the experience. When a customer comes to your location for the first time or interacts with you for the first time, you have an opportunity.

On the front lines, understanding the importance of first impressions is essential to knowing how to start off customer interactions on the right foot. Customers are making up their minds about you and your organization in the briefest of moments, and these early impressions have a direct impact on their subsequent expectations.

The characteristics of first impressions can be broken down into two basic categories: environmental and interactional. Environmental characteristics are the things the customer observes as she walks through the door. When a customer enters your door, she is analyzing everything – even when she doesn’t know she’s doing it.

Interactional characteristics are the details of your first exchanges with the customer. Did you seem genuinely helpful or like someone who was just going though the motion because it was your job? Everything about you – your posture, your tone of voice, and your actions – is being evaluated by the customer in those first moments.

Adam Toporek, Be Your Customer’s Hero


The expectations that you set for guests are obviously very powerful – as are the expectations they have of your ability to fulfill their needs and desires.

Read through the following questions and take time to answer them for yourself:

  • How do you currently understand the expectations that guests have of you? How could you do a better job of discovering what they really want?
  • Take a look at one specific interaction that you have with a guest. Develop two ideas of additional steps you could take that would enhance the connection you have with the guest in that situation.
  • Describe in as much detail as possible the first impression that you are delivering as a guest pulls into your parking lot. How could you enhance it to create an even more powerful impact upon the guest’s expectations?

Next, in a team meeting with the leaders of your hospitality teams, write the questions above on three separate pages of a chart tablet and display them. Go through each question with the leaders, noting their answers.

After you have completed all three, compare and discuss your individual answers with those of the team. Reconcile any differences, and outline the steps needed to make sure your first impression is consistent across all your hospitality teams – both in practice each weekend and in training new team members as they come on board.

Taken from SUMS Remix 42-2, published August 2016


This is part of a weekly series posting content from one of the most innovative content sources in the church world: SUMS Remix Book Summaries for church leaders. SUMS Remix takes a practical problem in the church and looks at it with three solutions; and each solution is taken from a different book. As a church leader you get to scan relevant books based on practical tools and solutions to real ministry problems, not just by the cover of the book. Each post will have the edition number which shows the year and what number it is in the overall sequence. (SUMS provides 26 issues per year, delivered every other week to your inbox). 

Subscribe to SUMS Remix <<

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Bob Adams is Auxano's Vision Room Curator. His background includes over 23 years as an associate/executive pastor as well as 8 years as the Lead Consultant for a church design build company.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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