Seven Checkpoints: The Critical First Eleven Minutes at Your Church

If you ever check out multiple churches in a short period of time, you will likely be surprised by the differences in hospitality expressed to first-time guests. In some churches a guest knows exactly where to park, is graciously welcomed, escorted to the children’s area to drop off kids, and introduced to several helpful people. In other churches, a guest has no idea where to go and is not welcomed by anyone.

While some churches have become so guest-driven that they lose focus on Christ in a hyper-attractional attempt to draw a crowd, others almost ignore guests as a badge of their spirituality or a sign of their apathy. Both miss the mark, as hospitality is deeply biblical. For example, hospitality is included in the necessary qualifications for an elder (1 Timothy 3:2) because hospitality is a direct and tangible link to how Christ has received us. We were all strangers to the family of God and the household of faith. We were enemies, but God in His great mercy welcomed us. He has practiced hospitality toward us and challenges us to accept others as He has accepted us (Romans 15:7).

I am honored to work alongside Auxano in consulting churches on mission, strategy, and values. When we guide a church through a process, we also help them evaluate the hospitality that is expressed to a first-time guest. We know that the first 11 minutes at your church are really important. My friend and colleague Will Mancini believes, based on consultations with hundreds of churches, that a first-time guest will decide if he/she is returning in those first 11 minutes.

To get really practical and helpful, Will encourages church leaders to think about the following “seven checkpoints” in expressing hospitality:

  1. Before Departure: Are directions and service times immediately accessible to guests from your church website?
  2. Travel to Location: Do guests know where to turn into your church location?
  3. Parking Lot: Do guests know where to park?
  4. Building Entrance: Do guests know which door to enter?
  5. Children’s Ministry: Do guests know where to take their kids?
  6. Guest Center (or some other name): Do guests know where to go for more information?
  7. Worship: Do guests know which door to enter?

It is helpful to look at these checkpoints through the eyes of a first-time guest. When a guest pulls into the parking lot, does he/she know where to park? Are there signs that direct where to go next? Clear and visible signs that direct people to the next point are helpful, but it takes people to express hospitality. Signs can direct a guest, but only a person can shepherd a guest.

You may find it helpful to divide the first few minutes of a guest coming to the service into waves or sections and then staff with people appropriately: parking, outside greeters, inside greeters/ushers, etc. Sometimes churches view these roles as “anyone can do them,” and thus, they merely fill slots. For strategic hospitality, the right relationally savvy people with grace-filled hearts must serve in these critical roles. These roles are more important than we often realize.

Be sure you have a plan for expressing hospitality to first-time guests. Having no plan sends the signal that “the message we preach has not impacted how we welcome you.”

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Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger serves as the Vice President of the Church Resource Division at LifeWay Christian Resources. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, playing with his daughters, and shooting basketball.

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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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