Guest Services Visiting Churches

The Key Element For Your Church Guests: Communicate the Obvious

There is a baseline that we all feel we don’t need to communicate: The obvious. The perception is that we need to communicate just what isn’t in the ‘obvious box’, because the rest is, well, obvious.

I was at a friend’s house once where they were pouring drinks for dinner. I was offered the milk and poured my drink first; A full glass. My friends’ brother looked at me like something was REALLY wrong. In their house, they only ever poured half a glass of milk, that way, if they spilled, they only lost half of a glass. To them, this was obvious (and it’s pretty decent logic) but for me, not obvious.

The challenge comes when we convince ourselves about what is within the obvious box, and the danger with the ‘obvious box’ is that over time, it keeps growing. As we get used to the systems and processes at our church, they become more ‘obvious’ to us, but that doesn’t make them more obvious to our guests.

Consider these ideas about church. As someone who grew up in church, they seem obvious to me, but take a moment and view them from the eyes of someone who has never been to church in their life, and walks through your front doors this weekend.

  • We offer childcare during service.
  • Children have a check-in process.
  • We stand up when the music starts playing.
  • We sing out loud as a group in public.
  • We talk (or shout) back when a presentation is being made.
  • There is a time during the week that our teenagers get together.
  • We do this every Sunday, with the intention that everyone returns every Sunday.
  • I need to fill out a ‘connect card’, and stop by a booth to pick up a gift
  • I didn’t realize that I needed to fill out a card when it was my first time last week. Now it’s my second time, so I missed my chance to get that gift?
  • When they’re talking about money and passing around a bucket.
  • Is that coffee free?
  • Which way do I go when I walk in?
  • I want to learn more about Jesus, so I have to go buy a bible?


Recently, we visited Bay Area Community Church in Annapolis, and they gave us a magnet to take home after we checked our kids in (5 x 7 in size). Here’s a picture of the magnet:


This magnet gives us a clear understanding of our family’s faith journey could look like from now until the time our kids graduate college – It may seem obvious that at a certain age, we have a “Parent Dedication” or “Baby Dedication”, or that our kids will participate in a 4th and 5th grade retreat at that age, but this ‘map’ makes it that obvious that there is a clear plan and path for my kids to move from their current stages with intentional transitions to the next stages.

A few things I love about this idea that drives home Bay Area’s commitment to help my family’s faith journey:

  • There are clear stages that both parents and kids can understand and follow along with
  • There are resources provided along the way for parents to learn and grow
  • There are tokens that the kids can have a hands-on experience as part of their journey
  • There is a high frequency of “next steps”, not large gaps where families could fall through the cracks
  • It’s clear when the transition happens from “kids” to “youth” (that arrow that says BASM – Bay Area Student Ministries)


What may seem obvious to you, is an important starting point for communicating to your first-time guests. Don’t take anything for granted or make any assumptions about what they know and how they’re expected to respond.

Guest Services Marketing

How design affects your church’s first impression

I like browsing the grocery store to try things I’ve never tried before. I found this fruit called a kiwi berry. It tastes like a kiwi and has the inside texture of a kiwi, but is the size of a grape with slightly tougher skin, but soft enough you can bite though – not as tough as a banana skin.

I’ve described to you a brand new experience that I had – eating a kiwi berry – but described it in the context of patterns I recognize; the taste of a kiwi, the size of a grape, the skin was softer than a banana.

As designers and project managers, we are not just creating designs but creating an experience. With that in mind, remember that our human psychology is built to recognize patterns and make correlations.  By the time you reach your adult life, almost everything you experience is filtered through a previous experience.


What does this mean in a design context:

If someone sends you a text message in all caps, it’s a safe assumption that they’re trying to communicate that they’re yelling. (there are exceptions when you mother-in-law has turned on caps and can’t get them the off again – hypothetically speaking…)  Bonus points for extra volume if you tag on an exclamation mark also.

I took a picture of a sign that greeted me when I walked in to visit a church. There’s no value to naming the church, but an opportunity for all of us to learn. (for the record, I asked their permission to post this picture)

For context, there is no other signage in the building. This is the only sign I see when walking in, and there are 4 of these lined up between the entrance to the building and the sanctuary.

They are in a metal frame, 3 feet tall x 2 feet wide.


What could this sign choice communicate?

  1. Our priority is avoiding coffee stains on our seats. Kids check-in, guest services, and restroom locations didn’t make the cut when we decided what to communicate with signs, but not spilling coffee did.
  2. WE’RE YELLING: Not only is it important, it also needs to be emphasized. It’s all capitals and ends with an exclamation mark. In most contexts, this is yelling. But Adam, it’s a design style… I get it. Leave out the exclamation mark then and use a softer font than a serif.
  3. We have this rule. For someone who is apprehensive about coming to church because ‘it’s all rules about what you can’t do,’  you’ve started their experience by reinforcing their apprehension – Not “welcome home” or “we’re glad you’re here” or “here’s what we’re about” but just yelling and emphasizing our rule.

As an alternative to this sign, my recommendation to this church is to have a sign in the cafe area that says “Please finish your beverage before going into the sanctuary.” and have an usher or greeter at the door who can ask anyone walking in with food or beverage to finish it before going into service.

This church is also going to replace these signs with wayfinding signage, pointing guests to restrooms, kids check-in, guest services, and their coffee shop.


Seriously, Adam?

Ok, I can hear you from the other side of my keyboard. Adam, you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.

Remember: You only have one opportunity to make a first impression, and if anything that I’ve said resonates true with a visitor, it’s worth considering.


I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment so we can all learn together:




One of the biggest gaps between your church and your community: Music

I don’t hesitate to write this post, but I have reconsidered a few times about publishing it. The message is important, and I hope the delivery conveys my heart for how each church is unique. If you start reading, please read to the end to hear what I’m saying. If you can’t do that, just pick another option from the top menu, and let’s still be friends.


I’ve had the privilege of visiting many different churches. It’s a privilege because I’ve gotten to see the amazing variety of how churches reach their community and point people to Jesus.

It’s truly incredible to see different styles of churches reaching different people.

Specifically for churches whose priority is an environment for unchurched people

In churches that specifically focuses on creating an environment for unchurched people, we can go casually dressed and enjoy modern technology like lights and multi-media integrated into worship, there is one element that is often a distinct differentiation from our culture: Music.

Let me be clear that I’m not talking about the lyrics or the content of the music (I think this is an important distinction that needs to take place – we are talking about singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs) but I am talking about the style (or as us musicians would say, the arrangement) of our music.

How much of the worship music we play on a Sunday morning sounds like what our guests heard on the radio on Saturday? Which of your songs sounds like the newest Taylor Swift single? In the last 5 years, how many songs have you introduced to your church in the same style as “Uptown Funk” or “Happy” or “Shake it off”? These have been some of the most well-recognized songs in our culture in the past 5 years. How many songs do you hear on the radio that are driven by a drum beat that is tom-fills as the main rhythm like many current worship albums?

It’s almost saying to our guests “You can wear your skinny jeans, just like our worship team does and you can download our app on the coolest new phone you’ve got. We’re intentionally using words to help you avoid “Christianese” confusion and when we use a Biblical word that’s not part of our typical vernacular, we’ll explain what it means when we use it. We dress the same style, we use the same language, but as far as music, we’re not anything like you.”


Please hear me clearly. What I’m not suggesting:

  • I’m not suggesting you play the songs you hear on the radio and change the words for church.
  • I’m not suggesting that all churches have to sing songs that sound like top 40 charts.
  • I’m not suggesting you try and ‘become’ a style of music that doesn’t suit you.
  • I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t do the latest song from your favorite worship band because it doesn’t sound like a top 40 song.
  • I’m not suggesting you throw out your music library and start over, or never play a song you’ve heard on a worship album that’s unique to what we hear on the radio.


What I am suggesting:

If your church values a style of music that is different than what’s on the radio, then own that – whether that’s hymns, southern gospel or something else. We love you. We need you. You are connecting with people that others aren’t.

If you are a church whose heartbeat is to make your experience feel ‘familiar’ to the unchurched person, then listen to the types of music that your community listens to – maybe that’s country, or hip-hop or top 40 pop. After that, listen to a recording of the songs your church played on Sunday. Are they anything alike? Can a first-time guest relate to the style of music they hear in the first song?


A Classic Example: Motown

In the 60s, Motown wanted to break the cultural barrier between segregated radio stations. They wanted to reach a wider audience, which in turn would allow them to sell more albums and concert tickets. Each week, they recorded a new single. Motown put out A LOT of music in the early days. On Monday, they sat down and listened to the top song on the radio from the previous week from the popular stations to analyze it.

This could be as simple as “In the chorus, there’s a tambourine on every beat” or “After the verse, they used this kind of chord for 4 beats before going into the chorus” or “after that first chorus, there’s a saxophone solo.” They would pick one or two elements from the past week’s top songs and incorporate them into their own single for the following week.

They were working to incorporate familiar elements into their new music to make listeners comfortable with the similarities. Using these techniques, the DJs on the other stations started to play more and more Motown music as the elements started to cross over.

Motown didn’t compromise the soul in their music, they didn’t change the theme of their lyrics or change how they dressed, but they did work hard to find common ground.


A Modern Example: Glee

The TV show Glee did something similar by taking Journey classics from the 80s, redoing them with modern effects, rhythms, and styles, and revitalizing Journey’s touring career! Without compromising the lyrics or message of the song, they presented them in a way that was relevant to their audience.


How could this work in our worship?

Listen to the most popular radio station in your community.

  • What kinds of instruments do you hear?
  • What kind of drum beat?
  • What effects are being used on the keyboard or guitar?
  • Which vocal effects are being used?
  • What is the tempo of most songs that people seem to request or blast out their car windows?
  • What do the intros of the most popular songs sound like?


Pick one of these elements and this week integrate that element into your first song this Sunday. Then, play your other songs as you would have. This will build a framework of familiarity for your guests as they recognize common musical elements to what they hear during the week. Do the same thing next week.


I would love to hear your thoughts. What isn’t clear to you, or what do you think you could work on this week to enhance your guest’s experience of your music?





To Announce or Not To Announce… that is the question.

In conversations I’ve had with other communication teams, this really breaks down into 2 questions:

  1. What do you decide what to announce from the stage during service?
  2. How do you tell someone that you’re not going to announce their event?

I’ll answer each one individually as far as the filters that we use at Life Church.

What do you announce from the stage?

We filter our announcements based on 3 criteria:

  1. Does it apply to 75% of people or more? (this could be service schedule change, guest speaker, holiday hours at the office, upcoming church-wide event, etc.)
  2. Is it something new or outside of the usual schedule? (a ladies conference, a new small group, VBS, a change in online giving, etc.)
  3. Do we have less than 5 things to announce this service? (We have a saying: “If everything is important, then nothing is important.”  If you announce 8 or 10 things, it’s very likely the people who need to hear important information are tuning you out because it’s mixed in with information they don’t need to hear.  Recently I visited a friend’s church. The person doing announcements read everything in the bulletin for the week and month as their announcement time.  I don’t remember any of it, except he started with a joke.

We usually do 3 announcements during the “Mid-Service” announcements (sometimes live and sometimes video) and then 2 at the end.  The 2 at the end are usually the “immediate response” information – ie. register in the foyer on your way out, see you for a special service this Wednesday, etc.

If we have less than 5 things that meet criteria 1 or 2, then often we’ll fill those slots with things that are important to our core values, but don’t meet 1 & 2.

If we have more than 5 things that meet criteria 1 & 2, then we cut down to 5… this leads perfectly into question 2:


How do you tell someone you’re not going to announce their event?

The easiest way to tell someone that their event won’t be in the announcements is to let them know ahead of time what your criteria is (so they can figure out for themselves if it’s worth asking) and then paint a picture for them of all of the different ways they can still spread the message about their event without it being in the announcements.

Paint the picture that their event is important and we don’t want it to get lost in the shuffle… I use the example that if I go to the grocery store and my wife asks me to pick up more than 3 things, I need a list.  That 4th thing may be really important, but I’ve probably forgotten. That’s why we stick with 3 announcements in the middle of service.

love is in the airSo, the married couples over 70 sky diving weekend may be a really important event to someone.  It may be the way that a couple connects with someone who leads them to salvation.

I’m not down-playing the importance of the opportunity by not announcing it from stage, but I’m saying there are better ways to connect directly with the people who may be interested.

(…and by the way, if we only have 4 things to announce next weekend, I would be happy to make this the 5th announcement.)

In the mean time, here are some other promotion options that you can choose when you submit an event request form:


  • Image on the 20 minute countdown clock pre-service in the Foyer, Worship Center & Duplicated on the digital signage rotating for 30 minutes after service
  • Facebook / Twitter / Instagram Scheduled Posts
  • Information printed in the Church Bulletin
  • Website Calendar
  • Add it to “Upcoming Events” TV above the Information Kiosk
  • Weekly email newsletter to all members


Opportunities you can utilize directly to connect with your group:

  • Provide handouts to your current group members and those you meet in church that may enjoy your event
  • Use your personal email address to send out an image and event information to people who may be interested in your contacts (include people who may not attend our church who may be interested).
  • Post information on your personal social media channels
  • At this event, hand out information for your next event

What is your experience with announcements and alternatives? Let us know in the comments below!