Your First Mistake with First Impressions

While visiting churches all over Canada and the US, I’ve noticed a recurring problem with first impressions. The churches that get it right might actually be stumbling across it, but the churches who miss this detail are missing out on creating that VIP first impression. 

Too many churches don’t check where the GPS takes someone when they click your church address on your website. 

After clicking an address on someone’s website, we’ve followed our iPhone map and pulled up to churches’ side doors, back doors, the “emergency exit only” at a high school portable church, and even “arrived” at locations with no parking. 

Most memorably, we parked in a parking lot of a big church where the GPS took us. When it said we had arrived, we were at a driveway with no signage that lead to a set of double gas doors. We walked up to the door, and just walked in. There was no one there inside or outside to welcome us and no signage to tell us where to go or check in out kids. I thought we’d just walked into an empty unlocked church. 

We heard some people talking down the hall, so we started walking that way to find out where to check in our kids. Around the corner from where we were standing was a large open foyer with a logo decal in the window, feather flag banners out front, people in matching t-shirts, a large kids check-in desk and people holding welcome signs outside the foyer doors. 

We found out later that while our GPS took us to this church’s actual street address (the one listed on their website), the building was built on a corner lot facing the other street. We had walked in a side door instead of the “Main Door” where they were all setup to create what would have been a really great first impression. 

There are 2 REALLY simple steps to addressing this issue: 

1. Put your church’s address in your GPS next time you drive into the office and follow the GPS directions as if you’ve never been there before. 

If it tells you to turn onto a side road, turn there. If it tells you that you’ve arrived a block after you’ve passed the church, pull over there. If it says you’ve arrived at a side door or back entrance, or if you’ve arrived at your front door, but the parking is actually on the side or back of your lot, then make a note of that. 

The first step is finding out what a visitor actually is experiencing when trying to find your church. 

2. Create signage to point to your parking or main entrance. 

It’s ok if you’re in a high school or portable building with 5 entrances, or if you have a large church building with multiple entrances but you’d like one of them to be your “Main Entrance.” It’s easier to concentrate your “Welcome Team” or “First Impressions” efforts to a single location than to dilute them across every possible entrance. 

Have signage at you other doors to point people to your main entrance. Unless it’s raining or snowing, most people don’t mind a sign that says “Please use our main entrance” with an arrow pointing toward the main entrance. 

If your GPS takes people to your front door, but your parking is actually to the side or back of your lot, then have a sign that says “Parking around back” or “Drop-off here, then turn right to park. 

If you realize this could be a problem, but don’t have the time or budget to get signs right away, have a volunteer stand at each door and either direct traffic to your main entrance, or open the door for guests while giving them directions to your main entrance area. “Welcome to our church. I see you have kids. Follow the hallway to the left to get them checked in. 

Whether GPS is a problem or not, every possible entrance to your building needs either a team member welcoming and directing or a sign giving directions. Don’t make assumptions that a guest will know where your main entrance is. If you do, you’re missing an opportunity to build a positive first impression.