This week we are talking about simple ways to make your church stickier. The idea for this series came from attending nine different churches recently and running into the same challenges (except at your church). Yesterday we covered one of the biggies which is helping your people be friendly and hospitable to new attenders. Today we’ll look at an area that is so obvious that many churches overlook it.
Make your church easier to navigate
One way to solve the personal debt crisis in America is to make stores as difficult to navigate as many churches. Just figuring how to park is often an irritating early morning brainteaser. At a church we recently attended the main entrance to the parking lot was blocked by orange cones. There was no sign, no parking attendant, just orange cones screaming, “No room in the inn”. Because we were determined to attend we found a secondary entrance and parked in the lot with the blocked entrance. We often see signs at large churches that say “Lot full” with no indication of where we might be allowed to park. At one church we kept following signs and lot full signs until we were eventually dumped back out on the main street. Again, we eventually found ample parking on site, but we had to be determined. I have seen Do Not Enter signs on auditorium doors with no explanation or alternative. Can you imagine a sign on the entrance to Target "Store full, do not enter"?
Once we park it is often difficult to figure out where we should go. Which building is the auditorium? Where are the children’s rooms? Should I bring a pee cup, or does this church have onsite restrooms? These are the questions that many churches do not provide obvious answers to. On more than one occasion I have stood in the lobby and waited to see where the majority of the people seemed to moving toward to find the auditorium. Imagine standing with the fam at the front gate of Disney World with no indication how to enter the Magic Kingdom. That’s how new attenders feel when they arrive at your church.
Once inside church the challenges continue. Can I bring my soda (or coffee if you are one of THOSE people) into the auditorium? Do I find my own seat (like a movie) or will someone find a seat for me (like a play)? When do I stand, sit, hand over my wallet? Will I be forced to sing a solo? Approximately how long will this service last? Am I supposed to wash down the stale bread with a big swig from the cup of wine? These are the kinds of questions that normally I have to figure out on my own. Printed program guides are helpful, but I'm not sure if I should really sit and read while everyone else is standing and singing.
The challenge is what the Heath brothers in Made to Stick call The Curse of Knowledge. All of the regular attenders know how to navigate the church experience and they’ve forgotten what its like not to know. So how do you make your church easier to navigate? Here are a couple of ideas:
Get fresh eyes
As often as possible ask new attenders what obstacles they faced when they first attended. Get someone who doesn’t attend to try to navigate a weekend and give you feedback. Hire one of those “Secret shopper” services and see what they say. You can’t know what its like because you have the curse of knowledge, you need an outside opinion.
Retrain your host team
Make sure your host team is thinking constantly about the new attender. What message does this sign send? If we have to close an entrance how can we best explain the alternatives? Are we always scanning for that bewildered look and are we proactive about helping? What can we do each weekend to make the experience for the first time attender easire to navigate?
A very simple but powerful idea of I’ve seen is a Start Here sign for new attenders. Most churches have welcome centers, connect tables, get acquainted tables, but a very prominent place that clearly instructs new attenders to Start Here would be awesome. (Even awesomer would be a cookie crumb trail from the parking lot to the Start Here center) The center needs to always be manned with friendly volunteers who can help navigate the experience. A simple one-page guide would be great. Not every small group and upcoming event, but a Disney type map and explanation of everything you need to know to expertly navigate the weekend experience. And a clearly defined Next Step. But we’ll get more into that tomorrow.
The bottom line is we should do everything we can to make our church at least as easy to navigate as the local Target. How has your church tackled this challenge?