Innovative Ministry
Front-Load the Value: Creating a Better Experience for First-Time Church Guests
Is your church service putting your worst foot forward instead of your best? Here's a simple way to reverse that.

What does your church do well? And how long does it take a first-time guest to experience it?

Your response to those questions is a huge factor in how well your church attracts and keeps new people.

According to church leadership experts, most people will subconsciously decide whether to come back to a church within the first 7-10 minutes of driving into the parking lot.

If your church is doing everything great, keep it up. But that’s not the case for most of us. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit we do some things well, but there are other aspects of the Sunday morning service we struggle with. And some parts we’re just awful at.

What’s worse, many churches take the things we don’t do well and put them at the beginning of the service. That means our church guests have made a yes/no decision about being a part of our congregation when all they’ve seen are the things we’re not that good at.

No, a 7-10 minute window isn’t enough time for people to make a fair assessment. But it is reality.

A Mistake We May not Know We’re Making

Despite the fact that most pastors are aware of this 7-10 minute phenomenon, few of us have done much about it. But it’s not because we don’t care.

Here’s an example.

Most small churches have a hard time finding someone to lead in worship. I know because I spent a lot of years – decades, actually – fighting this battle. By the time I got up to preach, I often had to rescue the church from the hole that had been dug during the front half of the service.

I know I’m not alone in that experience. Most small churches don’t have the people or equipment to do worship music well.

Yet, how do most of us start our services? By singing together. Badly.

Yes, I know the scriptures say “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” but that doesn’t mean we should front-load the noise.

What Options Do We Have?

How does a church break away from burying our best ministry 15-20 minutes into the middle of the service?

Change that game. Flip the script.

Front-load the value and give them our best stuff up front.

Front-load the value and give them our best stuff up front.

This is a radical idea for many of us. But I wish I’d thought of it 30 years ago so I could have implemented it when I needed it most.

(If your church is high-liturgy, in which the order of service is prescribed for you, I respect that. This post may not be for you. Maybe my next one will be just what you need.)

Re-Design Your Service Template

Start by writing down every element of your church service in the order you usually conduct them.

For some churches, that might look something like this:

  • Worship through music
  • Prayer
  • Bible reading
  • Communion
  • Special music
  • Offering
  • Preaching
  • Fellowship time

Now comes the hard part. Look at those elements, honestly rate them by how well you’re currently doing them, then re-write the list, from best to worst.

For some churches, your best-to-worst list might look something like this:

  • Fellowship time
  • Bible reading
  • Preaching
  • Communion
  • Prayer
  • Offering
  • Special music
  • Worship through music

Now look at your list and ask yourself this question.

Why aren’t you conducting your church service in the order you just wrote down (more-or-less)?

Before you reject that as a crazy idea, sit with it for a moment.

It’s Not About Theology

Right now your church service may be putting your worst foot forward instead of your best.

Right now your church service may be putting your worst foot forward instead of your best.


You don’t have to do it that way. There’s no theological reason for it. There’s no order of service listed in the Bible. Your service template is not holy writ. At least it shouldn’t be.

For most churches, this template is a holdover from some long-forgotten past. If you asked the people in your church “why do you have the order of service you have?” most would have no clue.

Some leaders might be able to give some makeshift theological justification for it. But the key word in that last sentence isn’t “theological”, it’s “makeshift”. Our order of service isn’t theologically based. It’s just what we do, so we’ve tacked a quasi-theological explanation onto it.

Your Church Can Do This!

Here’s the great thing about this re-boot idea. It’s free, it’s easy, it’s reversible and you don’t have to add or lose anything from what you’re currently doing.

You’re not adopting another church’s ideas and hoping you can pull it off. It’s just a better version of your church.

All that’s changed is that you’re letting people see your best stuff first.

You know you can do this because you’re doing the elements already.

(The one exception you might make is to move one of your better elements to the end of the service, so it starts and ends on high notes.)

What If It Worked?

Changing your service order is not a magic pill. But it might be a great first step.

I know what some of you are thinking. “What if I try this and it doesn’t work?”

That’s easy. If it doesn’t work, try something else until you find one that works. Or go back to doing it the way you’re used to. There’s literally nothing to lose.

But what if it does work?

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.

January 26, 2017 at 5:38 AM

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