There’s a lot about the gospel message that is not user-friendly.
Take up your cross. Love your enemies. Put God’s will ahead of my own.
But getting to that message shouldn’t be as hard as many churches often make it.
This lesson was reinforced for me recently in, of all places, the packaging for a new Kindle e-reader that I bought for my wife, Shelley.
The box had a label that read “Certified Frustration-Free Packaging”. And it was. Instead of having layers of paper and tape to tear away, or the dreaded clamshell heat-sealed plastic to cut, claw and blast my way through, I was able to slide a fingernail along the very obvious tear-line, then flip the box open and remove the contents.
Truly frustration-free packaging.
Then I wondered, “why would they bother doing this for a product that is ordered online?” After all, by the time I discovered the frustration-free packaging, I had already bought their product.
Because they want people to get to their product as easily as possible. And of course, they want me to buy more from them in the future. So they’re removing any possible obstacle between me and the contents.
One of the goals of a good First Impressions team (actually for everyone in the church) is how to make our churches Certified Frustration-Free for those who are unpacking them for the first time.
From the website, to the parking, to the building, to the signage, greeting and more, everything that surrounds the message is packaging for the message.
Regular church attenders have grown accustomed to the packaging. If we’ve been around the church for a while, we probably participated in designing it – usually inadvertently.
But if our first-time guests have a hard time getting through the packaging, they’re less likely to experience the life-changing message of the gospel.
So, the goal of a great First Impressions strategy isn’t to make the gospel look good or seem easy – it looks good on its own, and it will never be easy – it’s to remove any obstacles between Jesus and the people who need him.
7 Ways To Offer Frustration-Free Packaging
While I didn’t discover the Frustration-Free Packaging on Shelley’s new Kindle until after I ordered it, I started thinking about times that I’ve actually been in a store and have been faced with options. Honestly, there have been a few occasions in which, all other things being equal, I have picked the product that looked easier to open.
It’s the same with our churches. Our unchurched neighbors aren’t short of options. There are plenty of other ways they can be spending their time.
So how can we help make the packaging for the message as frustration-free as possible? Here are 7 starter ideas:
1. Don’t just invite them, bring them
“Would you like to come to my church?” is not as good as “would you like to go to my church with me? I can pick you up at 10:30 or meet you there at 11, then we can have lunch – my treat.”
2. See everything through new eyes
Imagine checking out your church website, driving up on a Sunday morning, or walking through the front doors for the first time.
If any of it doesn’t yell “that was easy!” make it easier.
3. Think and act relationally, not programmatically
A friendly face is better than a well-made sign.
An offer to walk the family back to the kids’ area is better than an arrow pointing the way.
And “let me buy you a coffee” is better than “there’s the coffee bar.”
4. Tell them why you do what you do
Different churches have different ways of worshiping. If your church worships in a way that might be unusual for a first-timer (sitting and standing a lot, communion, raising hands, lighting candles, and so on) keep doing it. Just explain it.
People aren’t expecting you to change the way you worship to accommodate them, but they deserve to have it explained for them.
5. Give them multiple ways to respond
At the end of the service, what do you want people to do. Let them know.
If you give them a chance to move toward a relationship with Jesus, give them more than one way to do it. In some churches, it’s “come to the altar” (or “raise your hand”, or “fill out a card”) and that’s it.
But different people are comfortable with different ways of responding. If someone isn’t ready to make a full commitment right here and now, give them an option for asking questions (like a connections booth, an online option, and so on.)
6. Thank them for coming
Many churches offer a gift bag for first-time guests. But that’s not necessary, especially if your church has limited resources.
Sometimes, it can be as simple as having greeters at the door and in the parking lot thanking people for coming, just like they were there to greet people when they showed up.
7. Give them an incentive to come back
One easy way to do this is with signs, announcements and bulletins letting them know what exciting events are happening in the next few weeks.
But, again, this is better done relationally than programmatically.
People are more likely to come back to a church when they’ve made a personal connection with someone at the church. And if that person invites the guest to go to the next special event with them, they’re far more likely to come back.
Ultimately, we want people to connect with Jesus. Anything that shortens the distance between them and him is what a welcoming church is all about.
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