Pastors Knute Larson, Jeff Bogue, and Jim Brown talk about how a church can create an atmosphere that encourages guests to return.
“First Impressions” at the Church
Think how you decide if you will go back to a nearby restaurant or not! Were you received well? Were the people obviously glad you were there? Were the restrooms clean? And how was the food?
Or a store for clothing or groceries.
Perhaps even a neighbor’s house.
Alas, sometimes church people figure guests will like everything because it is home for them, the regulars. These regulars know how to get around, and they get to see good friends—so all is well, at least in their minds.
Leaders must be sure that at the church building the people love and facilities care are what they should be, and then they serve good “food” with the worship and the sermon, both with guests in mind.
Crucial issues!
And if this is your first time reading Pastorpedia, we welcome you! Great to have you! We are fellow strugglers trying to do a better job in the church of our wonderful Lord!
Knute, with Jeff and Jim

How do “First Impressions” fit with the mission of the church?
Jeff Bogue

  • I believe first impressions are a huge priority and are reflective of the love and mission of the church.
  • Central weekend services are your most public gathering and the one to which we are theoretically inviting the lost. Our first impression with people at that gathering fits directly with wanting to reach people for Christ.
  • The first impressions ministry needs to be seen in that light and given value and weight because of it.

Jim Brown

  • The very people you are trying to reach often make a decision whether to tune in or tune out to the message with that first visit.
  • Since the mission is to seek and save lost people, then the way they are treated directly shows them how much they are valued.
  • If we do not connect it to mission than we are just designing our Sunday/Wednesday experiences to be just about us.
  • Your budget must reflect your mission when it comes to first impressions.
  • You must think like an outsider so that you can reach them.

Knute Larson

  • There are two wings for an airplane, and also for the local church: “go and tell,” and “come and see.” There are still people who realize they are missing a big part of life without church, and who try a visit. And then decide whether or not they are going to go back! So they come to see and hear!
  • This is right in the center of our mission to build disciples which starts with reaching new unchurched people with the good news of our Savior. When a church loses its heart for the people who do not have faith in our Lord or get into church, that group has begun the process of slow suicide.
  • People often decide whether they like a church in the first minutes of being there—thus this is crucial. Someone on staff and a few caring volunteer managers must be committed to the excellence of this area.
  • A big part of our mission is to equip people to share their love and faith, of course. And related to that is to invite people to their church! Challenging, that over 80% of people who visit a new church come because they are invited by a friend. So part of our mission is to help them do that and be sure their friends have a good experience.

What are the basics we must have?
Jeff Bogue

  • A clean and organized building.
    -Especially restrooms and nurseries.
    -Takes almost no money, yet is a huge indicator of the value we put on guests.
  • Clean and organized external property.
    -Grass that is mowed, flowerbeds that are weeded, bushes that are trimmed, and maintenance that is done. -A relatively inexpensive effort and can all be done with volunteer help.
    -Run down and poorly maintained buildings are “creepy,” and no one wants to go to them.
  • Signage
    -Signs help people self-navigate. Keep in mind especially the signs to restrooms, nurseries, and classrooms.
    -Make sure your guest information desk is easily seen.
    -Takes almost no money, yet is a huge indicator of the value we put on guests.
  • Have a tangible gift for guests.
    -Give them something useful (i.e., a small book or a gift card).
    -The gift should say something like: Thank you for being here. You were expected, you are welcome, and we are grateful that you came.


  • We must have church people who are warm and engaging.
    -This is very different than the person who is passing out programs or bulletins at the door.
    -These are people who may or may not be clearly identified, who are on the lookout for guests to engage them, help them navigate the building and get their kids settled in.
    -There will never be a stronger first impression than when we help guests to feel welcomed by loving and guiding them during their time with us.
  • The church needs to have a mindset of hospitality.
    -This is why you would have coffee or cookies and not charge for them. Just like someone coming into your home, you are welcoming them in and serving them.
    -Help your people overcome the “this is my seat” or “this is my parking spot” mindsets.
    -These are very big issues when it comes to people feeling welcomed and expected.
  • A passion for the lost.
    We have a desire to reach people, and we pray for them to come. So, when they overcome all the emotional barriers that it takes to walk into a church for the first time, we need to be excited and grateful that we get to be a part of connecting them to Christ!

Jim Brown

  • “Yes-people” with “yes-faces” that know how to make a good first impression.
  • The impression begins in the parking lot with proper signage and friendly parking attendants.
  • Great signage that allows a guest to find bathrooms, children’s ministries, worship auditorium, and information.
  • Clean rooms and an attention to décor that is put in place to reach the target audience.
  • Simply ask yourself what are the things that keep you coming back to the places you visit or places you shop.
  • Make it a point to see them, touch them appropriately and show that they are valuable.

Knute Larson

  • A clean and inviting building and grounds with good signage and warmth.
  • A “ministry manager” (by definition a volunteer) to manage the details of the four or five areas that are part of the assimilation or first-impressions ministry. (And we also have a paper on assimilation that lists and defines those five areas.)
  • A pastor who is aware of how this works and cares.
  • The pastor or someone on staff who is the “point person” for the areas of assimilation, including the first welcome. (And we can send you the list of the 30 ministries where churches need someone on staff to give vision and encouragement.)
  • An educated group in the church—at least all the leaders and teachers and appointed or elected servants—who know all are responsible to care about new people, including inviting them.
  • Greeters and ushers who are trained and do not just talk to each other! 🙂

What is your role as a pastor?
Jeff Bogue

  • Lead the way.
    • Pastors should:
      • Park in the very back of the parking lot.
      • Be in the lobby warmly greeting people.
      • Be the example of guest sensitivity.
    • Have “an outsider mindset.”
      -The apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14, that when an outsider shows up in our services, he should be able to figure out what’s going on.
    • The language the pastor uses
      -The consistent orientation the pastor gives weekly
      -The conversations should be with a mindset that there are guests in the room, so no insider information or jokes.
      -The pastor sets the tone and example, giving the weight and value to “first impressions” that it deserves.

Jim Brown

  • Champion this cause as much as any cause.
  • Be friendly and smile more from the stage.
  • Make sure the right people lead this ministry—“gatherers” and people that others are attracted to already.
  • When casting vision make sure this ministry connects to the mission of reaching the lost.
  • Encourage the volunteers in this ministry regularly.
  • Walk through your building daily to make sure it is clean, and strive for excellence in this area.

Knute Larson

  • Care and pray and recruit the right people who have the “magical” touch for this role. Believe what is crucial for a church in this area.
  • Be warm and hospitable in the halls before and after services, and in the pulpit as you welcome and then as you preach. Some speakers appear mad or at least so intent they forget they are talking to people who may not understand or agree yet!
  • Help all staff and key volunteers care about all this, and greet and spread love and joy!
  • Build this kind of caring about guests into all discipleship groups led by yourself and other staff.
  • Smile! Listen! Connect!

Vol. 3, Issue 4

July/August Issue

Produced by CE National

Pastorpedia is produced monthly by three experienced pastors: Jeff Bogue, of Grace Church, in several locations in the Bath-Norton-Medina areas of Ohio; Jim Brown, of Grace Community Church in Goshen, Indiana, a church known for its strong growth, family and men’s ministries, and community response teams; and Knute Larson, a coach of pastors, who previously led The Chapel in Akron for 26 years. Pastorpedia is brought to you by CE National. Visit for more issues and to read the bios of our contributors.