Why “First Impressions” Matter

by | Church Communication, Leadership, Team Development

By Jodi Otto

One of my greatest challenges when I stepped into the role of the First Impressions Pastor at National Community Church was figuring out how to articulate and replicate what I wanted to see on all of our teams across all of our locations. This role is not just about setting up our signage and space or keeping our guests caffeinated; it’s more about ushering our guests into experiences and removing every barrier that might keep them from hearing the ultimate message. 

Foundations of Hospitality

The goal of creating great First Impressions when people enter your church space is to make them feel welcome. Essentially, it’s all about the art of hospitality. There are 3 main foundations of hospitality:

  1. Hospitality is who we are, not what we do. We can’t create great hospitality if we’re not passionate about making people feel welcome.
    • We have to make sure our hearts are in the right place.
    • We need to have authentic love for people before we do anything else. 
  2. It starts with us amongst our own staff and teams. How we express hospitality to one another will ultimately determine how we express hospitality to our guests. 
    • Our leadership drives volunteer engagement. 
    • Our volunteer engagement produces guest satisfaction. 
    • Guest satisfaction encourages repeat visits. 
    • We get results when people come back and we begin to see lives change over time.  
  3. Romans 12 encourages us to practice hospitality. Once we’ve gotten our hearts in the right place and are practicing it with our teams, then we can find ways to make it real to our guests and attendees.
    • “Practice” is the key word. We actually have to show up and try in order to grow in this.  
    • Prayer is important, but that can’t be all we do. I’ve probably prayed more for people while at my kitchen table than anyone could imagine, but some of my community might be surprised by that because so few have people have actually sat around it. If I’m not inviting them in, how will they know I care?

Application Time

Why is it easier to desire hospitality than to actually do it? For me, it’s not because I have not had pictures of what radical hospitality looks like. I don’t always host because hospitality requires vulnerability, authenticity, and courage. It requires margin and sacrifice. The people in my life who are the best at hospitality are the ones who just showed up and consistently created space for others. They’re generous with their time and resources. 

So, with that as our foundation, here are some tools and a framework for how we can become a more hospitable people: 
  1. See the one. 
  2. Behavioral analysts have proven that when someone comes within 10 ft. of you, you have no more than 7 seconds to make a first impression. So, when you see someone, I want an internal timer to go off in your head. In that 7 seconds, I ask our team to: 
    • Make eye contact 
    • Smile 
    • Connect—ask about the weather, comment on their outfit, ask about their week, etc. 
  3. Go the extra mile. 
  4. Be tour guides not travel agents. Tour guides come alongside—they don’t just give information. We want to usher people into experiences. 
  5. Pursue excellence, creativity, and beauty. 
  6. Be intentional with your communication right away. Within 7 minutes of being in a new space, people will decide if they want to come back (hence the phrase “First Impressions”). So often we pour so much of our energy and focus into what happens on the platform, and while I think that’s vitally important, what if we worked like it depended on us to communicate who we are to guests and what we believe before our guests even sit in their seats?
  7. I like to ask myself, “How are the values of our church reflected in our space, our materials, our communication, our volunteers, etc.?” 

In reality, we are all on the First Impressions Team. The experience that our guests have when they walk into our church begins long before they show up on a Sunday morning. It starts here with me. It starts with you. May we be known in our cities and communities as being a radically hospitable people. 

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