5 New Realities of First Impressions

There have been a lot of reinvented wheels in 2020. From working at home to masking up to providing a virtual option for nearly everything, we’ve all had to rethink those things that come naturally to us.

As churches begin to regather in person, our guest services and hospitality teams will have to undergo some of the most radical reinventions. Handshakes, hugs, and high fives are gone for a while. Up-close-and-personal conversations are frowned upon. And that time set aside to turn and greet your neighbor during the service? Yeah, roughly half of your people hated that well before COVID. Maybe it’s time to just let that one go.

So how do we welcome guests in the age of social distancing? I think there are at least five things to think about:

  1. Know the plan and follow the plan.

If your church has a COVID response plan or reopening protocols, you and your team should know and follow those. It will be frustrating to your guests if they read one thing on the website, but see something else enforced. Make sure that you are aligned on talking points, rules, and what to do in the case of a tough conversation.

  1. Be hospitable to every guest (and their accompanying perspective).

Some first-time guests are hungry to be around people. Their desire for relationships may override their fear of the pandemic. Other guests are going to be fearful of gathering with a large crowd – if they show up at all.

As hospitality directors, we have to be aware of all sides and respond accordingly. We shouldn’t shame people for being fearful or give them the side eye for being overly confident. They’re our honored guests, and we should treat them as such.

  1. Re-train and de-train your volunteers. 

I have a lady on our team who is a championship hugger. If hugging were an Olympic sport, she’d be Michael Phelps. She – and others like her – are going to be among those who will have difficulty returning to their normal volunteer role. Taking away her hugs will be like clipping a bird’s wings.

You have huggers and hand-shakers too, but it’s important that they know the big win and follow the larger plan. Help them to be aware of varying fears and perspectives. Encourage them to scale back on physical touch for a while. And coach them on how to lead by example in following the rules of reopening.

  1. Go as touch-free as possible.

Think through every moment of your guest’s experience from the time they pull up in the parking lot to the time they leave. What are the tactile interactions they’d normally have, and how should you rethink those? Some examples:

  • Your first-time guest tent. If you hand out a gift or ask for information, how can you move all of that to a digital format? Most church databases offer embedded forms that can be accessed from your guest’s smartphone. You can also display a QR code that would point them to a simple Google or Wufoo form. Instead of an informational brochure, point them to the website or a simple pdf. Instead of a coffee mug, send them a link to a $5 gift card to a local coffee shop.
  • Door handles. In normal times, we’d open the door for guests as an act of love. Now, we do it as an act of safety. Post volunteers at all doors (or prop them open if the weather is nice). In restrooms with inward-opening doors, consider installing a “foot pull” to keep hands germ-free.
  • Bulletins. Forego these super-spreaders for the time being, opting for a digital access version or simple prompts from the stage or screen. 
  • Offering plates. Think about the number of hands those plates pass through on a given weekend. Now is a great time to encourage online giving, or to post a few volunteers with buckets at the doors upon exit.
  • Communion. Rather than the typical cup-and-wafer in a common dish, consider switching to the pre-packaged options for the next several months. (The great news is, they have a shelf life of a century or two, so they won’t go to waste.)
  • Handshakes and hugs. We’ve addressed this a couple of times so far, but signage and stage announcements can go a long way to set a standard expectation. We have signs when you enter our facilities that say “Air high fives encouraged!” It’s a fun way to remind people that physical contact should be avoided for now. 
  1. Let them know what’s not normal.

Very few of our guests will be showing up to the church that we know and love. Don’t hesitate to let them know about ministries you’d offer during normal times (coffee bar, kids’ environments, etc.), but also don’t dwell on the negative. It’s okay to point to a brighter future, but don’t make them regret showing up in the present. 

Those of us in the guest services world have challenging days ahead. But while our what may have changed, our why remains constant. Let’s show our guests the love of Christ and the life-changing power of the gospel!

Posted on October 22, 2020

Danny Franks is the Pastor of Guest Services at The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, and the author of People Are the Mission: How Churches Can Welcome Guests Without Compromising the Gospel. Read more from Danny at www.dfranks.com
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  • One comment on the “foot” pulls. I have a brother who works in the door hardware business and these typically are not ADA-compliant as they can create a tripping/fall hazard. Arm pulls are available where you place your arm inside a hook to pull the door open–if people will use them with their arms and not as another option for their hand!

    • Scott, that’s a good observation. Another easy / free solution is to simply have a trash can next to the door. After a thorough hand washing, the paper towel can also be used to open the door. For germaphobes like me, that’s been our go-to for years. 🙂

  • Robin G Jordan says on

    If your church requires attendees to wear face masks, provide would-be guests with a clear explanation why ahead of time–we wear them to protect others in case COVID-19 has, unknow to us, chosen to walk in with us, and provide them with a face mask if they don’t have one. The church that I have been attending gives away free face masks to members of the community as well as regular attendees and guests. It is its way of showing its love for others.