Have you ever watched people arrive on Sunday morning at your church and wondered what they’re feeling in that moment. We know that feelings and emotions are incredibly powerful motivators and memory-makers. In fact, studies have shown that we make more decisions based on emotion rather than logic. This is especially true when we think about first-time guests’ reaction to discussions of faith and religion. It’s an emotionally charged topic; similarly, people experience a wide variety of emotions when they visit a church for the first time.
It has often been said that polite conversation excludes both religion and politics, although we seem to live in a day that has discarded the idea of avoiding political conversations. The underlying concept of this “polite conversation” rule deals with the fact that people prefer to avoid emotional conversations, and religion certainly brings emotion to the surface. That being said, part of what we need to do is to understand the emotions people feel when they show up on a Sunday morning and to be able to respond by caring for and meeting people where they’re at in life. Our churches need to be first-time guest obsessed.
Here are five emotions first-time guests likely feel when they’re arriving at your church. I’d love to hear your thoughts, observations and reflections on this topic in the comments below.
For a first-time guest arriving at a new church, there’s often a running internal dialogue that goes something like this: Am I wearing the right clothes? Can these people see right through me? Can the pastor somehow tell what I did last night? Will I be judged? All of these unknowns and questions can cause a tremendous amount of fear, which initiates that fight-or-flight reaction. Guests arrive at our churches wondering if they should have their guard up and be ready for a fight or if they should simply give up, turn around and go home.
Our job is to calm any fears our guests might have by ensuring they know that we expected them. Regardless of where they’ve come from, we are glad that they are with us, and we should feel honored that they’ve decided to come and spend some time with us. Our job is to depressurize the environment and ensure that our guests know that God loves them dearly.
When you visit someplace new, your brain goes into overdrive trying to establish the patterns of that place’s behaviors and processes. When someone checks out a church for the first time, there are so many new things for them to try and to understand—everything is new. Unfamiliar environments often drive us into a state of confusion as we try to figure out how to fit into their patterns.
In fact, people often try to understand what they are currently experiencing through their past experiences. Because so much of what happens in church doesn’t connect with their past and feels a bit foreign, it ends up causing a deep sense of confusion.
Confusion is a disorienting emotion and our job is to ensure that we provide clear and obvious next steps to help lessen that confusion. We need to remove obstacles in order to provide some sense of familiarity.
Now, I understand that church is a transcendent experience, but we need to take people from where they are to where we believe God wants them to go. An early step in this process is to ensure that people understand or are informed about the basics when they come to your church, like where to drop off their kids, where to grab a cup of coffee, and where the bathrooms are located. While those may seem like trivial concerns, they are anchor points for familiarity that help relieve some of the confusion for people when they first arrive.
Discover the other three three emotions on Page Two:
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