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The Easiest Solution to Reduce First-Time Visitor Confusion
March 8, 2022

Walking into a church as a guest on a Sunday morning can be an intimidating experience. Read ahead to find practical ways to avoid visitor confusion.

As you navigate your parking lot, lobby, and hallways, imagine how it would feel if you were unfamiliar with the space – or church in general! Or, what if you were holding the hand of your nervous and intimidated 4-year-old? Church can seem scary!

For a newcomer, even the tiniest thing can quell their momentum. On top of that, did you know that people choose whether they will return to a church within the first ten minutes of their church experience? 

Clearly, the first impression is important. That’s why it is critical for your leadership, and a few outside of that team, to walk through a Sunday experience with a visitor’s perspective in mind. 

Visitor Concerns

Some visitors will come armed with a checklist like the helpful one found on Church Finder. In the article, the first question a newcomer is encouraged to ask is: 

How was I welcomed?

As you know, the welcoming begins long before they pull in the parking lot. Consider:

  • Social media
  • Website
  • Exterior signage
  • Interactions with members of the church

These areas are actually where most people gain their first impression of your church. And yet, there’s nothing like the first in-person interaction to give a first-time attendee a snapshot of your faith community.

What first impression experience do you create?

Timing check: How To Know If You’re On Track For Your Church Plant Launch

Churches Have Elevated Their Overall Experience

These days, with aromatic coffee bars and friendly faces greeting everyone at the door, the entrance experience is easy to nail. This is a nod to the past couple decades, when churches elevated the overall experience and landed in the 21st century.

In fact, those efforts have achieved their goal! Barna reports that a very small percentage of people – Millennials specifically – reported they’re deterred from attending church because it’s “out of date.” That’s not the issue at all. 

Rather, there are many layers to explaining why people do and don’t attend church, but one thing is for sure – visitor confusion should never be on the list. It’s easy to avoid, especially when focusing on the right components. 

Here’s the question church plants and multisite churches should be asking to avoid visitor confusion: 

How conveniently and confidently can a guest navigate the space?

Let’s explore the components of navigation and why it’s important for visitors and newcomers. When launching a church plant, consider the elements of space and flow to avoid first-time visitor confusion.

2 Components That Can Reduce Visitor Confusion

In our years working with churches, we’ve identified often-overlooked components that, when done well, will translate into hospitality and a warm welcome. On the other hand, when done poorly, can send a message of unprofessionalism and exclusiveness. 

Those components are space and flow.

Space and flow encompass the unseen elements that become part of the church experience. It can impact the vibe and efficiency of the space, and of course sets a tone for people who are in the space for the first time. Let’s dig deeper to understand these elements. 

1. Understanding Space

Space pertains to the physical environment, but also the distance from one space to another. Some parents may have anxiety about leaving their children in a “strange” space (like a church). Knowing their children are close makes a first-time church separation easier.

When space isn’t organized intuitively, there is a message of inexperience and unprofessionalism implied. We can’t say it enough – as you plan your space, take into account the experience of your main demographic. Is your bathroom inconveniently far from the worship center, making older attendees uncomfortable? Is your youth room situated too close to the adult classrooms, creating a volume battle?

Lay out your space – as far as it depends on you – in a way that doesn’t cause alarm and immediate disinterest. 

When launching a church plant, consider the elements of space and flow to avoid first-time visitor confusion.

2. Awareness of Flow

Flow references the ease of movement and common sense tests. For example, is the nursery in a different corner of the building from the kidsmin area? 

Think through the steps a newcomer will take when entering the building for the first time:

  • Parking lot
  • Front door
  • Coffee bar
  • Welcome center
  • Kidsmin registration
  • Worship center

…and don’t forget the likely bathroom stop at any point along the way! Ideally, those steps flow intuitively, but there’s a tangible resource that will help keep the flow: signage. 

Signage and Wayfinding

Signage is also a substantial part of this category of space and flow. Sometimes, first-timers do not want to talk to people in order to find their way around a facility. In this case, their self-sufficiency is an important part of their first experience and clear signage is the key. 

Imagine the importance of signage for Pastor Steve Christiansen’s church in Des Moines, IA: 

“We go month to month on a contract and at any moment’s notice we have to be out and ready to go somewhere else. If we need to set up at a park that week, we’ll be able to do that.”

For LifeChange Church’s need for flexibility, portable signage has been key. Not only do they need easily moveable signage to help people find their way around the church, but they need signage to announce their presence in a particular area! Thankfully, those assets are easy to customize and create for each church’s needs.

Must-Know Tips About Signage: Church Launch Must-Haves | Clear Signage

When launching a church plant, consider the elements of space and flow to avoid first-time visitor confusion.

9 Questions to Ask to Help Reduce First-Time Visitor Confusion

As you design your space and flow, keep these questions in mind. 

  1. Will visitors be able to navigate the building easily using signs?
  2. Can visitors get their kids to registration?
  3. Can visitors find their way to the restroom? 
  4. Can visitors figure out what they’re supposed to do?
  5. Do visitors know where to get a cup of coffee? 
  6. How far is the walk from entrance to drop off children?
  7. How far is the walk from the children’s drop-off to the worship area?
  8. Do/can the children’s areas reflect cleanliness?
  9. Do visitors feel like your children’s area is secure? 

It’s questions like these that help you, as a team, determine the building’s viability as it pertains to your overall vision. During a consultation with Portable Church, we go over all of these specifically with your church and location!

When a visitor has confidence in their ability to navigate your space and feel comfortable getting from one location to another, there’s a good chance they’ll let their guard down and be more open to hearing the life-giving, Kingdom-building message being shared that day. 

Get signage tips and best practices in this 5-minute vlog by Portable Church Industries staff:

Check out our signage gallery. What’s your favorite?