First Impressions

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Retailers understand the old adage “you never get a second
chance to make a first impression.” So the finest retailers do
whatever it takes for them to make a favorable first impression the
minute you enter their store. If you’re not wowed immediately,
they’ve failed.

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How about your children’s ministry? Would first-time visitors
say that you wowed them from the beginning? If not, you may need to
learn 10 retail principles from the best retailers that’ll help as
you seek to retell the greatest story every told.

1. Directional Signs

Studies have shown that we get 30 seconds to make either a
favorable or unfavorable first impression. For most retail stores,
customers first see the signs on the outside of the store. Inside
the building, signs are visibly located to give customers
directions to where they currently are and to other areas they may
want to go. Department signs clearly mark each area. Many stores
also display pictures or the names of their management team so
customers know who to go to with questions or concerns.

Directional signs are also very important in helping your
first-time families feel at ease in your children’s ministry area.
What is it that your visitors see first?

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  • Post directional signs on the outside of your church to clearly
    label your children’s ministry area.
  • Post easy-to-read location signs at each of your entrances and
    key traffic locations.
  • Provide first-time visitors maps to your classrooms.
  • Clearly identify each room with an easy-to-read sign.
  • Post pictures of children’s ministry staff and lead volunteers
    in a central area, perhaps near your information booth.

2. Helpful Staff

Retailers spend money to get you into their stores, but they
know that all the money they spend on great merchandise, great
advertisements, and great signs will be a waste if you have a bad
experience with a sales associate. The best retailers also spend a
considerable amount of time and money on training, mentoring, and
encouraging sales or customer service staff.

Just as a store’s selling staff represents the store and their
product, your ministry needs a great staff representing it. So who
greets your first-time visitors? How well do these people represent
your ministry?

  • Your ministry team-staff and volunteers-should have clearly
    identified name tags. Consider having your greeters wear brightly
    colored buttons with the words “Ask Me About Children’s Ministry.”
    This automatically helps visitors know where to go for help.
  • Station greeters at each church entrance to assist visitors as
    they enter.
  • Create an information or visitor check-in booth where visitors
    can get information and answers to their questions. Position
    individual greeters outside each classroom door to ensure that
    these greeters are clearly visible and easy to find.
  • Hold an annual or biannual workshop geared only toward how to
    assist and greet the first-time visitor.
  • Just as retailers hold weekly associate meetings to update
    staff on new procedures or product training, communicate regularly
    with your greeters about ministry changes, new information, or
    churchwide news. The more informed your greeters are, the better
    they can answer questions.

3. Product Information And Packaging

Retailers help their customers with product tags that give
customers valuable information such as the product content and care
instructions. Retailers also carefully display and package products
to not only be eye appealing, but to also aid customers in easily
finding what they’re looking for. You can help first-time visitors
by giving them “product information” about your ministry.

  • Use attractive, concise brochures to give overview information
    about your ministry.
  • Provide newsletters to give current information about ministry
    programs.
  • Use wall, tabletop, or full-unit racks to display your printed
    information. Keep racks fully stocked with current brochures that
    are clearly marked and easily identifiable. Display and label
    information according to ministry category. Keep all information
    pertaining to the nursery, preschool, or elementary ages together.
    Keep camp or alternative-program information together. You may also
    want to keep a supply of brochures on adult and youth ministry
    information at your visitor booth.

4. Personal Shoppers

The finest retailers have personal shoppers who give special
customers one-on-one attention. These customer- service specialists
are able to assist customers with all of their shopping needs and
aren’t limited to one particular area. These personal shoppers are
highly trained and have a great overall knowledge of the store’s
entire products. You can capture this concept and create a
“personal shopper” type of ministry at your church.

  • Identify volunteers who’ll greet first-time families at your
    information booth, assist them with check in, and take each family
    member to the appropriate class location.
  • Recruit several volunteers for this one-on-one ministry so that
    as one volunteer is assisting visitors to their classrooms, others
    are available to help at your information booth. These volunteers
    will constantly rotate from information booth to classrooms and
    back to the information booth.
  • Inform these volunteers of all the church ministries so they
    can answer and assist visitors with their questions and needs.

5. Check-out Line

Remember the last time you were in a store and had to wait and
wait to be checked out? Remember the frustration? To ensure an
efficient check out, retailers make sure they have adequate staff
and supplies. They may also treat waiting customers to an awesome
food product sample or ask them to fill out an information or
survey card while they wait.

  • Recruit people who’ll answer questions and provide information
    about your church and ministry as people wait in line.
  • While they wait, give visitors a clipboard and pen for them to
    use as they fill out a family information card.
  • Place your ministry information in a visible spot so visitors
    can read it while they wait.
  • Play background music.
  • Place your information booth near an activity area for
    children, or have quick activities for children to do while their
    parents wait in line.
  • Ensure that you have ample supplies such as registration forms,
    pens or pencils, temporary name tags, and information brochures
    available so no one has to wait as you hunt for these items.

6. Maintained Areas

Retail store managers know the importance of presenting a
well-maintained area to their customers. Weekly they look for areas
that need to be cleaned, repaired, or updated. It’s also important
that well-maintained areas are presented to our church family in
children’s ministry.

  • Do a weekly walk-through of your ministry area. List all areas
    that need to be repaired or updated.
  • Look for safety hazards, broken equipment, burned-out lights,
    or damaged walls and ceiling tiles. Remove any unsafe supplies or
    equipment being stored in classrooms, hallways, or entryways.
    Verify that rooms are thoroughly cleaned, trash removed, and setup
    has been done properly.
  • Check your climate control to ensure that the temperature is
    comfortable in all rooms.

7. Attractive Displays

Displays entice customers to want to buy. Displays also give a
visual reference about what the product actually looks like and
what it does. What do your displays say about your ministry with
children?

  • Create interest in your area with wall murals and exciting
    child friendly entries and hallways.
  • Hang bulletin boards or display boards in highly visible areas
    to highlight your ministry and specific programs.
  • Keep your displays current and seasonally appropriate. Change
    them frequently.

8. Follow Up

Retailers know the importance of sending customers thank you
notes or follow-up letters after large purchases. Personal phone
calls are also a great way of following up with customers to let
them know that their patronage is appreciated and they’re being
thought of even after the sale is completed. This is also a great
tool for you to receive feedback.

  • Send welcome letters or personally call all first-time visitors
    during the week following their visit.
  • Ask visitors to come back to your information booth on their
    second visit. This gives you a great opportunity to follow up on
    their first visit and to answer any questions they may have.

9. Scouting

Retailers know they can get some of their best information by
checking to see what the competition is doing. Evaluating the
product-offering of a competitor can help determine new product
mixes, and retailers can also discover new ideas for merchandise
displays. Although you’re not in competition with other churches,
you can get new ideas from them.

  • Visit other churches. Get on their ministry newsletter mailing
    lists.
  • Join a ministry networking group in your community. If you
    don’t have one, consider starting one.
  • Read the events calendar in the religion section of your local
    newspaper.
  • Call your curriculum salesperson or other supplier to discover
    what churches in other areas are doing.
  • Stay current by subscribing to great ministry magazines such as
    this one.

10. Product Evaluation

Retailers spend time evaluating the sales of products before
determining new product mixes or reordering existing merchandise.
They get evaluation information by checking sales reports, talking
with sales staff, and interviewing customers. Merchandise with good
sales will be reordered and restocked. Merchandise with slow sales
may be relocated or displayed differently in the department to give
it better exposure. Merchandise with no or low sales is usually
eliminated from the merchandise assortment or replaced with a new
product.

Take a look at your ministry. What ministry offerings need to be
continued? What needs to be given more visibility? What needs to be
eliminated completely? What needs to be replaced? How do you get
information to evaluate your ministry?

  • Brainstorm with team leaders.
  • Check past history. Did children enroll in a program?
  • Follow up with first-time visitors for initial reactions.
  • Create a feedback group with children or parents.

Excellent customer service and product assortment is critical to
any retailer to establish repeat, committed customers. The next
time you’re shopping, look at your surroundings in a new and
exciting way. Look at what you can learn from the retailing
industry as you seek to serve God by retelling the good news!


Debi Nixon is the director of children’s ministries at The
United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.
Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are
subject to change.

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