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10 Ways to Make a Great First Impression With Guests

Do you want families to return to your church? There are specific, proven ways you can make a great first impression on guests so they’ll want to come back.

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.

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 that’ll help you reset the atmosphere.

10 Ways to Make a Great First Impression With Guests

1. Directional Signs

Studies have shown that we get 30 seconds to make either a good or bad first impression. For most retail stores, customers first see the signs on the outside of the store. Inside the building, signs are clearly marked to show customers where they currently are and where they may want to go. Department signs identify each area. Many stores also display 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?

Post directional signs on the outside of your church to clearly label your children’s ministry area. Display easy-to-read location signs at each of your entrances and key traffic locations. Provide first-time visitors with 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 signs and product 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 sales staff.

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

Your staff and volunteers should have clearly identified nametags. 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 booth where visitors can get information. Position individual greeters outside each classroom door so they are clearly visible and easy to find.

Hold an annual or biannual workshop geared toward assisting and greeting the first-time visitor. Conduct regular meetings with your greeters. Consistently communicate 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. These provide valuable information, such as the product content and care instructions. Retailers also carefully display products to be eye-appealing and to help customers easily find 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 general information about your ministry. Provide newsletters to give current information about ministry programs. Use a wall, tabletop, or full-unit racks to display printed information. Keep racks fully stocked with current brochures that are clearly marked. Label information according to ministry category. Keep all information pertaining to each age group 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. They are able to assist customers with all of their shopping needs and aren’t limited to just one area. These personal shoppers are highly trained and have a great overall knowledge of the store. 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. Have one volunteer assist visitors to their classrooms while 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 assist visitors with their needs.

5. Check-Out Line

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

Recruit people who’ll answer questions about your church as people wait in line. While they wait, give visitors a clipboard and pen 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, and have quick activities for children to do while their parents wait in line. Ensure that you have plenty of supplies, such as registration forms, pens or pencils, temporary nametags, and information brochures, available so no one has to wait for you to find 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 to present well-maintained areas in your 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 being stored in classrooms, hallways, or entryways. Verify that rooms are thoroughly cleaned and setup has been done properly. Check your climate control so 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 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 after purchases. Personal phone calls are also a great way of following up with customers. This shows the customer that the retailer appreciates their business. It shows that they are still thinking of the customer, even after completing the sale. This can also be 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. Understanding what the competitor offers can help determine new product mixes. Retailers can also discover new ideas for product displays. Although you’re not in competition with other churches, you can still 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 another supplier to discover what churches in other areas are doing.

10. Product Evaluation

Retailers spend time evaluating the sales of products before determining new product mixes. They gain information by checking sales reports, talking with sales staff, and interviewing customers. Product with good sales is restocked. Slow-selling product may be relocated or displayed differently in the department. Product with no or low sales is usually removed or replaced with a new item.

Take a look at your ministry. What should you continue to offer? What do you need to give more visibility to? Is there something you can eliminate completely? What should you replace? 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 are necessary for a retailer to establish committed customers. The next time you’re shopping, look at your surroundings in a new and exciting way. Discover what you can learn from the retailing industry as you seek to serve the families in your ministry.

Debi Nixon is a director of children’s ministries in Leawood, Kansas.

Want more articles for children’s ministry leaders? Check these out. And for even more ideas and daily posts of inspiration, follow us on Facebook!

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