The Importance of First Impressions in Your Youth Ministry
First impressions are a big deal.
Whether we want to accept that or not, people make assumptions of us based on the impression we give them. Even for those people who like to say they "don't care what people think," how we present ourselves leads to other's forming opinions of us. I'm always curious about the impression our Student Ministry gives to families that come in contact with us.
While I always try to check these gauges internally, what really struck a chord with me was my recent trip to a local church. I had the opportunity to visit another church as a complete stranger! No one really knew who I was, or that I was coming. It was an eye-opening experience. And while I wish it weren't the case, I learned more from my experience what NOT to do! The impressions we give to families can help us gain trust or lose confidence. Based on my experience last week, here are a few suggestions I am taking to heart in our ministry. Maybe you can adapt some of them, as well.
Go Out Of Your Way To Greet Guests
I walked in to this church, clearly oblivious as to where to go. As I looked around I made eye contact with a woman sitting at a welcome table. Judging by the resources she had with her, she had some sort of responsibility. I had to approach her and ask where I was to go to drop off my daughter. She did offer to take my daughter to the appropriate area, which was very kind, however she never introduced herself, nor asked my name. There was never an actual greeting. Personally greeting a newcomer is absolutely essential.
Make A Concerted Effort To Be Organized
During the drop-off of my daughter, I asked if I needed to fill out a form or show some identification of some sort, you know, as a way of actually associating myself with my daughter. I was told the "information area" was closed and I didn't need to worry about it. This was not exactly comforting to me as a parent. When we invite people to come into our churches, we are in some ways expecting people's trust. By being organized and having good systems in place to welcome guests, we demonstrate that we are worthy of their trust.
Have No Process Regarding The Dismissal of Students
When I picked up my daughter, no one spoke to me. I was greeted by a close friend in my small group who also had their child visiting this program. She brought me my daughter . . . and SHE HAS NO AFFILIATION with this church or particular ministry! As someone who actively lives in the world of church programming and policy, I thought this was unacceptable. If we project that we are incapable to actually look after a child when they are in our care, how are we going to win a parent's trust that we are capable in spiritually leading their children? It is never my intent to bad mouth another church or even appear to sound like a know-it-all. I am well aware that our church is not perfect, and that we can all probably improve our processes and procedures. My intent is to be intentional about the way we handle parents and their most priceless possessions.
So, what are some ways we might examine our "first impressions"? Here's a few thoughts I had. Maybe you have some of your own?
- How is your ministry purposefully seeking out and engaging new families?
- Do your processes and procedures serve you? Can you quickly gather information while kindly welcoming people in and getting them to the right spot?
- Are you intentional about how you dismiss students? Do you have a way to make sure visitors know where to go? For younger students, is there any level of accountability to make sure they get to where they need to be?
First impressions are important. Without a good one, there might not be the chance for a second one . . .