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First Impressions Matter

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As we think more about the first time experience visitors have to theCross, I was inspired by what Elevation church does for their first-time visitors.  Check out the link here to see the original story or just read below.  This is written by Tim Schraeder and he recounts his experience going into Elevation church in North Carolina.  Here are his words:

First impressions matter. Oftentimes in the programming and planning of church services we can quickly neglect an important aspect of our worship gatherings: how we welcome first-time visitors.

As I travel around and visit churches, one thing I love to do is play the part of a ‘secret shopper’ and experience how a first-time guest is welcomed at a church. I thought I had seen and heard all of the tricks and styles of welcoming visitors to churches, but my recent visit to Elevation Church in Charlotte changed my perception. They literally treat their first-time visitors like VIPs.

Here’s how it went down:

  • Rockstar Parking. When we pulled up to the campus there was a sign for first-time visitors to turn on their hazard lights to let the parking lot volunteers direct you to the VIP Parking reserved for guests. We did and were given a parking spot literally steps from the front door of the church.
  • A VIP Welcome. As we were parking, a volunteer came to our car and welcomed us. She was incredibly friendly and genuinely acted excited that we were there. She explained to us that at Elevation Church every guest is treated like a VIP. She then handed us a VIP brochure that included a short note from Pastor Steven Furtick, notes for where to go for your first-time visit, info for families with children, and ways to connect at the church. There was also an audio CD attached to the brochure that had a few songs written by the Elevation worship team and a message from Pastor Steven. All this in the first :45 of being on their property.
  • An Incentive to Get Your Info. We were also handed information cards and a pen and told that if we would fill those out and return them to a designated spot after the service, they would donate $1 to a local charity as thanks for sharing our information with them. That was pretty cool. Even though I was an out-of-towner, I loved the idea that I could chip in and help a local charity.
  • Warm Greetings All Around. As we walked in, the VIP brochure I was holding was a dead giveaway to the volunteers and each one of them greeted us enthusiastically. But, I will add, it wasn’t too much and didn’t seem pushy. (I would note we were in the South; people are just friendlier there.) The volunteer that met us at our car literally walked with us into the auditorium and led us to an usher who directed us to our seat. Unreal.
  • Great Welcome From the Front. We all know how awkward those ‘if anyone is new here, please raise your hand’ moments can be in church. At Elevation, they didn’t put any pressure on you to acknowledge your newness, but rather warmly welcomed all of the VIPs of the day and reiterated how we could get connected and where to go after the service to get more information.
  • I Got a Free T-shirt. So after the service was over (which it was great) I went to the table we were directed to go to with our info cards. Some of the volunteers recognized me and asked what I thought of the service and wanted to know about my experience. I turned in my visitor card and then they asked me if I wanted a t-shirt. Yes, an Elevation Church t-shirt. That may have been a little over-the-top for me, but it was still cool that for every first-time guest they’d invest as much as they did. Now I can literally say I went there and got a t-shirt.

As I was driving away I was blown away by the experience. The service was great and the message was challenging, but it was the welcome I received that really made the entire experience. If I would have been new to Charlotte and looking for a church home, there’s no doubt that my reception and welcome at Elevation would have kept me coming back.

BUT WAIT… THERE’S MORE…

  • A Real-Life Telephone Call. On Monday night I was back home in Chicago and got a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize. By default, I don’t answer calls from numbers I don’t know. About a minute later I got a voicemail notification. I listened and it was a real-life person calling me from Elevation Church to thank me for being there the night before. He noticed I was visiting from out of town and wanted to let me know if I was just visiting that he hoped I had a great time and if I was relocating or coming back to Charlotte that he hoped I’d come back and visit again. He also offered that if I needed anything or needed prayer that I could call the church. WOW! In our automated age, the simple act of a personalized phone call is HUGE. I visited a church a while ago that routinely calls me every Thursday night with a pre-recorded message from the pastor letting me know what’s going on at the church that weekend. I don’t know how to unsubscribe from that. But this personalized call was unreal. Long gone are the days of the pastor or elders going to visit first-time guests at their homes, but this is definitely a 21st century spin on that.
  • A Helpful Email. Then, the following morning I got an email with the subject line, “Thank for joining us! But wait, there’s more!” The email was beautifully designed and included a video message from the campus pastor of the campus we visited and included links for information about their small groups and children’s ministry. There were also links to take a survey to get feedback from your experience and a link to spread the word and invite your friends.
  • A Handwritten Postcard. The day after that, no joke, I got a handwritten postcard in the mail, again, thanking me for visiting, inviting me back to visit and letting me know that they were praying for me. More bonus points for the personalization. That’s huge.
  • A Letter From the Pastor. Then, seriously not joking, the day after that I got an official welcome letter from Pastor Steven in the mail. It was more like a form letter, but after the mix of personalized touch points, it was totally fine that he didn’t personally sit down and write me a letter. He’s kind of a big deal and a busy guy anyway. But, again, it was just an incredible continued way of keeping me in the loop.

SOME THOUGHTS

While it may not be feasible for every church to provide the rockstar VIP treatment that Elevation does for their guests, I do believe that every church should take some notes from my experience there. I can tell you that I’ve been in many other great churches in the last few years where my presence as a visitor was hardly acknowledged.

Every time someone visits a church they are taking a risk. Everyone has their reasons for NOT going to church and people have reasons for making the choice to go to a church. They are searching for something and a need to feel loved and embraced by the church. The church is a family and we need to make people feel like they are coming home when they come to visit.

It’s been said that people will make up their minds about their experience at a church in the first five minutes of being there. If their experience from the parking lot to the sanctuary isn’t positive, it doesn’t even really matter what happens in the service. You’ve got to go out of your way from the moment they arrive at the door to roll out the red carpet.

I know this all could sound a bit consumeristic but let’s face it, we live in a consumeristic society and people go ‘church shopping’ with lists in hand of what they expect. I’m not suggesting churches bend to meet what people are looking for, but that we meet them halfway and go out of our way to welcome them. People want to feel like they belong. People want to feel valued. People want to be acknowledged. People need to feel welcomed when they visit churches.

Elevation Church has grown from a small group of 40 people to over 16,000 in under 6 years. There’s a lot at play and an obvious movement of God’s Spirit and favor, but I believe their commitment to welcome people like they have has helped them grow as much as they have.

First impressions matter and they made a great one.

What can we do at theCross to make people have a great first impression?

7 Effective Ways to Use Facebook for Churches and Why it Matters!

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I was asked to speak at a conference yesterday on how social media can impact a church and I wanted to share my thoughts in case they would be helpful to those that are in ministry.

First, we answered why churches need to be involved in social media.  Then we looked at some practical things we can do in social media.  And lastly, we looked at some results that we’ve had because of social media.

So let’s answer the why:

Ed Stetzer says, “If churches truly want to see the Gospel impact and influence a community, they should go to the place where the most significant conversation is actually taking place right now. Today, that’s on social media.”

According to Pew Research,

As of September 2014:

  • 71% of online adults use Facebook
  • 23% of online adults use Twitter
  • 26% use Instagram
  • 28% use Pinterest
  • 28% use LinkedIn

Social media is not going away either.  Again, according to Pew Research, as of 2014, “52% of online adults now use two or more social media sites, a significant increase from 2013, when it stood at 42% of internet users.”

Social media is important for these reasons:

  • Helps get the word out
  • Shows the audience that you are relevant (especially important if you want to attract/engage a younger audience)
  • If you do something well, it’s a great place to highlight that
  • You control what goes out to the public
  • Further engagement with your people throughout the week

One other major reason why it’s important to use social media is because it is FREE, unless, of course, that you purchase ads, boost posts, etc.

So how can I do it effectively?

The number one thing for me is to not get overwhelmed.  With all of the different social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Myspace (okay, who uses that one anymore?!), Youtube, Google Plus, etc.), how do you know what to do.  My advice is to start with one and do it really well and if you feel like you can learn and handle another one, then go for it.  Just don’t get overwhelmed to start.

For our church, we chose to excel at Facebook.  These numbers below are the reason:

  • 87% of all online 18-29 year olds use Facebook
  • 73% of all online 30-49 year olds use Facebook
  • 63% of all online 50-64 year olds use Facebook
  • 56% of all online 65+ year olds use Facebook

Before I give you 7 different things you can do on Facebook, let me give you just a brief context about our church theCross Mount Dora.  We are about 30 minutes outside of Orlando, FL in a rural, but growing community called Mount Dora, FL.  Mount Dora’s number one demographic is retired folks.  The number two demographic is families with young kids, and this is rising quickly due to toll roads, beltways, and interstates making the commute into Orlando easier over the last several years.  When we looked at the landscape of our city, there were actually quite a few churches there already.  But by and large, these churches were generally reaching out to the older demographic.  We felt like there weren’t many churches that a young family would be proud to be a part of and feel like they were being spiritually led.

We were intentional about coming into Mount Dora and creating a space where young families could coexist and flourish with older folks and hopefully grab everyone in between as well.  Our church is also heavily focused on reaching the community and meeting in teams (we call them L-Teams: Live Teams, Love, Teams, and Learn Teams) outside of Sunday morning.  In fact, we did this for 15 months before we ever started worshipping together so that it became our DNA and we wouldn’t have to try to manufacture it at a later date.  We are 3.5 years old as a worshipping community now and God has grown our core group from just a few families to well over 400 attending on a Sunday and even more than that are a part of our L-Teams throughout the week.  With all of that being said, here’s some real practical tips on how we’ve used Facebook effectively and what you can implement at your church:

1) Bible verse or quote from the sermon on Sunday.

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This particular picture and quote was taken from a sermon I preached in February. The post reached 5000 people on Facebook as it was shared 21 times, liked over 100 times, etc.  What it means that it reached 5000 people is that 5000 people saw this picture as they scrolled through Facebook.  We try to rotate every other one between a quote from the sermon and/or a Bible verse.

2) Volunteer Recognition

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We wouldn’t be anywhere close to where we are today without our volunteers.  It’s great to recognize them and have others offer up some love for them as well.  After we post a picture of a volunteer, we usually have many comments underneath that picture on Facebook that affirm and lift up the person being recognized.

3) Sermon notes

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A lady at our church does these sermon notes for us each week.  After we put them up the first time she started teaching a couple of other people in the church how to do this as well.

4) Celebration photos

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Every time we have a baptism or something to celebrate, we throw up quite a few pictures.  Anytime you do something good in the community, celebrate that!  It’s important that whenever you put a picture up of somebody in your church that you “tag” them so that the most people see it.  As Christians we have to remember it’s a good thing to celebrate!

5) Sunday Set-list

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We remind the people what songs we did on Sunday.  If they liked the songs, that way they can remember then, download them on iTunes and get more familiar with them to enjoy their worship experience even more.

6) Highlight Events

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What a great way to plug an event coming up.  If you’ve got anything exciting happening at your church let the community know about it.  It’s amazing what an event in November at our church did.  I broke the Guinness World Record for the longest speech ever by preaching 53 hours and 18 minutes.  The event raised over $103,000 in charity but it also brought a lot of eyes onto our church.  Check out these stats from the week of the event on Facebook.

Last Week Previous Week Trend
Total Page Likes 2,376 2,318 2.50%
New Likes 68 23 195.70%
Weekly Total Reach 33,293 15,441 115.60%
People Engaged 2,903 1,235 135.10%

Again, if you are not familiar, people reached means how many people saw something about theCross Mount Dora that week on their Facebook news feed.  People engaged means how many people, liked, commented, or shared anything that theCross Mount Dora put up on their page.

7) Highlight Anything Unique or Creative

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Does your church do anything unique or creative?  Facebook is a great way to get that message out.  In March of last year, I was preaching about tattoos, and sarcastically said if anyone wanted to get a tattoo of the church logo, we’d find money to pay for that, because it’s great advertising.  Someone came up after the worship gathering and said, “Were you serious, you’ll pay for a tattoo of the church logo.  I’d love to do that.”  To make a long story short, when it was all said and done 21 people got tattooed with the church logo.  To read more about the story from the Huffington post, click here:

Check out what this unique, crazy story like this, did for our Facebook numbers that week:

Last Week Previous Week Trend
Total Page Likes 1,399 1,347 3.90%
New Likes 61 25 144.00%
Weekly Total Reach 69,279 14,804 368.00%
People Engaged 3,159 278 1036.30%

Those were both crazy weeks!  Here’s what last week looked like for us:

Last Week Previous Week Trend
Total Page Likes 2,982 2,961 0.7%
New Likes 26 37 -29.7%
Weekly Total Reach 16,080 17,773 -9.5%
People Engaged 731 931 -21.5%

Here’s a few other helpful strategic things for you regarding Facebook:

  • Take time every Sunday at your worship gathering (20-30 seconds) to remind people to check-in on Facebook, tag a few people around them, and say something great about the God that we serve or the church they attend.
  • Sermon videos: upload them directly to Facebook (you can provide the youtube or vimeo link in the comments below)
  • Don’t post-bomb! It is our goal to not have more than 3 posts a day.  We try to space them out about 2 hours from each other and you can schedule posts on Facebook for maximum impact.
  • If you have a question for your sermon or need some content in some way from your people or your community, ask it on Facebook. They get to feel a part of it even more this way.

So what are the results of all of this?

For a church that’s only 3.5 years old and worships just over 400, we have just reached over 3000 likes on Facebook.  And here’s the coolest part about the people that are engaging with us on Facebook: 98% of the likes and the people that are reached are people within our immediate context.

City Your Fans
Eustis, FL 587
Mt Dora, FL 504
Tavares, FL 268
Leesburg, FL 220
Umatilla, FL 200
Orlando, FL 197
Sorrento, FL 132
City Your Fans
Apopka, FL 40
Gr. Island, FL 30
Lady Lake, FL 25
Lake Mary, FL 24
Altoona, FL 23
Sanford, FL 23
Clermont, FL 22

That means that when we have a weekly reach of 17,000 people we are reaching over 16,500 people in our community in some way.

Two more important pieces of advice:

For the measure of full disclosure, we spend approximately $200 a month on Facebook ads and/or boosting posts.  This is the number one area where we put advertising dollars and money that we believe is very well spent.

Our Facebook page started gaining a lot more traction when a volunteer in our church stepped up to lead it.  He’s great with photography, editing, knows the makeup of the congregation, and keeps the message that we want to get across consistent.  When I was doing it all myself we had a strong presence, but since he’s taken over, we’ve had enormous impact!  Big thanks to Silas Barr!

So what does all this mean for your church?

In the past year, we’ve had 64 contact cards that have been filled out where the person has checked Facebook as to where they have heard about us.  If each card represents two people, that means close to 125 people are represented by those cards.  Plus, we know that not everybody fills out a contact card when they come to church.  If only half of them fill out contact cards that means that we’ve had 250 people come to a worship gathering (this doesn’t even count the people that show up at community events or L-Teams) in the past year because of what they’ve seen and heard on Facebook!

We had a family come in February because they heard about us on Facebook.  Three weeks later I had the privilege to baptize their daughter.

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Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear her father stand up in a room full of 35 men after we had discussed pride and ego.  He stood up and said that he had left his relationship with God due to pride over 3 decades ago, but thank God that he heard about our church from Facebook.  His family loves coming and he said how he is like a brand new Christian wanting to learn more about Jesus.  He doesn’t know where to start and he plead with the church to help him discover who Jesus is again so that he can be the godly man that his kids and his wife need him to be.

What you do on social media can impact God’s kingdom!  Now go post something!

If you’d like to follow our church on Facebook to see what we do on a day-to-day basis, like our page here.  Email me at zach@hclm.org with any questions you might have and feel free to post in the comments below other helpful things we can do on Facebook and other social media platforms.

Posted by Zach Zehnder with

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