What is Sunday morning really like to your church visitors? How does your facility fit your ministry? How to see your facility experience with fresh eyes.
I grew up in the church and have worked in some capacity for the local church most of my adult life. Much of that time has been devoted to the technical production side.
However, this year I was asked to step into the role of looking at the entire Sunday morning experience. Basically, what does someone experience from the time they drive onto our campus to the moment they pull out of the parking lot after service. As our church hosts many community events, I’ve added examining the public’s experience anytime they enter our facility.
The church I’m at is a great church. It’s growing in numbers, with multiple services held every Sunday morning. We have a building project underway and another in the planning stages.
We must be doing something right, correct?
As I’ve expanded my perspective outside of worship, and look at the overall experience, I find that we are doing some things right. But, yes, there is room for improvement.
Once I began observing the entire experience, it became overwhelming. I saw stains in the carpet. Fake plants that look like they are from the 1970’s (they might be). There are rooms that are painted dark and have no windows. There is not enough signage—- how does a guest find a restroom? Do people know where to go for information on where to bring their children to nursery or Sunday school? When someone simply walks in the door, are they greeted?
I found so many areas in need; I realized I had to create an order of magnitude and a priority list. I also knew that I was probably only seeing 20 to 30 percent of what really needed to be done. So, rather than hastily jumping in and starting (my normal mode of operation) I stepped back and decided to get a game plan and team together.
Game Plan for Facility Audit in 6 Steps
1) Facility Visual Audit
I had already started this process. In fact, as I mentioned, I was a bit overwhelmed and knew there was so much more I was not seeing. To get a complete picture I enlisted the help of others.
The church staff was a great start.
I took staff on a tour of the facility, and asked them what they saw.
We went thru every room, bathrooms, opened closet doors and also walked thru the outside campus. My list grew by 10x, but what also happened is people caught the vision.
Ideas began to flow; we could get a volunteer to patch the drywall were white boards were taken down and holes were left. If we got rid of tables in the lobby and added couches with seating areas it would feel more like home. Wow, does this bathroom in the back always look this rough? We need to make sure it gets cleaned.
It was a really positive time. The buy in and ideas from the staff brought energy to the process.
I also recruited a group of regular attenders and went thru the same process. Again with similar results.
As a final step in this process I invited a friend who was not familiar with our church and did the same thing. He saw many things the first groups had missed. Some were very obvious. They had become so used to seeing things that they had become blind to some obvious things. I also asked this friend to come on a Sunday morning.
2) Facility Functional Audit.
This turned out to be more difficult and tricky than I thought. My first go around was to just walk around on a Sunday and observe. Some things became obvious, like when someone came up and said, “Sorry, I’m new here, where in the world are the bathrooms?” After showing them the bathroom I looked around.
Yup, there was no signage and the location was not obvious. Other things, like it being 5 degrees hotter in the balcony than the main floor were going to take some work to figure out and correct.
I once again involved the staff but rather than take them around in a group, I met with them one on one and asked the simple question, “What about the building is hindering your ministry?”
This opened up some great dialogue and generated answers that I was surprised by and would have never thought of.
Also some very important things came up—- like how we were securing the children’s area, but not being very effective at it. To fix this problem involved moving one wall. A relatively simple fix that really increased the security of the children’s area.
3) Visit other churches.
This was my favorite idea. Previously I had been involved in an event for tech guys called church tech tours. You showed up at a church, toured its tech and production equipment, ate a quick meal together and then jumped on a bus and visited two more facilities, then returned back to the original location. At church tech tours I personally got tons of ideas and loved seeing what other churches were doing.
Turns out that church staff loved the idea, but coordinating schedules and the fact everyone was already overloaded made it difficult to do. So I chose the approach of just contacting other churches and setting up times we could visit. I sent invites out to the staff, and who ever could make it came along.
I also was very upfront and limited the total time including travel to 1-½ hours. Yes it made the tour of the other churches facility rushed, but in reality 90 percent of the time within the first 10 minutes people could see and get a feel for what that church was doing right and wrong.
As a side note I did circle back with the churches that were nice enough to let us come thru and shared with them the good and the bad. I think they all appreciated that.
My current goal, is to take one Sunday every other month and visit another church on a Sunday as be a “secret shopper” for them, if they would like. Or just visit and get ideas.
4) Look around at common gather areas.
Because of my tech background I can’t watch an awards show or concert without announcing what brand and model mic the lead vocal is using, what the main speakers are, etc. Well, now I can’t walk into any building without noticing how it looks and feels. I also watch how people move around in the space, what are the traffic patterns? Where are the restrooms?
I was surprised by how this little thing of just looking around educated me. From the restaurant where you had to walk uncomfortably thru the dining area to get to the counter to order, to the convention center that only had signs that said things like Aisle 1, or Smith Memorial Room with an arrow that could either have me stay straight or maybe take the fork to the left.
Simple, yet profound for me as I was able to apply some good stuff I saw. And the experience enabled me to see things and get ideas I never would have gotten without looking around.
5) Enlist the help of other professionals.
By now my list had gotten huge and I needed to prioritize. So, I also took the step of consulting professionals. Some were members of the church, some were not. Some we paid and some we did not have to. By bringing my list to the professional in I was able to develop a game plan as well as a start on the financial implications of what we needed to change.
The professionals in a lot of ways confirmed what I was thinking, but also they saw some cause and effect that I would have missed. Things like if you paint the walls, you have to do the carpet at the same time. I also found out I could improve our lighting quality and brightness in the sanctuary and have it pay for itself in 1 year thru rebates and energy savings.
It took time to seek out the professionals and meet with them, but it was well worth it!
6) Hospitality wins people over.
I noticed this on a Sunday while I was observing and really just looking for what was wrong and need to be fixed. What I saw was a guest who came thru the door and was greeted by a smiling face, then escorted to the children’s area, given a small tour, then delivered back to the sanctuary. Then this is when it happened. In my mind this cemented what really needs to happen.
The greeter, who met them and gave them the tour asked the couple if they had lunch plans. The greeter said that he was having some friends coming over after church, and that he would love to have the new family join them.
Touch down. At this point the ugly yellow color of our sanctuary walls that I hate… didn’t matter one bit. Especially on this Sunday.