When Scents Make Sense For Church

What does your church smell like? Is it a pleasing aroma? Research shows that a visitor will be able to recall the scent from your service far longer than the look of the building.

I am headed to a local Hotel/Convention center for a business gathering in about an hour.  As I visualize what ballroom we will be meeting I also can almost smell what the room will smell like.

Now this really is reverse scent marketing.  In scent marketing you would be somewhere and a comforting or familiar scent will cause you to have an emotional response.  It’s like the friend of mine who told me that every time he smells pipe tobacco, he is carried back to great memories of sitting on his Grandpa’s front porch.

The hotel I am heading to has made a conscious effort to create a “brand” scent.  This is designed so that the minute you walk into the doors of that hotel brand, anywhere in the world, you will recognize the smell and in theory, be comforted or welcomed by it.

Believe it or not scent marketing is big business.  Retailers have discovered that to motivate customers they need to engage in multi-sensory marketing with scent being a very important ingredient.

In reality, the church has been one of the places where scent marketing has been used for years.  In a lot of traditions incense is used.  The most notable use is by the Catholic church.  On a forum I was reading the following question was asked:

“I can be ten feet away from the doors of any Catholic church and all my life they have all had the same distinctive smell. There is nothing bad about the smell at all. In fact, it is the most comforting smell that I can think of. It is so universal that I don’t think it has anything to do with certain churches using incense at certain times, although I guess I could be wrong in that. Could it have something to do with the holy water at the entrances? Seriously. I have been to many different churches, some more orthodox than others, and this is the one and only consistent thing I notice. Does anyone else notice this or have an explanation?”

The most common answer in the forum was the Eucharist (the bread and wine).  Whether it is that or the candles or the incense is not important to me.  What is intriguing is that for the Catholic church this scent is almost universal, in the old and the modern churches.

 

Have you ever come back from vacation opened the door to you house and immediately recognized the smell? I remember the smell of the church I attended as a child. Every time I eat spaghetti I think back to that small church and how it always seemed that there was always a spaghetti dinner being served there.

What does your church smell like?  Is it a pleasing aroma?

The church I currently attend grinds its own beans and brews the best smelling coffee around.  On Sunday morning when I arrive I love being invited in by such a rich aroma.  I have had the experience a couple of times where I met someone at a coffee shop and the smell of the brewing coffee brought me mentally back to church.

On one of those occasions, what also came to memory was the previous Sunday’s sermon. During the conversation with the person I wound some of what I had learned on Sunday into that conversation.  Did the aroma help bring that information to front of mind?  Personally, I believe the Holy spirit uses all sorts of clues, external (physical) and internal to trigger thoughts in us that lead to action.

I want to be very clear here, I am not advocating using scent for manipulation.  In fact, studies show that if the scent doesn’t fit the experience it leads the brain to confusion.  That study also pointed out that people can recall scents with 65 percent accuracy after a year.  Whereas people can recall visuals with a 50 percent accuracy after 3 months.

So, a visitor will be able to recall the scent from your service far longer than the look of the building – including the super cool set with LED tape that you have on stage.

My closing thought is what should church smell like?  Coffee, Spaghetti, the Eucharist?  I suggest it should smell like you as a church want it to smell.

It really should be part of your DNA.  Final note, if you church smells musty and old, or has a foul odor, find the problem and fix it.  Then you may want to look into a scent delivery system.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *