4 Experiences to Help Church Leaders Feel Like First-Time Guests

You can learn something and the lesson will stay with you for a while. But if you feel something … that knowledge is with you for a lifetime. 

How does it feel to arrive at your church and experience it as a first-time guest? It’s nearly impossible for church leaders to answer this question with certainty. We have to get outside of our normal experiences to see what we do in a different light.

I want to challenge you to do something totally terrifying with a few members of your team. Go somewhere and be an “outsider” for the first time … just to feel what it is like. Then use that experience to fuel conversations about what it is like to come to your church for the first time. Let how you felt fuel a passion for your first-time guests.

Here are some examples of experiences you could try that would give you insight into what it’s like to come to your church for the first time. We’d love to hear how it goes … report back in the comments section below!

  • Volunteer at bingo // When my kids were younger, they were in a cooperative day care. Every parent had to pitch in and help with the operation. Somehow, I drew the short straw to work at the bingo one Saturday morning. Bingo halls across the country have “volunteer” workers whose associated non-profits receive pay in exchange for their service. It was a nerve-wracking experience, because bingo has its own insider language, elaborate rituals and a strong sense of who the “regulars” are. Find a bingo hall close to you … call them and see if a non-profit could use a few extra people to help out. That feeling hasn’t left me all these years later … and I still think about what we can do to remove the discomfort that I felt from our visitors’ first-time experiences.
  • Check out a “Con” // One of the advantages of hosting church in a public venue like a conference center is you get to work alongside other groups from the community who occasionally rent out the facility. A few times a year at one our locations we share space with a gaming convention. Picture grown adults in all kinds of fantastical costumes and people just finishing up a late-night board game session when our team arrives at 5 a.m. Chances are good there is some sort of fan convention in your town … or close by … a few times a year. Stroll through the event and learn about what’s happening. How does the enthusiasm of the participants and organizers make you feel as a first-time guest? Resist the urge to judge … simply take it in as an opportunity to learn about what’s happening in this subculture. I’m amazed at these fan conventions … the amount of passion and energy that people put into them is astonishing!
  • Attend a synagogue // For the slightly more adventurous, why not reconnect with our Jewish brothers and sisters? You can probably find a synagogue that is close to you and it will be an enriching experience for your team. How does it feel to participate in a worship experience where you understand a portion of what’s going on, but not the whole thing? How does the sense of community and family express itself through the service? What would encourage you to attend again? Were there clear next steps?
  • Lose your boarding pass at the airport // Airports are fascinating design experiences. They move around thousands of “first-time guests” every day with surprising efficiency. The signage at airports is a master class in simplicity and functionality … they are dealing with an international audience of weary travelers! If you ever have a little time to spare at the airport, “lose” your boarding pass. If you’re traveling with a group, try “accidentally” throwing out the entire group’s passes in the bathroom. Then go through the process of getting new passes issued. What made the process simple or difficult? How did you know what steps to take? How can you apply what you learn from that experience to the processes at your church?

This month in unSeminary Premium we have a brand new course called First-Time Guest Follow Up, which is all about helping you build a system that turns people who are new to church into regular attenders. It’s designed to give you a step-by-step process for helping people feel at home at your church. Included in this course are:

  • 5 training videos focused on the critical components of a robust guest follow-up system.
  • Done-for-you resources to give you a head start.
  • A live Q&A call to get your questions answered.

Join now, click here.


  1. I agree that it’s near impossible for church leaders who have grown up in the church to actually understand how it feels to walk through the doors of a church for the first time. But I think it’s great that you try to understand.

    As a once first time visitor, I think the above situations are great examples of what it could feel like to be an outsider. The only difference is, is that walking into church for the first time is not only uncomfortable, unfamiliar and scary, but it’s also creates the unprecedented fear of being judged.

    – What will people think of me?
    – Am I good enough to be here?
    – I’m not a sinner, why do they keep calling me that?
    – What if I say/do the wrong thing?
    – Am I wearing the “right” clothes?
    – Who is this Jesus that they talk about and love? Why doesn’t he love me?

    Like I said, you have some great examples of what it feels like to be a first time visitor in uncomfortable situations. But being a first time visitor to CHURCH! Yikes! That’s a whole other level of fear. Even writing about it brings back all the memories.

    I must say, I am still so thankful I had a friend to walk through those church doors with me the first time. Not sure if I ever would have had the courage to do it alone.

    1. Linda!

      Thanks so much for sharing… Love your insight here. I don’t want people to breeze over what you said about having someone to walk with you to church… So important! Appreciate the input.


  2. Do any churches link video,s. “What to expect when you come” to their facebook or websites? I know it is possible with website; however, our facebook page has the most traffic. So how do I do that? Or have messages shot back saying thanks for visiting our Facebook? GlenwoodUmc is our Facebook page.

    Thanks inmadvance for any info…

    1. Joel!

      We have a welcome video from both our lead pastor and campus pastors on our site. On top of that we have a “what to expect” section on our site with pictures to help folks out.

      On our Facebook page we do have a history tab that gives some similar data. Great idea!


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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.