Handouts to first-time guests inevitably leave an impression! Yes, there is the general appearance and the grammar which immediately jumps off the page. There is also the way the handout is presented, e.g., by ushers at the entrance of the worship center. But there is much more!
In preparing this blog, I have reviewed a bunch of church handouts. More specifically, I have looked them over from the perspective of my own experience as a first-time guest, with view to proposing a model of a guest-friendly handout. You will see that proposed handout linked in this blog but more importantly, you will be able to read the rationale for it.
First, though, is my observation that church handouts have a variety of purposes (aka descriptions) as seen here:
Worship Guide: In some churches, the handout functions primarily as a program for the church’s worship. This is especially true in more liturgical churches where every scripture verse, prayer, amen, hymn, blessing, worship leader, etc. is detailed. To a lesser degree this can be found in traditional worship with a printed order of worship. In other churches, there is no mention of the worship order or program to be found on the handout.
Bulletin: In some churches, the handout functions primarily as an announcement sheet. The intent, in this case, is to inform readers of upcoming events, ministries, and opportunities. These appear in list form, calendar form, and sometimes in full-blown advertising mode.
In-House Support: In some churches, the handout provides information for members for the intended purpose of keeping the organizational wheels of the church well-oiled. This information might include a record of last Sunday’s giving, the Deacon(s) of the Week, the ushers, nursery workers, and parking attendants for a given Sunday, and various church updates.
Connections: in some churches, the handout includes a perforated (or not so perforated) “tear-off” for getting and/or staying connected with those in attendance. The “tear-off” or inserted card provides a means for the church to secure desired information from attendees (guests and members), including valuable contact information as well as attendance, decisions, and prayer needs.
The handout, to be clear, varies widely from church to church. I have seen 12-page handouts and I have seen handouts ¼ the size of an 8.5x 11 sheet of paper. Some churches have no paper handout, at all, but have virtual (online) worship guides/bulletins.
Understanding the above nuances, I have asked myself how might a church best address the unique needs of a first-time guest with a Sunday morning handout. My answer is found HERE. (click it)
What you will find in the above link is a model... a mock-up handout intended for instructional purposes; the visual representation (a sample) will allow me to better communicate the guest-sensitive factors I will share below.
So, as you look over the linked sample (front and back pages), follow along with these explanatory notes:
Welcome to Somewhere Church... The welcome is often understated. Say it as the guest arrives at the door, say it on the screen, say it from the pulpit, and, yes, say it in the handout.
First time here?... Capture the attention of your first-time guests immediately. Place this question front and center in the handout, in a location not to be missed. Wording here should carefully communicate warmth and delight in your guest’s visit (special guest) as well as offering clear instruction regarding registration. The Guest Appreciation Gift is mentioned in this section to encourage the guest to provide the information.
Today in Worship... Basic worship information will help the guest be at ease with the 60-75 minutes of worship. Here the information is as basic as answering the guest’s question: “who are those people on the stage?” Since the sermon in many churches is nearly 50% of the total worship time, it is important to help the guest connect in that segment. This occurs in the model by way of a QR (Quick Response) code to take worshippers directly to a Bible text online. Additionally, note that space is provided for the guest to write notes from the sermon.
Want to know more? ... The church’s online presence is a treasure trove of information about the church, but only if your guest connects to the church's sites. Notice that the Somewhere Church website and Facebook accounts are, in this example, identified for the guests. Those two links represent a minimum standard to get your guests connected online. Other social media might also be offered but only to the degree that the additional channels are fully utilized and can favorably communicate in behalf of your church.
Special Guest Card... The guest registration card is in plain sight. Front page. It contains the maximum amount of information needed (you might do better securing the card by requesting less information). Turn-in Instructions and the gift offer are repeated. Then, there is the simple acknowledgement (thanks) for the guest that shares information.
Sermon Notes for Today... Draw the guest into the 20-45 minutes of preaching or teaching that occurs on a Sunday morning with a place for sermon notes. Once again, the Bible text is shared; a simple sermon outline can walk the guest through the message presented. “Today’s sermon will be available at SWC.com/sermons on Tuesday at noon” serves a dual purpose: to refresh the sermon for the guest midweek and also to connect him to the church’s website generally.
Check this out!... Here are the announcements in an interactive format which focuses attention on the 4-5 key announcements for that Sunday. Notice that there are few details cluttering up the page; only the interest-catching link which will take the reader to all the info online that they will need. Details. Art. Everything. A guest can check off the boxes of interest and find all he needs to know online at his convenience. The principle here: “less is more.”
People I met today...The importance of this is two-fold. a) In previous blogs, (click HERE or HERE) I have noted the importance of developing a culture of friendliness among regular church attendees. "People I met today" is a simple tool to facilitate that. As regular attendees meet people new to them, writing down the name of their new acquaintance will help build a connection for the following Sunday when they see the guest again and, perhaps, with this bit of assistance be able to recall the name of the guest. Will that have a positive impression on a guest? Absolutely! b) Furthermore, the guest will be invited to do the same thing: a guest can learn the names of the friendly people he meets and return on a subsequent Sunday not as a complete stranger but knowing the names of a few people in the congregation.
Our mission is to...Here is a simple way to express what the church is all about to your guest. And it does the same with your regular attenders with each weekly restatement.
The handout, whatever your church may call it, is a visual and tangible representation of your church to every guest. From it, a guest will draw conclusions. Impressions will be formed.
It is good to think through your handout content and presentation from the perspective of a guest. Admittedly, I don’t expect your church to roll out this model next Sunday; on the other hand, maybe a few tweaks are in order?!?!? You decide.
If you have input about the impact of church handouts on first-time guests, leave a comment. I look forward to hearing from you.