Before they ever get to the door of your church, potential guests are forming impressions about your church simply driving by. It is a subtle but powerful source of info. In the 10 seconds it takes to drive down the road in front of your church, consciously and unconsciously, opinions are being shaped in the minds of the motoring public. Multiply that derived opinion by the hundreds or maybe thousands of cars that pass alongside your church property daily and you have the importance of the drive-by to your church.
Just the other day, I was driving by a local Colorado Springs business; I was immediately struck by one thing. ONE. Weeds! They were along the road, near the sidewalk, on the edge of the entrance, and around the edge of the building. Tall weeds, short weeds, brown weeds; grassy weeds. All of it. I was literally and figuratively having to see the business through the surrounding weeds.
Stop right there. My hunch is that even with that quick presentation you may have already formed an opinion about this unnamed business. You may be thinking, “that is just stupid! They need to get someone out there and take care of that. That would be a real turn-off for me.”
Without knowing anything about the business itself (e.g., products, service, pricing, staff, customer satisfaction), my description of the exterior appearance gained by a ten second drive by has likely shaped your opinion of the business itself. You might even conclude, “I wouldn’t shop there.”
That’s how the drive-by works. Just to be clear, the impressions formed from such a drive-by can be strong enough to keep a potential guest from ever arriving at your church’s door. What you have then is a guest visit that simply didn’t happen… so the potential guest family was never introduced to your fantastic child services, the life changing sermon that was never heard, the church’s friendly people connections that were never experienced.
On the other hand, the drive-by can create curiosity, appeal, interest, and even a connection with the church.
How is the drive-by of your church shaping opinions about the church itself? Here are some contrasting conclusions that might be reached about your church on a drive-by any day of the week:
· Timed-out vs. Timeless…is the church generationally relevant?
· Community alienated vs. Community oriented…is the church attuned to its environment?
· Private vs. inviting…is the church interested in newcomers?
· Tired vs. Energized…is the church active?
· Marginalized vs. Valued…is the church making a difference for people?
Ten seconds reinforced by repetitions over and over can influence lots of opinion, positively or negatively. Motorists might be drawn in or turned away by what they see; they might also become blind to churches they routinely drive past simply because there is nothing to attract and hold their attention.
Consequently, it is good to ask yourself, “what are people seeing when they drive by our church?” Force yourself to think critically about things that are very, very familiar: the signage, the driveways, the parking lot (condition, parking stripes, lighting), the landscaping (grass, trees, rocks, and shrubs) as well as their care and maintenance, and the building itself (style, visibility, entrances, upkeep). Ask how the appearance fits with the neighborhood look and expectations. Think through how the appearance of the church reflects your vision, mission, and values. Consider the impact of these street-visible indicators to the hundreds of people driving by that know nothing more about your church than what they can see. For example:
· I have seen fences around churches (with gates!?!); I have seen signage that I simply couldn’t read, even with effort; I have seen clutter, unkempt sheds, and unappealing dumpsters in plain sight; I have seen near desert-looking landscaping around churches; I have seen paint peeling. I have seen parking lots that might best be approached with a four-wheeler. I have seen shrubs and trees that concealed both signs and buildings. Need I say, “don’t do that?”
· I have also seen churches that post huge banners indicating service times and without actually saying it, communicate, “you are welcome here;” I have seen freshly striped parking lots; I have seen safe and modern playground equipment; I have seen church web addresses posted on street-side signage; I have seen well-manicured lawns and garden-like surroundings; I have seen eye-catching color; I have seen messaging for current events.
Do these things a church make? No! But in a 10 second drive-by, these things and others like them may be the only indications that passers-by will have about the life, relevance, openness, and impactfulness of your church. It is a good idea to give items like these a careful eye to create enough interest to encourage potential visitors on the road to become actual visitors on a Sunday morning.
It matters. Give me a call if you would like me to drive by your church and give you an assessment.