I took a few of my First Impressions Team members from Grace to Granger, Indiana this past weekend to attend a weekend service at Granger Community Church.
Granger is one of the fastest growing churches in the U.S. right now and they have become so by placing a great empahsis on creating "wow" experiences in their church. They work diligently at keeping in focus the impressions they make on newcomers at their weekend services.
Mark Waltz, Granger's Pastor of Connections, has written a book on the subject and also keeps a blog that I find to be greatly inspirational.
When my crew and I attended the service at GCC yesterday, we went "stealth" and broke into different groups looking to experience the service as any newcomer off the street. Here are a few of our observations, experiences and impressions:
HIT: The parking crew got us in a parked with ease, speed and courtesy. There was lots and lots of available parking.
HIT: The greeter at the front door was prompt, held the door open and shook my hand. There was more to it than that, though. This guy (and I'm sorry I don't remember his name) just exuded grace, warmth and a desire to be doing what he was doing. Some people are simply made for greeting. This guy was.
MISS: Once in the lobby, we all looked for an information center of some sort. There is one off to the left, but there is no signage indicating that it is for information. There was a crowd of people around it and it had a cash register so none of us approached it until the service was over. There was simply nothing that said "if you're new, come here, we'll help you!"
HIT: The women from my team liked the washrooms. Change tables, baby stuff and automatic paper towel dispensers gave them a "wow."
MISS: The coffee is not free. Bummer. One of my team members went to the coffee table and grabbed a bottle of water and started to walk off before being told that she had to pay for it. She was quite embarassed. In her defense we give bottled water and coffee away for free at our services and the sign indicating that there was a charge for the water and coffee was sort of small and easy to miss. People don't expect free coffee, so to me, this is a cheap and easy "wow."
MISS: We all walked around looking lost for 15-20 minutes before the service began and not a single volunteer (or anyone else for that matter) asked us if we needed help. There were ushers posted at each doorway, but in my opinion, not enough folks with Granger namebadges milling around.
HIT: The kids go to their Sundays school program by sliding down tube slides from the main floor down to the lower level. It is waaay cool.
HIT: The whole children's ministry level is awesome. From nursery and up, the rooms are fully equipped and cool. It is bright and well lit, clean and inspiring. As a parent, it is exactly where I'd want to send my kids on Sunday mornings.
HIT: The worship band was great. One of the best that I've seen in any church of any size.
MISS: The band finished too soon. Just when things seemed to get going, they got off the stage!
HIT: Mark Beeson, GCC's lead pastor is so warm and encouraging. He makes me want to be his friend. Regretfully, he didn't speak this weekend, Craig Gross (xxxchurch.com) was a guest speaker. Craig was good, but it is easy to see why people gravitate to Granger with pastor Mark as their leader.
Overall, the experience was a good one. There is little doubt that the Lord is blessing the work at Granger and I think they're doing a lot of thigns well. Godspeed, GCC. Bring in the harvest!
I'm not sure from our experience, however, that any of us felt that there was "red carpet" treatment for us as newcomers. I'm sorry to say I think I was expecting more. Perhaps my expectations were too high.
On a positive note, our FIT members came away from the experience feeling very good about the things that we're doing in our First Impressions ministry at Grace. It is possible that many of the things we're doing as a church, we are able to do because we're still quite small compared to Granger. Nonetheless, in our 8 hour drive back home, we vowed to one another that no matter how much bigger Grace Community gets, we will break our necks to keep the red carpet rolled out and our guests as well-hosted as possible.
I also personally vow, that as long as I am on staff at Grace, we will never, NEVER, EVER EVER charge for the coffee. Free now. Free forever.