My official job title is First Impressions Director for NCC. I love my job, it is challenging in a plethora of ways, but it also feeds into my strengths and passions and allows me to create space to learn more about people and how to reach them better; and then teach that to others.
The number one question I get asked is “What is a First Impressions Director?” – The simplest way to explain it is: Anything that would be your first impression when you go to church; all of that falls under my responsibilities in one way or another. Meaning, it includes Hospitality, Connections, safety, setup and tear down, lobby, signage and of course coordinating volunteers that make all of these things possible… “and other duties as assigned” haha
Thankfully my more than a decades worth of marketing background lends itself quite nicely to my role, as does my research for marketing clients that I do on the side.
Two or more times a month someone from another church will contact me looking for resources, trainings, general help, and sometimes just for someone to know how hard it is. The thing I find amazing is that these people are from around the country of varying sizes with different denominations, backgrounds and so many additional factors that play into their church. I love talking to and helping these churches. I love learning from and collaborating with them because there is always something to be learned for me as well!
I have found that there is very little out there in terms of resources for churches on the who/what/where/when/why and how of First Impressions/Hospitality. – That is NOT to say that churches haven’t created amazing teams, resources, trainings, or programs themselves; it is just not a topic that others can easily learn from like pastoring, discipleship, leadership, or worship in the church. There is significantly less available in terms of resources on the topic and there are no conferences that I have found.
Some questions I get often (and my answers):
Why First Impressions?
If you read through scripture, it actually is very clear that God cares very much about First Impressions. I think the reason behind it varies depending on where you read in scripture, but it is clear, for a dozen reasons it is important… But, it also looks different in different cultures. Read Exodus and Numbers about the creation and descriptions of the Temple… There is a RIDICULOUS amount of attention to detail. God cares about the colors, metals, fabrics, people, location and frequency of the Old Testament Temple. – In fact he cares so much, that if it is handled or approached inappropriately He MAY CHOOSE to kill you instantly. Dang.
Included in First Impressions is Hospitality, which scripture actually talks about as required character trait for Elders (1 Timothy 3:2) and Bishops (Titus 1:8) as well as being a command for all believers (1 Peter 4:9).
But, it is also something we are to PRACTICE and learn how to extend it (Romans 12:13). (wording is different depending on translation for this verse)
Is First Impressions just a fancy hipster name?
Maybe the title itself to could to some degree be considered a trend, however the cultural relevance, spirit and motivation behind it are based solidly in scripture.
How do I know this?
The care that God took with the Temple.
How Paul was careful to learn about the cultures he went to in order to spread the Gospel more effectively.
Included in First Impressions is Hospitality, which is not as simple and fluffy as we can make it to be in church ministry world.
The word “hospitality” is directly descended from the Latin “hospitalitas,” which means, “to be friendly or kind to strangers or guests.”
The Greek words φιλονεξία and φιλόξενος are translated “hospitality” in scripture, and literally mean “to show love to strangers.”
In order to love, be friendly or kind to strangers, you must know and understand them. – If you do not understand them, you risk the chance of offending them, making them feel awkward, creating anxiety or giving them a bad experience… And ultimately this means they are more than likely going to miss the encounter with Jesus because their focus will be elsewhere.
Know the culture of those you are engaging with.
Remove any and all barriers that you can, so that satan cannot use stupid and simple distractions to prevent them from hearing the Gospel.
We are also commanded to show hospitality to one another without complaint. (1 Peter 4:9)
Hospitality is a way we “may entertain angels” without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2) – (uhm what?!)
But, WHY is First Impressions important?
Because, as believers, it is our job to do whatever we can to spread the Gospel. If that means paying special attention and changing our presentation, approach, signage, language, lingo, and adjusting it so that people (who do not currently know Christ) have the chance to hear the words of Jesus without hinderance: Then do that. – No excuses.
When you are in ministry, in the church world (or in everyday life), it is my personal (views are my own) belief that it is YOUR responsibility to be like Paul, and adjust yourself to reach those around you better.
If we have to change the words used in order for people to better understand the life changing message of Christ. Then adjust.
Changing the language was the whole purpose behind The Message translation of the Bible.
Instead of fighting someone’s culture, as believers, it is our job to use their culture to help us communicate effectively and clearly with them. Changing the language to communicate clearly is found throughout scripture: Jesus did this, Paul did this, the Holy Spirit did this in Acts so that people could take the Gospel back to their cultures in their language and understanding.
First Impressions matter, it works diligently and hard with a passion for others in creating space for people to encounter and know that they belong and are loved exactly where they are today.