The Sunday Sneeze: Making the Most for First-Time Guests

The Sunday Sneeze: Making the Most for First-Time Guests

October 2, 2014 by

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Have you ever been caught sneezing in a photograph? It’s embarrassing. Nobody looks good sneezing.

That one snapshot captures you at your worst and immortalizes that version of you—that distorted image of you.

Here I am at my worst:

Jonathan Malm sneezing like a rock star.

Now what does this have to do with your church?

First Impressions

Each Sunday is one snapshot of your church for a first-time guest. That one experience they have is forever burned into their mind when they think about your church.

Whenever someone mentions your church’s name, they’ll scroll through the photo album in their mind and conjure up that image of their one Sunday visiting your church.

What does their picture of your church look like? Is it an accurate representation of your church? Or is it a distorted picture of your church sneezing?

“Each Sunday is one snapshot of your church for a first-time guest.”

Of course, you might ask, “What does a church look like when it sneezes? Here are a few things I’ve seen in churches I’ve visited:

  • Creepy Sneezes: A guest speaker who’s (1) boring, (2) weird or (3) heretical.
  • Angry Sneezes: An outburst from the stage over the pastor’s frustration with the tech team.
  • Stinky Sneezes: A weird smell in the room. “Am I in a nursing home?”

These are just a few of the sneeze snapshots I have in my head from churches. It’s like I walked in one Sunday, snapped a pic and left. I’ll never go back to those churches, but that picture is in my head for eternity. If a friend asks me about my experience with the church, I’ll tell them about the sneeze.

No Excuses

It doesn’t matter how great the music, the message, the graphic design, the lighting or the sound quality. None of those things stick out. Just like in a sneezing photo, you don’t notice a hairstyle, clothing or jewelry. You just notice the sneeze.

That’s why every Sunday is so important. Each Sunday is a snapshot of your church.

Sure, you see the last 52 Sundays. You see your church’s past successes. You see the sum total of who your church actually is. But it doesn’t matter what those last 52 Sundays look like to the guest who shows up on a “sneeze” Sunday.

Make That First-Time Visit Matter

So how do you avoid sneezing on a Sunday morning? How do you ensure guests’ snapshots are accurate representations of your church?

  1. Realize this may be your only Sunday. Pretend this is your only church service for the whole year. Would you be OK with every element of your church service if this were the only one?
  2. Remember the intention of everything. Why are you doing what you’re doing in this service? Be it baptisms, baby dedications, a guest speaker or communion; keep those purposes clear in your mind as you plan your service. Don’t do anything ‘just because’ or because there’s ‘nothing wrong with it.’
  3. Communicate clearly. Explain to your congregation what’s going on. If you experience a hiccup or full-on sneeze, be upfront about it. Explain what happened and move on.
“Let’s love our first-time guests by being intentional with our Sunday services.”

Unfortunately, sneezes happen. But they shouldn’t be the norm. Let’s love our first-time guests by being intentional with our Sunday services. Let’s show them an accurate picture of who we are, because this may be your only chance.

Your Turn

Now I’d love to hear from you. When was the last time your church sneezed? What happened and what did you do to recover from it?


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Photo by Jonathan Malm.
Post By:

Jonathan Malm

Jonathan Malm is a creative entrepreneur and writer. He is the author of Created for More (Moody, 2014), a 30-day devotional to help you develop a more creative mind.
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One Response to “The Sunday Sneeze: Making the Most for First-Time Guests”

  • Bethany
    October 2, 2014

    In the past we’ve dealt with: earthquakes during the sermon, low attendance, potlucks that ran out of food too fast, sound equipment not working, inaccurate bulletins and calendars, dead projector lightbulbs, broken live feeds, and no AC duing 2 weeks in July.

    That’s the thing about sneezes, I guess– everyone has them, nobody wants them, and they’re always a little unpleasant for everyone involved. And they’re all icky. We can’t always control them and we can’t always expect them.

    My congregation is relatively small–200-250 per Sunday. Our services happen through by 99% volunteers. We have only 2-4 people actually on staff. Sneezes happen from time to time.

    Sometimes the best we can do is pull our a tissue, clean up, and hope for the best in the future. These things are frustrating, but I try not to stress. I do what I can do to prevent or prepare for these issues, clean up however I can, then move forward. I try to remember, this isn’t the Grammy’s. This is worship. I’m not here to give a great show, but to create an enviroment in which worship can take place.

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