Tip 3. Create Memorable Experiences (Shutting The Back Door in Your Church, Blog Series)

In this blog series, I identified 9 tips to help keep people from leaving your church (i.e., shutting the back door). I believe all 9 are important. In this post, I’ll address tip number three:

TIP 3. Create a memorable experience.

Take a minute and consider some of your most memorable experiences?

There’s a good chance your best experiences then are the stories you love to tell now. The moments where you were touched. Moved. Wowed. Or maybe you just experienced something better than you anticipated (like Disney!).

Let me give you a simple example: About a decade ago, my wife and I attended Cirque du Soleil for the first time. It’s a combination of circus, concert, comedy club, opera, and extreme stunts, all under the umbrella of weird. It’s a strange, yet amazing event. The first time we experience Cirque, I THOUGHT I knew what to expect. Boy was I wrong! I was “WOWED.” It was such a unique experience! So much that we bought the DVD so we could watch it over and over in an attempt to relive our experience. Over the past 10 years, I don’t think we have missed a performance stop in Atlanta.

To state the obvious principle: We go back to the places that give us memorable experiences. And we forget the places with forgettable experiences.

I believe the church – your church and my church – belongs to a God ready to create memorable experiences for everyone on the planet. The church is the hope of the world, and it’s God’s plan “A” to reach the world. And as church leaders, we have the opportunity to create a church of memorable experiences, as well.

At Watermarke, our one-sentence win statement for our church service is to create a memorable experience for everyone who attends. Accomplishing this attracts new people while keeping all people. Here are a few ways we try to create memorable experiences:

1. Exceed expectations.

Everyone walking into your church has an expectation. Unfortunately, due to past church experiences, most expectations are negative. But there is a silver lining: Since most people have low expectations, it should be pretty easy to over-deliver. Memorable experiences often happen when an expectation is exceeded. So discover what people are expecting, and do better.

2. Only do things with excellence.

Excellence matters. If you can’t do it with excellence, don’t do it. And if you are struggling to do things at a high level of excellence, simplify until you can. Singers who shouldn’t sing and preachers who shouldn’t preach are like a doorstop inserted in your open back door. It MIGHT create a memorable experience, but not the good kind!

We don’t always get this perfect, but we try. You can see some examples of our church service elements HERE.

3. Leverage baptism.

If you cringe a little when considering “leveraging” a person’s personal, spiritual step of faith, I understand. I’ve been there myself. But baptism was designed and given to us by God as a public statement, so we’ve decided to ensure the public side of baptism is leveraged both for the person being baptized AND for the public. I actually believe that was part of God’s plan – baptism should benefit everyone involved.

To be baptized at Watermarke, we require that you record a video baptism testimony. It’s basically your faith story in two minutes. We systematically help people craft and record their story, and before we baptize them in our service, we show their video to huge cheers.

Many times, this baptism video is the most powerful moment in our church service. And it has created hundreds of memorable experiences for our attendees. Even better, these stories have led people to cross the line of faith. That’s memorable defined.

4. Tell stories of life change.

In addition to baptism stories, we share other stories of life change. I once heard that stories are the Trojan horse for information. That is true, but stories can also be the Trojan horse for memorable experiences.

I use to think stories were the best motivators to engage our attendees financially, in serving, in a small group, or inviting their friends, and that is still true. But stories have a greater benefit – they create memorable moments. And memorable moments help shut the back door.

5. Pay attention to the details.

Often, a memorable experience is created in the most unnoticed places. For example: Nobody notices smooth transitions between songs or other elements in the service, but they matter. People don’t notice great signage (but they are certainly frustrated when it’s not present). People don’t necessarily notice how you used the welcome segment to prepare guests for what’s to come. But I’m telling you, get the details right and you will move in the direction of memorable. Nobody will pinpoint the details as the success, but without them, we reduce our chances.

6. Create excellent children’s experiences.

This should be basic church common sense. When you love a child, you capture their parents. And when kids beg to come to church, the back door is SLAMMED shut.

There’s much more to say about how to do this well, but for now, start with creating a unique, specifically designed experience for children of all ages. There’s nothing worse for the next generation than forcing them to endure church designed for the previous generation.

7. Preach to help people, not shame people.

Just a quick note on preaching: Inspiration and seemingly attainable application are memorable. Guilt and shame are unhelpful, not inspirational, and unnecessary. You wouldn’t continue eating at a restaurant that consistently made you sick, so you shouldn’t expect people to continue attending your church if they continually leave feeling bad.

Let me wrap up with this: There’s a belief among some church leaders that excellence and memorable experiences should not matter, because God is bigger and doesn’t need our entertainment to reach people. And while there is some truth in this belief, I just can’t find anything in the Bible AGAINST making church great. Making our church service excellent does not remove truth. It doesn’t remove grace. Actually, it makes it better. It makes it engaging. And it helps keep people in the church, which in some ways is required for spiritual growth. I believe there’s something in John 1:45-46 that speaks to creating a “come and see” experience.

In our culture and context, experience matters. And when we as church leaders begin to recognize the importance of memorable experiences while embracing the process of creating them, the back door in our church begins to close.

Certainly there are some of you who agree, but I bet many of you don’t. I’d love to hear from you – regardless of your stance. Leave me a comment below and I’ll respond. What a great way to learn from healthy conversations with each other!

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