The Message Before The Message


What’s the first message you want your guests to “get”? Because they’ll get it – or they won’t – even before they set foot in a service.

At Granger Community Church, the goal is that every guest who walks in the door will get this above all: You matter to God. Of course, it’s much easier to share when those guests first realize that they matter to Granger Community Church. Right where they are. With all their reservations and insecurities and personal struggles and preconceived notions. Even the ones formed as recently as when they entered the building.

Mark Waltz, Granger’s pastor of connections and author of First Impressions: Creating Wow Experiences in Your Church, tells the story of a flight home from Atlanta and a Detroit layover riddled with miscommunication and frustration. After long lines and conflicting information from not one but four airline agents, Waltz and his wife found themselves on the wrong side of an overbooked flight.

“We weren’t even on the plane yet,” recalls Waltz. “We had experienced only a fraction of the airline’s services. Although the flight might be smooth and the attendants might offer extraordinary service, it was too late. We were dissatisfied. Before we could be satisfied, we had to not be dissatisfied. The same is true of your guests on Sunday morning.” In the workshop, First Impressions, Waltz shares insights gleaned from his ministry experience, from his “previous life” in retail management and from his observations of the churches he’s visited over the years. He notes that the first impression philosophy of Granger Community Church brings with it a lofty, but not unattainable, goal: “If our guests can’t say, ‘Wow! I’m impressed!’ within their first 10 minutes on campus, then we’ve failed.” Somewhere between parking the car and checking their kids into the Children’s Center, says Waltz, those 10 minutes pass. “Ten minutes of opportunity for us to make an impact, to create a reason for our guests to at least think to themselves, ‘This is not what I expected’— in a good way, of course.” They may discover their “wow moment” in the restroom. (Seriously, when was the last time you visited a public restroom you could describe as “pristine?”) They may find it in the fact that they are neither “pounced on” nor left to flounder when they walk through the lobby not knowing exactly where to go or how to get there. They may smell it in the aroma of their favorite cappuccino, wafting through an inviting café area. Or they may sense it in the extra few seconds it takes for a greeter to show them to their seats — instead of waving them on with a finger pointed toward an empty row.

No matter how your guests find that “wow” experience — before the music starts, before the “real message” of the service is delivered — they will have received a clear message already. That they are valued.

So how do you take guests from “not dissatisfied” to “really impressed?” Creatively, deliberately and with a team of people who are gifted “wow-makers.” In his workshop, Waltz walks you through the process — and gives you the inspiration to create your own brand of “wow.”


This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”