The Sunday Sneeze: Making the Most for First Time Guests

The Sunday Sneeze: Making the Most for First Time Guests
Jonathan Malm

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. 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 \\hen 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?

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 pie 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.

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.

Check out Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Visitors by Jonathan Maim.

From: web site. October 2013.

The above article, “The Sunday Sneeze: Making the Most for First-Time Guests” was written by Jonathan Malm. The article was excerpted from

The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.

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.”