How to Create a Culture of Welcoming and Excellence: A Recap from ENGAGE Conference 2020

Jonathan Malm’s session from ENGAGE Conference 2020 gave me some great takeaways to consider at my home church. For example, our First Impressions Department includes 5 teams of very generous people. If I can apply the concepts Jonathan shared, I know I can honor them more and create a dynamic culture of welcoming and excellence for guests on Sunday mornings.

Jonathan led with a statement that I agree with. He said that sometimes we can do things that are unintentionally unwelcoming, communicating the opposite of what we want. I have an example of a time I experienced this. Years ago, when we moved to a new town and started “shopping” for churches, I found a little church that had conflicting messages. The greeters were friendly and, although the layout of the church was a little confusing (it was a converted roller-skating rink), I was able to find what I needed. The problem came when I tried to find ways to connect outside of Sunday morning. Their program listed quite a few activities, but the call to action said, “If you want to sign up, talk to Bill”, or “If you want to make a donation, contact Sally.” They were unintentionally communicating, “You have to be one of us to belong.” They were a friendly group of people who loved Jesus and wanted to love others, but those values weren’t being communicated to new guests.

Jonathan gives a sobering reminder that guests will decide if they will return way before the worship team or pastor ever gets on stage. First Impressions start on the way to the front door. By the time they are sitting in a seat, waiting for service to start, they may have already determined if they will come back for another visit in the future.

A good majority of these first impressions rely on your volunteer team ( Read about Church Volunteer Development ). The volunteers on the First Impression team are critical, but do they know that? Do they realize the importance of what they do each week? Do they feel empowered to do it with excellence? It seems a simple thing to sign-up to be a greeter. We assure new volunteers that we just need them to be friendly and smile, which is true – but do we communicate the importance of what they are doing?

Also Read: 3 Ways Your Efforts To Make Your Church’s Guests Feel Welcome Are Backfiring

So, how do we equip these critical volunteers to welcome and care for people with excellence? Jonathan’s message includes the following.

1. Tapping into volunteer’s creativity – Choose Values over Policies

2. Equipping volunteers to welcome – Transform a “no” into a “wow”

3. How to change in a year – Stop, Start, Continue



Choose Values Over Policies

Values are the “why” for what we do and policies are the “how” we do it. This made me realize something important at my church– I don’t have specific values defined for our First Impressions Ministry.

Our church has a mission and 3 core values. We have taken our 5 First Impressions Teams through how their team fulfills the values and the mission of the church, but we have never defined specific values for our department or any individual teams.

Here’s part of why I think that is, at least on the teams I manage. I tend to rely on policies because a part of me doesn’t trust that people will do things the way that “I” think they need to be done. If I dig into this, it is about me, not the volunteers. I find myself defaulting to wanting to control how things are done, and, if I am not careful, it can cause a lot of damage.

Former Navy Seals, Leif Babin and Jocko Willink teach, “There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.” If I can teach my team our values with excellence and trust the Holy Spirit to work in each volunteer, then I can let go of policies and trust each volunteer to welcome with excellence in the unique way God designed them.

Knowing the values allows volunteers to move beyond rigid policies to welcome and serve the person in front of them with excellence. Having values drive “how” our volunteers perform their role gives them ownership of their position. Focusing on shared values creates a “we” culture. If my volunteers know the “why” behind what we do, they can address each person individually and make a much bigger impact.

Transform a “No” Into a “Wow”

If volunteers are empowered to serve each person with excellence then moments where they would typically have to respond with a “No” can easily be turned into a “Wow.” Let me unpack that, because I love his point here. Let’s say a guest asks if you have a nursing mother’s room, and you don’t. A policy response might be “No, I’m sorry we don’t have a nursing mothers’ room.” But a value response might be telling her that while you don’t have a room designated as “nursing mother’s room” there are plenty of empty classrooms and you’d be happy to help her find one. Volunteers can focus on going above and beyond for that “one” person in front of them and “wow” them with a unique solution to fit their particular need. If all the volunteers have are policies, then they will struggle to genuinely meet needs and create a loving environment, especially if they encounter a situation outside of what’s written in the handbook.

Stop, Start, Continue

This is a tool I use a lot in coaching individuals and organizations, and it fits nicely with Jonathan’s encouragement to make small changes over time instead of 1 big overhaul.

Stop – what do we need to stop doing that isn’t helping us welcome with excellence?

Start – what do we need to start doing to help us better welcome with excellence?

Continue – what is working well that we can continue doing that helps us welcome with excellence?

Jonathan suggests that if you make one small change a week and half of them don’t work out, you will have still made 26 improvements that worked. As I think through our culture, our rate of change may need to be a bit slower. But, finding the right rate of change and communicating the “why” that relates to the mission they are passionate about can help eliminate some of the apprehension that comes with change.

Building Trust In Your Church


To create a culture of welcoming and excellence, Jonathan recommends these three strategies:

1. Choose Values Over Policies

2. Transform a “No” Into a “Wow”

3. Stop, Start, Continue

I plan to use all three of these steps to create a welcoming and excellent culture within our First Impressions Department. The first thing I need to do is get our leaders together so we can define the values for our department and possibly each team in our department. Then, we need to use that to develop our training guides, so volunteers know “why” we have a First Impressions department and how they can live out those values in their individual roles. This is the perfect recipe to create a great guest and volunteer experience each week!

Posted on: April 13, 2020

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