Are Your Visitors Having a Wow4 Worship Experience?

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When newcomers worship with your congregation are they having a “Wow4 experience?”  I recently heard Bob Farr from the Missouri Conference talk about “The three wows of worship.”  Essentially, he said that unless visitors have a three Wow experience, the chances of them coming back are slim.  I’d like to share what he said – and add one I think will clinch their return. 

To have a Wow4 worship experience people’s expectations must be exceeded.  Their experience in your congregation must go beyond what they anticipated.  Since every community and congregation is different, what Wows people in one church may not in another.  What are the critical areas in which you need to exceed people’s expectations? 

Wow1 is hospitality.  One of the challenges with hospitality is that we often fall into the trap of thinking techniques: a helpful website, clear signage, greeters in the parking lot, friendly ushers, clean bathrooms and an information kiosk.  While each of these and more may be helpful, the bottom line is for people to feel a relational connection.  I heard from someone lately who visited a congregation that had all of these hospitality strategies in place, but she said that otherwise not a single person in the congregation spoke to her before or after worship.  She left feeling unwelcomed: no one seemed to care enough to engage her in a friendly conversation.

Wow2 is children’s ministry. While it’s true of all of the “Wow’s,” it is particularly true with this one: get all the rest and miss this and a family with children will not be coming back.  A quality children’s ministry experience means having a nursery that young parents sense they can trust.  The room should look sanitary and up-to-date.   The persons working there must be experienced as competent and caring.  If the older children come out of Sunday school raving about it, chances are pretty great the family will be back.  If they come out groaning, it’s probably a deal breaker.  I visited a congregation recently and was being shown around.  When I saw their nursery and met their staff, I remember instantly thinking, “Wow, I bet Noah [my grandson] would have a great time being here.”  I was Wow’ed.

Wow3 is worship itself.  A Wow here often comes from the music.  It can come from the sermon or from some other element in the worship service.  Again, the point is that the quality of the visitor’s experience exceeds their expectations. After 9-11 there was a huge spike in worship attendance followed by a precipitous drop almost back to pre 9-11 attendance levels within several weeks.  When asked why, visitors essentially responded that their experience of worship was that it was old fashion in style, unengaging in presentation and didn’t seem relevant to their lives.  It was just like they remembered it from years before when they quit going to church.  And so they didn’t come back . . . again. 

Wow4 is God’s presence.  People are looking for a spiritual encounter with the living God.  I’m not talking Pentecostal fireworks.  I am talking about the recognition that people here really expect to have a transforming encounter with God in their worship service.  They come anticipating that God will be doing something special through the service.  They listen to God’s word with an openness to whatever God might say to them at this point in their faith journey.  There is a contagious feeling that when they leave, they will be different people -- better disciples -- than when they came.  I’ve visited a lot of congregations in the last 8 years.  In some, the sense of mystery, of coming into God’s transforming presence is palpable.  In some, I wondered if God never showed up, would anyone notice?  Of course God is at every worship service.  But when those who plan for worship assume that they are preparing the way for people to have a fresh encounter with the living God, and when people come expecting to be challenged, convicted, comforted, guided and sent out by the Holy Spirit, worshipers are open for God’s Wow.  Visitors sense this and they keep returning. 

How is your congregation doing offering newcomers a Wow4 worship experience?

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Dr. Jeff Stiggins

The Center for Congregational Excellence

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