Last weekend was awesome! I had the privilege of worshiping in a brand new worship center at a church I’ve been partnering with for the last couple years – Harvester Christian Church in the greater St. Louis area. It was their grand opening weekend, and excitement filled the air.
It was a blessing for me to see the fruit of their dedication and efforts, and to celebrate with them. Seeing what happened that day, and hearing of what happened at another church a colleague of mine has been coaching, made me want to share these successes with you – to encourage you and to give you ideas on how to make something similar very special for your people. So here are several ways to ensure the success of your church’s grand opening.
1. Conduct a Soft Opening
Much like a new restaurant serves their family and friends before opening the doors to the public, it is wise to have a soft opening a weekend or two prior to your publicized grand opening.
This helps work out the kinks in the new room. Lighting, sound, movements on stage, traffic patterns, parking issues – all these things can be observed and improved before inviting the greater public in for the first time.
This also provides an opportunity to celebrate the new space with your immediate church family. Many people have worked countless hours and given huge amounts of energy and personal finances to make the project a reality. Take a weekend to love on them, enjoy the space together, and bask in the glory of all God has accomplished through them before asking them to give up their seat for others as you go public. (This may seem like a small detail, but it’s huge!)
2. Be Prepared! (duh)
We all know that grand openings of new facilities draw large crowds. People love to come into a new worship space to see what’s going on. But your facility alone will not keep people coming back.
Make sure you are geared up for those who will be crossing your threshold for the first time. View your church through the eyes of a guest. Make sure you are ready:
- in the parking lot – have lots of attendants out front (smiling!), welcoming people onto campus, helping people find a parking spot. Harvester Christian Church ran shuttles to move people from their cars to the front doors!
- at the door – more people (smiling!), welcoming everyone in the doors.
- with clear signage – help people know where everything is located – the children’s space, the youth space, the nursery, the restrooms, and information center.
- at the information center – lots of smiling people with updated and refreshed literature about your church.
- in your nursery and children’s ministry areas – if a guest encounters overcrowded rooms, backed up registration kiosks, or other issues, they’ll sense there isn’t room for their family. If that’s the case, it won’t matter how nice the worship center is – they won’t return if you’re not prepared to handle their kiddos.
- in worship – start on time (countdowns are great for this!), and make sure every person who speaks on stage starts with an introduction. As a guest, I want to know who’s speaking. Are you on staff or a volunteer? What’s your role?
- after worship – have a place where people can go to meet the lead pastor. At Harvester, they’ve created the “living room” just off the main worship center for this purpose. With clear directions, this is the place to go to meet the pastor, learn more about the church, and ask questions.
- to connect with guests the weeks following the grand opening – You worked hard to get them there – now make sure you are ready to connect with them beyond the weekend to encourage their return. See #4 below for an additional idea.
3. Create an Outreach Opportunity
The leadership at Harvester planned a couple of things around their grand opening weekend that made so much sense. All along, they have insisted their generosity initiative was not about a building, but that the building was a ministry tool to lead people to find and follow Jesus (the church’s mission).
So they took some of the focus off the building itself that weekend, and they turned their new worship center’s grand opening into an outreach and local mission opportunity. For every person who came to the grand opening weekend, they would provide a backpack of food to a child in need in their local community.
They called it “Fill a Seat. Feed a Child.” Here’s a quick video they created to promote the idea to their people in advance of grand opening weekend.
This is a church known to have a heart for its community. In creating this outreach focus on their grand opening weekend, they’re not only staying true to their reputation. They’re also encouraging others to come to participate in this generosity to others, and ultimately to hear the gospel message of Jesus.
Plus, by reaching out to their local media about this outreach project, they garnered some additional promotion. KSDK, the local NBC affiliate, ran a feature on their program called Show Me St. Louis.
For a church running around 3,000 per weekend, they welcomed 3,700+ people to their new worship center for their grand opening – and more than 3,700 backpacks of food were given to children in need as a result.
What an incredible way to celebrate what God’s been doing in your church by joining together to help others in need. Well done, Harvester Christian Church. It was a pleasure to celebrate with you!
4. Engage Guests Beyond the Grand Opening
Beyond the grand opening, the next sermon series at Harvester has been planned wisely to engage those who are new to the church. Titled “Doctrine,” the series dives more deeply into what it means to be a Christian, and specifically the doctrines embraced by the church.
As part of the series, they’re welcoming author Lee Strobel to speak one weekend. (How smart is that?!) You know you’ll have lots of new people enter your doors during the grand opening season. It only makes sense to go back to basics to help those exploring the faith and those new to the church better understand what you’re all about, and also to create interest in returning for more.
And another thought I’ve written about before – consider engaging some form of text service that can assist in connecting with your new people throughout the coming weeks. In my blog post “Does Your Church Welcome Mat Say Welcome Back?, I referenced a terrific service from Text In Church that offers a slick and simple (and unique) way to connect with your guests. It would be wise to have something like this in place prior to the launch of your new ministry space.
5. Document Everything
Generis has been blessed to linked arms with First Baptist Orlando over the past couple years in a generosity initiative that helped fund a total renovation of their worship center. They just recently celebrated the grand opening of their newly renovated worship space.
With this sure-fire way to success, it’s not as much about what was done right around the time of the grand opening itself, as much as it was the preparation for it.
Their creative team documented everything in videos and photos throughout the entire building and renovation process. Then at the grand opening service, they were able to show a compelling time lapse video in celebration. Take a look for yourself – even having not been there in person, I’m inspired by the encouraging message it communicates.
In the video, you will note two activities that truly speak to the congregation, spiritually enriching everyone involved. First, at approximately the 1:25 mark, you see people writing family names and the names of those they are praying for, along with scripture, on the bare walls and floors of the worship center. Second, at the 2:00 mark, you’ll see people standing at the future location of the pulpit reading aloud the Bible. What a great way to dedicate a worship facility before it’s ever used for worship!
So there you have it – five sure-fire ways to ensure your church’s grand opening is a success. But it doesn’t have to be the opening of a new building. Part of the beauty of these five examples is that they would translate well to other events and initiatives in the life of your church.
The outreach idea would make for a great annual community focus project. And the concept of this time-lapse video would translate very nicely into your state of the church address at your annual meeting.
Think outside the box. Plan ahead. As always, let me know how I can best serve you.