7 Minutes to Make an Impression

So I’m reading a book which wants to tell me why people don’t come back to church after the first visit, and how churches can make it more likely that people return.  And I come across this little snippet,

Seven minutes is all you get to make a positive first impression.  In the first seven minutes of contact with your church, your first-time guests will know whether or not they are coming back.  That’s before a single worship song is sung and before a single word of the message is uttered.

Obviously your guests aren’t making a logical decision based on the integrity of the preaching, the character of the church staff or the clarity of your doctrine.  They are not weighing pros and cons of worship styles and theological viewpoints…. Instead, they are taking clues about your church’s atmosphere and the peopl’es friendliness on a much more rudimentary level.  Their subconscious minds are working overtime to evaluate their compatibility with this new environment.

Fusion by Nelson Searcy (2007), p49-50

As the quote says, this isn’t a biblical observation, it’s a lesson drawn from studies of human behaviour and decision making.  So what’s your experience?

  • When you visit a church how long does it take you to form an opinion?
  • How does the experience of getting from the street to your seat colour your expectations of the worship experience and teaching?
  • Have you ever decided within 7 minutes not to return to a church?
  • Have you experienced a church make a strong first impression on you within 7 minutes?

I certainly relate to this “7 Minute Principle”.  I enjoy visiting other churches, but when I do I’m on pins and needles constantly scanning my environment trying to make intelligent judgments.  What publications do they have in their foyer?  Do they have a powerpoint projector?  What songbook do they use?  What Bible version do they have in their pews?  Do they have pews or chairs?  How are the worship leaders dressed?  How many members carry Bibles?  Does anyone talk to me or notice I’m a visitor?  What are the demographics of the congregation?  Does it look like it’s involved in the community, or is it still living in the 50’s?

A couple of other good books that cover this topic are:

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2 comments

  1. rob

    When you visit a church how long does it take you to form an opinion?

    When my family and I moved to Rochester from Owego we visited the congregations in the area to find a new church “home”, we visited what were thought to be the more moderate congregations in the area at the time (Lawson Rd, Brockport and South Side), We decided on Lawson Rd as it seemed at the time to be the most scriptural and moderate of the congregations (at the time). It took us 4 visits to all the congregations to make a decision.

    When I joined the Army and was stationed in Savannah, I visited 3 congregations:
    The first one was an Anti-congregation (I visited 3 times) , the second was a moderate congregation (much like Lawson Rd was in the 80’s) I visited 5 times and the 3rd was a Liberal congregation ( I walked in and out in less than 2 minutes).
    I decided on the Bull Street congregation as it was a moderate congregation (the second congregation) (they ate in the building, did not celebrate human (traditions) holidays (or even mention them), did not allow musical instruments in the building (worship) or allow the congregation to clap hands during our worship service as they and most churches of Christ (at the that time and still do) teach is sinful, preached both the eternal life but also eternal death, etc). The reason I did not choose the anti-congregation is that I find with most anti-congregations there is no compassion and I believe that we need to have compassion (One thing I really Like about Lawson Rd) . The 3rd congregation, well I would never attend a Liberal congregation as these congregations I find are not scriptural and do not follow all the commands that we are commanded to follow.

    How does the experience of getting from the street to your seat colour your expectations of the worship experience and teaching?

    Getting from my car to the pew does not affect my decision in the least, as the building is just a meeting place and has no bearing on me.
    What has a bearing is how Scriptural they are (do they only speak where the bible speaks, and be quiet where it is quiet, do they use Thus Saith the Lord, Do they pattern themselves after the True Church or do they allow human traditions into the worship service, do they wear the name church of Christ (non-demo national) and the One and Only True Church or are they a just another denomination , do they have a piano or organ in the building (Christian Churches), if they are playing music over the loud system is it instrumental, etc.

    Have you ever decided within 7 minutes not to return to a church? Have you experienced a church make a strong first impression on you within 7 minutes?

    I have made that decision not to return to a congregation that wore the name church of Christ but had a organ in the auditorium, as soon as I saw it, I turned around and walked out of the building as that congregation was sinning. That was the 3rd congregation in Savannah and that only took 1 second to decide.

    The Bull Street, the Fairfax congregation, the Eastside congregation and Manassas congregations were all friendly and made me feel at home all of them were conservative to moderate, none of them were Liberal.

  2. ozziepete

    Thanks for taking the time to comment Rob.

    I think you’ve demonstrated well the difference between a committed Christian and a general member of the public. This 7 minute rule doesn’t really apply to someone seeking a church with particular belief or doctrinal emphasis.

    However, for people who don’t know enough to distinguish between the beliefs of particular churches, or for people choosing between churches with similar beliefs, I think you’ll find the 7 minute rule to be important.

    When you saw something you didn’t like, viz. an organ, you immediately dismissed that church. For people with less dogmatic backgrounds the absence of a nursery, or all the men wearing suits and ties, or all the men wearing t-shirts, or an inability to locate the restrooms on their own, or no one talking to them, may be enough to create a negative impression they they won’t fit in at this church.

    This negative impression may then convince them to keep visiting other churches, regardless of how good the singing, or inspiring the sermon. Their opinion is already formed.

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