A few years ago, we launched an initiative called “The Glue Team.” The goal was to make our church more “sticky.” Our hope was that we could be more intentional about building relationships, specifically with those who were new to our church or on the margins of our church.
Essentially, we put together a team of about 12 people who committed to arriving early on Sunday mornings and spending their time in the worship center meeting people who were seated prior to the service.
(At our church, as I’m sure happens at many other churches, the first people into the worship center before the service are often those who do not have significant relationships or they are people who are visiting for the first time and don’t want to arrive late. Those who are well-connected often spend extra time in the lobby cafe reconnecting with each other.)
The Glue Team was a minimal success, but for a variety of reasons, we shut it down after about nine months. At the end of the run, we gathered the team for a debriefing meeting and to discuss what other methods might be more effective to accomplish our goals.
For me, the biggest takeaway from that meeting was what I now call “The Opperman Principal.” My friend Charlie Opperman shared about a book he was reading that stressed the importance of closure and last impressions. He cited funerals as an illustration of the lengths to which we go in order to create a positive last impression of our friends and family members who have died. He suggested that we direct more focus on people’s “last impression” of The Gathering than on their first impression.
In some church circles, this is heresy. “First Impressions” has become an a cornerstone program in many church’s strategic connection plan. Amazon has multiple pages of books which were written to teach us how to make better first impressions at church. I agree that first impressions are important, but a great first impression will be forgotten after a bad last impression and a bad first impression can be overcome by a great last impression.
More often than not, the lasting impression is the last impression.
Our church is transitioning, not only in size but in staff roles. In the next few weeks, we will have a dedicated Pastor for Connections. His role is to empower people to move from their first connection at The Gathering into a LIFEgroup, a serving role or both. He will, of course, be overseeing our “first impression” team but he will also be paying close attention to our “last impression” experience.
Over the coming months, we will be constantly asking the question, “What needs to happen in order for someone to leave our parking lot and say, ‘I can’t wait to come back next week?'”
We will write the stories that lead to that statement. We will identify what we can control and work on to promote more people making that statement. And hopefully, the Opperman Principal will enable us to communicate more of God’s message to more people so that we can make more of a difference in more of God’s world.