How important are aesthetics and bathrooms at church?

English: A sign showing the location of the re...

A growing number of churches are seeking the help of “secret shoppers” or consultants to tell them how new visitors see their church. (Kind of like when a mother-in-law visits and runs her white-gloved fingertip across your bookshelf.)  This from the Christian Post today. Surveys are also used extensively, to help leaders discover what impressions they make with first-time or new visitors. I saw this article below in the Christian Post this week, and it got me to thinking. I do agree with making people feel welcomed. But do we go too far sometimes? Some would say that the unsaved could be turned off by a long bathroom line or stale doughnuts to the point where they might not come back to hear the Gospel message. Others would say that the church isn’t here to attract and entertain, but to equip the saints to go and make disciples.

I’m hoping to get a good discussion going among our Stand Up community.  Read the article and weigh in.

What They See When They Come to Your Church

In the context of serious theological discussions, it may seem trivial to write about first impressions of guests when they visit your church. But, if we could understand that a returning guest has more opportunities to hear the gospel and experience Christian love and fellowship, we might take the issue a bit more seriously.

Prior to assuming the presidency of LifeWay, I led a church consulting company. One of our first steps in the consultation was to send one or more first-time guests to the church. Those individuals would then report back to us on their experiences. Many times those we enlisted were unchurched non-Christians.

Why We Don’t See It

I am working at home today because a handyman is working on several small items around my house. I love his approach. When he first enters our home, he asks for permission to take a quick tour. Within minutes, he commented on several items that might need his attention, items that weren’t on the list I gave him. I appreciated his thoroughness, and it was good for his business as well.

The handyman did something very basic and very simple. He looked at my house through outside eyes. I am in my house everyday, so I don’t notice those things that may not be just right. The same is true for church members and church leaders. They see their church on an ongoing basis, so they don’t have the benefit of outside eyes.

What They See

After two decades of church consultation, a clear pattern emerged. These were the areas that engendered more comments and concerns from first-time guests. These areas are listed in order of frequency of response, and they deal only with physical facilities. I will address non-facility issues in next Saturday’s blog.

    • The women’s restrooms. Almost 100 percent of the female guests we retained addressed this issue. They noticed first and foremost the cleanliness of the restrooms. Then they noticed the convenience of getting to the restrooms. Finally, they noticed the capacity of the restrooms. Did they have to wait in line?
    • The preschool and nursery area. This area was a focus of near unanimity of young families. Is the area secure? Is it clean? How do I know someone else won’t pick up my child? Do the workers appear concerned and qualified?
    • Parking. Guests often commented on the difficulty or ease of finding a parking spot. Was there a covered drop off if the weather was bad? Were there guest parking spots? Were there reserved places for young mothers and expectant mothers? Were there sufficient handicapped parking places?
    • Signage and information. Last week my wife and I were in mall we had never visited. The first thing we did was go to a sign that had all the stores and their locations on it. Even small churches can be intimidating to first-time guests. Do you have adequate signage throughout the facilities? Is there an obvious information booth or table? Members know where to go; guests don’t.
    • Worship seating. First time guests desire to find a place to sit as quickly as possible. They feel awkward otherwise. Is your worship center more than 80 percent full? If so, the guests perceive it is completely full. Are your members trained to move to the middle of pews or seat rows so guests don’t have to climb over them? Are their ushers or greeters available to lead guests to seats?

It Is Important

When a guest has a good experience, he or she is more likely to return. When they return they are more likely to hear about and experience the love of Christ.

When I was a pastor of a church with 70 in worship attendance, we decided to do something about our deplorable restrooms. We had a workday and almost half the church showed up. People donated materials, labor, and even toilets. At the end of the day, we had some of the nicest and cleanest restrooms in town.

I don’t know how closely it’s related, but our attendance bumped up to 90 immediately and never went back in my tenure. Maybe it was the church working together. Maybe it was the community observing the unity of the church. Or maybe we just had clean restrooms.

It is that important.

What issues are important to guests in your church? What changes has your church made? What changes should your church make?

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7 Responses to How important are aesthetics and bathrooms at church?

  1. Gotta make sure the customers are happ-…..uh wait, that's not it. Gotta make sure the memb-….no, let me try again. Gotta make sure the….oh never mind.


    • chris says:

      So what draws new people to any church to begin with – usually someone they know/are friends with recommended it. It is our job to make new christians, not the pastors. Welcoming facilities are a plus! If my friend is a great person but his house is a pig-pen I will still be his friend, but won't stay at his house.


  2. "What we need is a diagnostic device to figure out what the customer needs." Bob Buford, board member and one of the founders of Leadership Network, revealing his corporate roots.


    Church is not a business… is the gathering of blood bought believers who come together to worship their risen Savior.

    For those who aren't aware of what Leadership Network is, it is a group of wealthy and connected California businessmen (professing Christians), who got together several decades ago and decided that they wanted to figure out ways to "market" church more effectively. But as you can see from their language, they sometimes forget that they're dealing with Christians, not customers. Hint: the focus is all wrong if it's on parking, bathroom cleanliness, signage and seating.

    Leadership Network (with whom Thom Rainer, author of the CP article referenced above, is loosely affiliated) is the group that came up with the "seeker sensitive" version of church we see today, a "user friendly" form of church that has proved to be, sadly, a lemon. Customers-, uh, Christians, that is, need to rise up and demand a recall. Recall all the churches with flashy lighting and dry ice that are serving up watered down teaching and self help sermonettes, and re-install churches that are teaching expository sermons, systematic theology and catechism.



  3. Sally says:

    If you have ever been on a mission trip, you may think differently. While in Russia, I got to use a "squatty potty" . You don't want to know. And while in a hurricane in Jamaica, in a room full of believers praying we didn't get blown away, the toilet was a 5 gallon bucket with a cloth held up by others while you did your thing. We are too concerned with such petty things here. Keep the gospel the focus and go out where the people are like Jesus did. Thanks,


  4. Terry Reed says:

    I have to agree with the article. Of course our main focus is preaching the gospel and ministering to those whom God has given us. But to fail to attend to little things like bathrooms, etc. is poor stewardship in my opinion. I have told my people that the most important room in any church is the sanctuary. The 2nd most important room is the Nursery. Naturally you can obsess over these things and begin thinking like a business which the church is not. But on the other hand, to fail to take care of these matters is carelessness. Make the word the main thing while tending to the rest.
    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools


  5. Thurston Tarter says:

    Christians, myself included, get a little nervous when we aren't talking about the really gritty things of our faith, but Jesus did talk more about being kind,(the good samaratan) and caring for one another, than he did about going to the mountaintops and preaching to the masses.
    The fact is most of us, even the hardest core missionary, would feel badly if they invited some friends to their house and the bathroom was filthy, or not working, especially if many of their friends were elderly or handicapped in some way. Why should going to a church be less hospitable? Perhaps we have made the church building to be something it is not by trying too hard to spiritualize the experience, and not excepting it as a means of just loving one another as we would want to be treated.


  6. Mike says:

    In the early church they met in people's homes for worship and fellowship. I have no doubt in my mind whoever was hosting the meeting worked fervently to be sure their home was ready to receive guests. I hardly think they opened their doors and said "oh just step over the garbage, look over dishes in the sink, never you mind that horrid smell and the flies. By the way our outhouse (or whatever they used for a toilette) is also out of commision. No matter, we're not here for that anyway right? We are here to worship the Lord and enjoy fellowship with one another. How many know, somebody has already made up their mind that they are not coming back to that house for a meeting. What they will seek out instead is a home that understands good housekeeping and understands the needs of their guests.

    In some cases cleanliness is hard to maintain because of deplorable conditions in third world countries or in places where people have not the resources. And no, God's presence does not depend on the quality of our hospitality, thank God! However, hospitality has proven to go along way to helping to reach as many as we can and therefore becomes a strategic tool in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Remember the hospitality Jesus encouraged and condemned in the home of Simon. He told Simon, when I came into your home you gave me no water for my feet, no kiss and no oil for my head. Which by the way were common hospital courtesies offered to guests when coming into a home. But this woman, (speaking of the adulterous woman) since I came into your home has washed my feet with her tears, kissed me and put precious expensive oil on my feet. Point: she made Jesus feel more welcome in Simon's home than he did, which actually was a reflection of how much Simon really honored the presence of Jesus in his home. Application: If hospitality was something Jesus expected as common courtesy and even took the time to applaud, is it wrong for us to look for and expect that places we go such as restaurants, stores, or peoples homes would also make preparation for our arrival which shows they care about the people coming. Should it be said these other places show more hospitality than the places where God's people gather? Shouldn't hospitality be important also to us as it was to Jesus? Jesus also practiced hospitality numerous times by feeding those who followed Him.

    Even people in third world countries provide bucket and two brave people to hold a curtain. It's not much, but it says I honor your being here with me so much to make sure I try as hard as I can to meet vital needs you may have while being here to make it as comfortable as possible for you. That's my 5 dollar contribution. Thanks


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