BREAK THROUGH BARRIERS. MAXIMIZE YOUR IMPACT.
I'm Scott Ball, a strategy and leadership consultant for churches like yours.
I work with The Malphurs Group to help your church grow the right way.
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5 Steps to Great Church Guest Follow Up
You are losing guests out the back door of your church every week.
This is the unfortunate truth about every church. Even churches that are knocking it out of the park every week lose guests out the back door. Why? Because not every person is going to want to come back for a second time. But here’s an encouraging reality…
The vast majority of your first-time guests are looking for a reason to come back.
Let that sink in for just a minute. Think about everything that had to happen for a guest to visit your church for the very first time.
They checked out your website, and liked it enough to come. They maybe downloaded or streamed a sermon, and liked it enough to come. They figured out if the location and service times worked for their family rhythm, and liked it enough to come. Their friend begged them for weeks to check it out, and liked them enough to come.
Your church has already overcome the vast majority of barriers to getting a first-time guest in the door. Now they’re looking for a reason to come back. They liked you enough to come once, and now they’re searching for a reason to come a second time. Most people who visit a church aren’t looking for reasons not to come back. They’re desperate for reasons to stay.
And so churches have endeavored for a long time to get the right ingredients for guests to return. Churches have thrown free gifts, free t-shirts, free trips to Disney World (that’s a real thing, by the way), free hugs at guests; anything to buy a person’s desire for a second try the next week. The fundamental flaw in this process is that what you win them with is what you’ll win them to.
Let me tease that out.
The method you use to get a guest to return matters because it communicates a value. Whatever you do that “wins” them back to your church is a “win” for that value. So, giving a gift is a great way to win guests back for a second visit–but what value does that communicate? And what expectation does it cultivate?
Let me suggest a different primary method:
Really great church guest follow up.
A killer church guest follow up system communicates a higher value: relationship. If your church is driven by discipleship marked by believers invested in the lives of one another, perhaps it’s best to develop an assimilation process that’s rooted in relationship. To be certain, a gift can be a part of that process–but rather than trying to “buy” a guest’s return visit, a gift in the context of a great church guest follow up system should be just one expression of the value of relationship.
How do you implement this strategy in your church?
Here are the five steps to a great church guest follow up system:
1. Be relentless about collecting information.
I’m going to be brutally honest. I love the church where my wife and I go each week. We started attending several months ago, but the very first time I actually gave them contact information was two weeks ago. Here’s why: every time they ask for it, they want me to raise my hand in the middle of the church service to be given a connection card. That’s just not going to happen. I know, I’m a church consultant and should be above such pettiness. But I don’t want to endure the awkward glances or forced conversation from the person in the next seat that inevitably follows the “I’m New” hand in the air.
Develop a system for collecting information that is non-invasive but reliable. Invite guests to fill out a connection card several times throughout a service, and give multiple options for turning it in. Ideally, guests are given a connection card when they walk in so that they have to do something with it (even if that’s throwing it on the floor). Good places to drop them off are in an offering basket, at a connection booth, or at an informal connection event after the service. Then, be certain that these cards don’t get lost between Sunday and Monday. I know how easily it can happen. But be relentless about the data collection. Without it, none of the rest of these steps matter.
2. Don’t overwhelm guests the first week.
The first step is totally counter-intuitive. Many churches want to throw an email and a phone call and a home visit at a guest in the first week after they visit. Please don’t do this. When I was in the fourth grade, I had a huge crush on a girl (I’ll nickname) Kelly. I thought that Kelly hung the moon, and I really wanted her to like me. So I pulled out all the stops: I bought her jewelry (it was so tacky), I wrote her notes, I drew her pictures. I bet you can guess how she reacted… not well. It was too much. I overwhelmed her and it made things awkward. I recovered from the rejection. But I learned a valuable lesson: giving people space is sometimes the best way to show them that you care.
So, pick one way to get in touch with a guest the week after their first visit. It can be a phone call or email or a postcard. I prefer the hand-written postcard. Everyone gets an email, and they’re easy to overlook. Also, people are going to assume that an email (even if personalized) is a copy-paste job. People ignore phone calls when they don’t know the number, so you’ll just end up leaving an awkward voicemail. But when someone gets a postcard in the mail with something hand-written on it, they know you had to put some effort into it. You had to write it, stamp it, and put it in the mail. There was a day when mail was overwhelming. This is not that day. Mail is mostly bills and junk. A postcard stands out; it’s memorable and thoughtful.
3. Get in touch with the kids.
One to two weeks after their first visit, whether they returned the second week or not, get in touch with the kids (if they have kids age 2+). This must be something in the mail. First, kids don’t exactly check e-mail (at least I hope not). And secondly, kids almost never get something in the mail. Every day when we check the mail, my three-year-old son asks, “Is that for me?” Obviously, it usually isn’t. But on the rare occasions when there is something in the mailbox with his name on it, he goes bonkers.
Invest in some fun things to send to kids, along with a note from a staff or volunteer. Thank the child for visiting, and invite them to the next special event: a game night or a movie or activity–something that they’ll be eager to attend. This accomplishes two critical things: first, if kids like your church, parents will be more likely to want to come, too. Secondly, reaching out to the kids directly communicates that you care about families. Remember, relationship is the higher value you’re trying to communicate, and the relationship that a guest values most is the one with their kids.
4. Invite guests to a connection event.
Families like free food that revolves around nap time. That’s the best way I can describe the ideal connection event. Have food, keep it short, and be mindful of the scheduling. If your church schedules its connection event too late in the afternoon, any family with small children will skip it because they’ll be needing a nap. Parents don’t want their kids to be “those kids” and won’t attend something that pushes their children into the meltdown zone.
But once you’ve planned your connection event, invite guests that have come since the last event. I encourage you to host connection events every four to six weeks. If they’re too far apart, people who only attended once that get invited will think, “What church was that?” They need to be frequent enough that a guest’s first-time experience was fairly recent. Hopefully they’ve come more than once! Invite guests personally. Calling them is appropriate, and so is an email. It’s okay if these events don’t have lots of people, just be sure that you program the event according to the size it will actually be. For example, if you have five people come but have seating for thirty, it’ll be really awkward.
5. Pray for guests by name.
From the time that a guest visits the first time until they get invited to a connection event, keep them on a “newcomers prayer list.” Have a prayer team that’s responsible for praying for each of these guest by name. Even better, require staff to be a part of this process. Remember that a great guest follow up system is about promoting the high value of relationship. When we care about people, we pray for them. So, pray for your guests.
This is perhaps the most critical step in a great church guest follow up process, because prayer matters. I believe God hears these prayers, and that these prayers are “effectual” in the process of connecting guests into deeper community (James 5:16). Don’t neglect this step.
Last fall, my wife and I visited a few churches as we were in a season where we needed to find a new long-term community. One of them overwhelmed us with information. They gave us a bag with what must have been thirty pamphlets. We were invited to a dozen events. We were glad to be informed, but it was extremely disorienting. This wasn’t the main reason we didn’t stay, but it didn’t win many points either.
The church we have ended up investing in exudes the high value of relationship. Their awkward information collecting practices notwithstanding, everything about this church communicates that they care about people more than anything else. From the preaching to the greeting to the kids ministry, they’re willing to sacrifice what others might consider a priority in order to place a higher value on caring for people.
A great church guest follow up system does this, too. The church isn’t a building, it’s people. So if we’re going to have a long-term impact, we ought to win people to our church by communicating a high value on relationships.
Want even more tips on getting guests to become regulars?
Great church guest follow up is only one part of the process in getting guests to become regular attenders. Download my free guide to access 10 Simple Secrets to Transform Guests into Regular Attenders. This brief guide gives ten detailed tips you can implement right away to further close that back door of your church.