It happens every weekend. Well, I’m guessing you at least pray for it to happen every weekend. A family who has never been to your church walks in the front door. You identify them by the “I’m-not-sure-where-to-go” confusion on their faces. Your friendly greeter welcome them. You introduce yourself and thank them for coming. You offer them directions to the children’s ministry for the kiddos. You encourage them to get free coffee in the guest area.
We’ve become very good at this part. It’s almost natural, isn’t it? Offering a bit of warmth and hospitality just feels good!
Visitors tend to have positive initial church experiences for several reasons, and I hear them every time I do a generosity audit with a church. Below are a few of the responses I receive when I ask attendees to tell me what attracted them to return after their first visit to the church.
- “I felt welcomed.”
- “I was greeted by someone at the door.”
- “People were warm and friendly to us.”
- “My kids loved the children’s ministry.”
- “They had people in the parking lot helping us find a place to park.”
This is a great start to a positive church experience. However, it’s far from the finish line.
Take a moment and think about a family who recently came to your church for the first time. What do you remember about them? How did you connect with them personally? But, most importantly, where are they now? Are they still attending your church?
Unfortunately, I frequently learn that the warmth and friendliness of the first visit tapers off quickly. And that encourages people to have their first and last experience at your church— all in one visit. When your positive touch goes away, they walk away.
Maybe you’re asking yourself why is it your responsibility to follow up with visitors. If they wanted to be involved in your church they would reach out to you, right? Deep breath: that’s not likely to happen. And here are two reasons why:
Visitors need you to initiate personal conversation.
Many people visiting your church are not sure whom to talk to. They’re also unsure of what to say.
As you initiate the conversation and ask a few open-ended questions, you will be better able to meet them where they are. You can then help them take their next step. This is the start of relationship building and that’s what it takes for them to return.
Visitors expect you to care.
You are the church, after all. And if you love the way God loves, you will demonstrate love to them. People may be facing incredible personal struggles when they visit your church for the first time.
Showing up that weekend may be their way of turning to you for help! And you would never have the opportunity to come alongside them if you don’t simply start a conversation.
So how do we ensure that people who visit your church also return to your church? A fundamental follow-up system must be in place. Enter Text In Church. This is a new service to help you automate a follow-up system for visitors. Your visitors will only have to provide you with basic contact information. Trust me, it’s not as scary as it sounds.
Text In Church suggests you have a method for gathering this information during your worship service when you welcome everyone. Something like this is displayed on your screen during the welcome message:
When you ask a visitor to provide their contact information, tell them what you’ll do with it. Such a consideration builds trust. Therefore, they’re more likely to provide their contact number, which serves as your primary source of contact with them. That’s your starting point.
In a short time the visitor, after their initial text to you, will receive something like this:
You can schedule other auto-responses within the service that connects with the visitor during that next week or two.
After the first visit, Text In Church recommends at least a six-week process to continue to encourage and build relationships. Their recommendations include postcards, text messages, small gifts and a series of emails.
- Emails allow you to send attachments and links to information about your church that visitors can review at any time.
- Postcards should be sent right after the first visit so it arrives mid-week. A short hand-written message thanking them for attending and encouraging them, suffices at this point.
- A quick phone call mid-week will help the first-time visitor feel cared for. It will also foster a sense of a personal connection with a church member.
- Small gifts are appropriate. A coffee mug, for example, works well when delivered within a couple days of their first visit. (Just to drop off, not to turn in to a two-hour in-home visit!)
- Text messaging is new for most churches. But that’s how many people communicate today!
Brief messages like “Hope to see you tomorrow at 10:30 for our next worship service at XYZ church!” are typically well received and helpful as a reminder to most.
There is surely a combination of follow-up techniques that would be ideal for your church and your first-time visitors. I encourage you to get it in place to ensure that the people who visit your church receive the attention, encouragement and guidance they need.
How do you follow up with visitors? What’s working for you? I would love to hear about your experiences!