As a pastor, staff member, or lover of the local church, there are few joys that compare to when a brand new person walks through your doors for the first time. It is our goal, as Christ followers, to help others find and follow Christ. Whether this is by being friendly and normal to someone who is new to your church or getting a committed attendee to become a high capacity volunteer. For many, these opportunities may begin with those first hesitant steps through the entrance of a church.
While it’s definitely a success to get people to attend a church service, there’s much that can go wrong. Even if your guest had an all-around great experience, sometimes a lack of motivation or fear of attending alone could stop a second visit. Understandably, so. Would you want to attend an event (in an environment you’re uncomfortable in) alone?
What can we do to make our guests want to come back?
To make our church service feel like home?
#1 – Provide first-time guests with a small gift sometime during their first visit.
Do you remember the last time you were invited to a friend’s house? You walked into their home probably smelling of lemon-scented Lysol that they had wiped their table down with just minutes before you entered their home. There may have been cheese trays and fruit. Or dinner in the oven.
They were expecting you.
When church leaders are all in place, a small gift can act as that personal touch that communicates to your guests that you not only knew they were coming, but you were excited about them too. So much so that you got them a gift.
Gifts don’t have to be anything elaborate. They can be something as small as a pen and a brochure showing them how they can get connected to your church. For people that love free stuff (which should be all of us), T-shirts or coffee mugs may be a great idea. This could also take a guest’s visit past a weekend experience and remind them of your church every time they drink coffee on their way to work.
One of the more personal gifts that may speak to first time guests is what Tuscaloosa Vineyard Church practices. They’ll give out a small $5 gift card to somewhere like Starbucks and include a hand-written note from a pastor. Personal and practical.
#2 – Hand write a thank you note.
Somehow we already find ourselves in the year after Marty McFly and Doc travel to the future. While the movie portrayal wasn’t altogether accurate, it’s safe to say we do spend the better part of our days on screens.
Kindles, desktops, laptops, working from home, etc. are all great tools and resources, but there’s still nothing like a notebook and a pen. Spatially, sometimes I have to avert my eyes from a screen to a physical piece of paper before they glaze over permanently.
An automated thank you note can feel, well… automatic. As a first time guest anywhere, receiving a thank you note that’s typed or printed is a nice gesture, but I’m unimpressed knowing that this same note has been passed out to an endless amount of other guests. I feel like another number.
There’s something about knowing someone took a pen to paper, took time out of their day, and wrote specifically to me. They wanted to know that I knew they were glad I was there.
When all of the snail mail your attendees are getting are typically bills, it would be a treat for a first-time guest to open the mail to see that you remembered them and you want them to come back. A little effort can go a long way here.
#3 – Give your guest a quick mid-week phone call.
For some, the idea of making a phone call to someone you may have just met briefly or not at all before can induce sweaty hands and a rapid heartbeat.
I understand your fears.
Something important to remember here, though, is that you have the upper hand. As the pastor, staff, or high capacity member of your church, you are an insider. Your guest is the new kid at school that wandered into class, just wanting to make friends.
This does not (and shouldn’t) have to be a long, drawn out conversation. Just a quick hello, check-in, you can thank them for visiting, and close by asking if there is anything they may need prayer for. You’re simply letting your guest know you were glad they came and hope they come again. You’re letting them know that they were noticed and important. This communicates again, that they’re not just another number, but you’re taking the time to make them feel like a unique individual that you care about.
#4 – Send your guest a text message.
Even if you happen to be great with phone calls, you may find that your guests are not. Not everyone answers calls from phone numbers they don’t know and voicemail is becoming more outdated.
A text message is quick, simple, still gets your point across, and the guest you’re reaching out to doesn’t have to respond. Especially for first-time guests who are “church shy”, it may be good not to overwhelm them and let them remain anonymous while they are still exploring your church. This is a good way to let them do that, while still letting them know you notice them and are readily available to them.
#5 – Send your guest an e-mail.
While this shouldn’t be the only way to follow up with a first-time guest, it can still be a great way to do so.
While most people are sorting through spam and bills, it may be a refreshing change of pace to see an e-mail from the church service they attended on Sunday.
The key here is to make it personal. You don’t want your guest to feel like a number or a project. Be normal. Be funny. Avoid rigid language. Maybe add some visual communication – like photos or a short video thanking your guest for attending. Similar to a phone call, you can ask how they’re doing or what they may need prayer for.
Don’t overwhelm. Rather than trying to let them know of every single ministry your church offers, make your call to action something as simple as coming back to a service.
Being intentional, being personal, and being normal with these or any follow-up strategies you use will turn guests into regular attendees and will hopefully connect them to the church and to Christ.