But getting people in the front door might just be the easier part of a two-step process.
One of the biggest challenges churches face is how to invite first-time guests back and help them connect with the life of the church.
Not just to attend, but to stick.
Not just to visit, but to connect.
With all of the focus on reaching first-time guests, we can’t forget that the follow up or connection process is what helps new people find their place in the church.
Without a good follow up process, your front door will be more like a turnstile, inviting people in and just sending them back to their regular lives.
So what should you do after a first-time guest visits? What makes a great follow up process?
First, a few very important principles.
#1 – Your follow up process should be intentional.
Guests are going to visit your church in the coming weeks, whether you are ready for them or not.
That’s why it’s smart to think through what you want to purposely happen next.
There’s no need to rely on hope. You can carefully craft a strategy and a process that happens every single time.
Your follow up process should have an intentional ending. In other words, it should lead to one clear place. What do you really want these new guests to do? Where do you want them to go? You don’t need ten different options; you need one clear step.
And speaking of steps, you can intentionally design each step of the follow up process. Whether it’s an email, a text message, or a personal invite, each step should be there because it’s important.
#2 – Your follow up process should be personal.
It’s important to realize that your church can’t follow up with people; people at your church can follow up with people. So even as you design an intentional process (and can use automation in that process), it needs to be personal.
If you send emails, make sure they come from a real person and can receive a real reply. If you send text messages, make sure they come from a real person and can receive a reply. If you send a handwritten note card, make sure it’s signed by a real person who leaves a real phone number.
I’ve seen churches adopt a “concierge” approach for guests – a volunteer or staff member acting as a single point of contact for a new guest. We think this is one of many awesome ideas to stay connected to your guests.
#3 – Your follow up process should be automated.
As you build your intentional and personal follow up process, remember that a good bit of it can be automated.
This is particularly true when it comes to email.
New guests to your church don’t need to be subscribed to your weekly or monthly e-newsletter, dropping into regular communication without any helpful context. Instead, they need a carefully crafted series of introductory emails. They should receive these messages before hearing anything else.
A new person needs to know the basics before they hear about what’s current.
Craft an email sequence that introduces them to the regular ministries (not just the special events), shares the story and heart behind your church, and invites them to the most appropriate next step.
If you’re a Church Fuel member, login to the resource library and download the automated follow up campaign. It’s a Word document so you can quickly customize it to suit your needs. You’ll also find a coaching video explaining how to set things up and what types of technology to use.
Building Your Follow Up Process
With those principles in mind, let’s talk about some action steps you can take to build an intentional, personal, and automated follow up process.
#1 – Decide
The first step in building a follow up process is to decide what you want people to do. You’re beginning with the end in mind and asking the question, “What’s the main thing we want guests to do?”
You must intentionally craft a process that leads to this one clear step, not provide a myriad of options that will confuse new people.
If your current follow up process isn’t working well, clarifying the desired outcome will help.
#2 – Draw
Once you know where you want people to end up, it’s time to draw out your process. There are all kinds of technological tools you can use to create flowcharts, but at this point, I recommend you keep it simple.
Get a few people together in a room with a whiteboard and start drawing. The first-time guest is a stick figure on the left side and the action you want them to take is on the right side. Then start debating the steps.
Once you’ve got it on a whiteboard, it might be helpful to draw it in a flowchart. I use a Mac tool called Omnigraffle to make org charts and flow charts, but there are lots of other tools online.
Again, if you’re a Church Fuel member, you’ll find a template (PDF and original Omnigraffle version) in the Resource Library.
#3 – Implement
Once you’ve decided the goal and determined the steps, now it’s time to implement your process.
If you’re a visionary leader, this might be when you mentally check out. Visionaries often think decided is the same thing as done. But it’s actually executing the plan that leads to results.
If you are a WOW type of leader, involve a HOW person to help make your process a reality. Set up the systems and implement the automation that will make the follow up process actually work.
This may take a few weeks, but don’t give up.
#4 – Measure
Once you implement your process, there is a good chance it won’t work. I know that’s not very encouraging. But your process is just your first draft. It hasn’t gone through editing, improvement, or quality control yet.
That’s why you need to collect data on your process and look at it carefully. Are people opening or clicking on the emails? Are people responding to the text messages? Is your one clear step actually the right step or is there something simpler or better that should take it’s place?
Don’t just tweak your process based on gut feeling; use real numbers.
Figure out your guest connection rate, which is the number of new people connected after six months of visiting divided by the total number of guests in the control time period.
Measurement just might be the secret sauce of the entire follow up process.
#5 – Adjust
If you know what’s working, keep doing it.
But if your careful analysis of the numbers and process uncovers some things that aren’t working well, make changes.
In other words, if your process isn’t working the way it should, change it. Get the same group of people together and come up with version 2.
Take a Next Step
If you’re looking for more help creating and implementing a first-time guest process, join Church Fuel.
We are a community of pastors who value practical coaching and resources and encourage one another to grow healthy. Reaching new guests and helping them get involved in the life of the church is a regular topic among our members.
Every month, we release a brand-new master class, covering topics like volunteers, connecting people, preaching, finances, and more.
Members also get access to a resource library full of documents, spreadsheets and templates, including lots of follow up resources. There are members only office hours and round tables where you can get personal help when needed.
There’s no long-term contract and a money back guarantee, so you can check it out without pressure. Learn more here.
“Man… we have so many volunteers, we don’t even know what to do with them all.”
Have you ever heard anyone say that?
We definitely haven’t.
In our FOMO-driven world, it’s often hard to get people to commit to anything. The people who do volunteer seem to flake out and we are left on Sunday mornings short-staffed and struggling to be the most effective we can be in our different ministry areas.
But we believe it doesn’t have to be this way. We believe there are practical steps you can take to get more people to volunteer in your church and help your ministries thrive. That’s what we’d love to share with you today.
1. Figure out exactly who you need.
“How many volunteers do you need?”
Do you notice the problem with the above conversation?
More is not a goal. It can’t be reached. There is no end in sight.
And when your church hears this, they can almost sense this “doom and gloom” in your voice—the quest for never-ending volunteers. Or it sounds like no one can measure up and do all that needs to be done.
It honestly doesn’t sound like volunteering will be fun or an enjoyable experience.
Something to help break this cycle is creating a volunteer org chart. Writing down every single role you’d like filled (whether you have a person to fill it or not) can give you an exact idea of how many volunteers you actually need to effectively run each ministry area.
Not only that, but once you realize you need a fifth-grade kid’s leader, a production director, and a volunteer coordinator—you will be able to recognize people’s gifting to find the best people to fill your missing roles, and not just filling them up with warm bodies. Which leads us to our next point.
2. Ask people personally.
People can’t volunteer if they don’t know volunteers are needed.
And again, there’s a difference between announcing that you “desperately need kid’s ministry volunteers” (cue every Cheaper by the Dozen scene where twelve kids are running around wreaking havoc on everyone and everything—no thanks) and a simple “we need three elementary school classroom leaders.”
It makes it sound much more structured and like that is a much more attainable goal.
When you know what you’re looking for, you begin to notice people in your church.
Maybe there is someone in your small group who is really wise and soft-spoken and they’ve never volunteered because they’ve felt like they needed to be the outspoken life-of-the-party to volunteer. But they might make a great discipleship team member to pray with people after the service or get people connected to your church.
How much more would it mean for you or your staff to go up to someone and say, “Hey, we are so glad you’re a part of our church family. You know, I’ve seen that you are a great listener. That is a gift! Would you consider being a part of the discipleship team? I think you’d be really great at it.”
You might even be making someone aware of gifts they didn’t even realize they had. We love hearing stories of churches that do this.
3. Be clear about what is expected of your volunteers.
Every volunteer needs a job description.
Just because it isn’t a paid position, it doesn’t make it okay to throw your volunteer to the wolves. Like any other job, you need to provide clarity for the person filling a volunteer role.
How long do you need them to serve? Is it short-term or long-term?
Do you need them at one service? Both services?
Every week? Every other week? Once a month?
Be specific. Clarify what your expectations are. That way people know exactly what you expect of them and with that information, they can let you know if they’re able to meet those expectations.
4. Celebrate your current volunteers.
Rick Warren started his book The Purpose Driven Life with these words: “It’s not about you.”
But if we want volunteers who are going to stay engaged, it does need to be about them a little bit. A little encouragement goes a long way. People need to feel important. They need to feel like what they are doing matters. This will motivate them to continue serving.
You can do this in small, inexpensive ways like thank you notes, bragging about them on social media, telling stories about volunteers from the pulpit, giving them a gift, and letting them know they’re doing a great job and that you’re thankful for them.
You can also do this in bigger ways, like throwing a volunteer appreciation event. You can do it big and make it a show with entertainment or just a simple dinner.
Either way, it strengthens your relationship with your current volunteers, encouraging them to continue serving and staying engaged, as well as showing people who are not volunteering what the benefits of serving are.
It’s important for people to see that in addition to being selfless and giving their time and energy to serve, they will gain friends and a family to serve alongside. They’ll see that they will learn and grow through serving others. These are the things that will intrigue people to volunteer.
Take a Next Step
How do you take the stuff in this post and put legs on it? From someone who used to be a pastor and church planter, I know it can be frustrating to implement.
We know you care deeply about leading a healthy, growing church because it means leading more people to Jesus. Leading volunteers is an integral part of that process so everyone can spend time on what they're best at. As a result, we created a free guide to leading staff that will bring clarity and help begin to alleviate your frustrations.
Get your FREE copy of the Senior Pastor's Guide to Leading Staff today.
Every Christian church might have a different vision, but the mission is the same.
Share the gospel and help people grow in their faith.
This will (and should) look different for every church. Every city is unique. It’s made up of different people with different cultures, races, economic statuses, and ages. You’ll need to reach a college town differently than you’d need to reach a big city. Or a small town filled with snow birds.
But to be able to start reaching people…you need people.
A quick invite to church may not work for a lot of people. Some have their own pre-conceived notions about the local church and they may not want to step foot anywhere near one.
It’s our job to reach these people.
In our communities, in our neighborhoods, in our cities.
So, we’ve come up with some simple ways you can begin making your church a PART of your community rather than your community coming to be a part of it as outsiders.
Here are five ways to make your church known in your community.
1. Partner, don’t compete.
One of the easiest ways to get your church involved in your city is simply by joining or partnering your city with an event or cause that is already happening.
Think about it—how much time, money, and resources would it take for your church to begin talking about hosting a fall bonfire? A movie in the park night? A 5K?
If it’s already going on (or there is a group that can easily make it happen), all your church would have to do is show up! And we don’t think this is a good idea just to save time and money.
Partnering with your city, local business, or non-profit organization to do some sort of event or project will communicate two things to your city:
You care about issues going on in your city and want to do something about them.
You care about people and not just the headcount of your church.
People notice when you are leaving your church to partner with them about something you both care about. It’s a great conversation starter that can easily lead to building relationships. And with an established relationship, you can have opportunities to share the gospel.
And what a great help or testament you would be to organizations needing more hands, time, money, and resources! An event put on together would probably be done better than something you were putting together just as a church. All while making some lasting relationships along the way.
Think about something your church is passionate about. Or even something silly you do every year.
An Easter Egg Hunt, a 5K, a dance marathon…the list goes on.
Reach out to your city or local leaders and figure out what events you could work on partnering together.
2. Ask key leaders to join community organizations.
John Maxwell says a leader is someone who “knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”
A pastor who leads in tithing will typically have a generous church.
A youth pastor who is at high schools, football games, and recitals typically has leaders who are equally invested in the lives of their students.
In the same way, key leaders in the life of your church who are involved in community organizations will be noticed by the rest of your church members. And that lifestyle WILL become a part of your church’s culture.
City Church in Tallahassee, Florida has a team of volunteers to work concessions at local high school football games, a task usually done by parents of players. This way, parents can watch their kids play and enjoy the game night atmosphere with friends and family.
It’s a simple but powerful way they’ve been able to build a strong relationship with the local high school.
They also host a ‘Coffee and Connections’ group with Access Tallahassee that meets the first Friday of the month as a networking event.
It’s a simple and regular way that City Church connects with young professionals in their city.
It doesn’t have to be extravagant. You’ve just got to show up.
3. Car decals and t-shirts.
Everyone loves free stuff.
Back in my college days, there used to be this HUGE housing fair every fall and spring. Probably 10% of the people who went were genuinely interested in looking for a place to stay.
Nearly EVERYONE else was there for the free shirts, pens, mugs, candy, and koozies. And they weren’t even stylish. They had giant, ugly emblems of housing logos on the apparel. But that didn't matter to us. If you scored a long-sleeve, you were named king.
Shameless, I know.
But it’s what we did.
Imagine what people would do for a stylishly designed shirt from your church! Or a fancy car magnet or decal.
No strings attached. No having to use a fake e-mail.
Just a genuine gift to say ‘hey, thanks for visiting our church’.
Not only will that leave a lasting impression on your new guests, but hey—free walking advertising! And a sense of unity when you see another car parked in the Trader Joe’s parking lot with your church’s name on it.
Keeping your doors open to events outside of your church is a great way to build relationships with people in your community.
From weddings to funerals to Quinceañeras—all of these events are great opportunities to love on people and serve your community well.
From fair pricing to interacting with guests to the service you provide, you have the opportunity to change people’s perceptions of the local church, to learn more about them, and serve them well.
5. Do business locally.
With online shopping and the era of one-click purchasing, it is tempting to do all of our business online.
It’s the epitome of instant gratification.
You see what you want, you click it, you wait two days.
But not all things can be done online (and they shouldn’t).
Relationships don’t happen in a one-click purchase.
We’re not saying we don’t appreciate saving that $4 on the book you were looking for. But that extra $4 could go towards walking into a bookstore, smelling the crisp smell of freshly printed paper, and striking up a conversation with someone. Someone that you could be a relationship with. Someone you could share the gospel with.
Do you want to invite more people to visit your church service or church event? Are you looking for the most cost-effective ways to advertise your church?
Here are some ideas for how you can promote your church.
And these ideas won’t cost a lot of money. In fact, most of them are free.
Idea #1: Share local events or helpful information on Facebook.
Take a look at the content you share on social media.
Is it all about you?
Chances are, you’re doing a pretty good job getting the word out about your services and your events.
It might sound counter-intuitive, but the best way to promote your church is not to promote your church at all. Stop posting selfies, and flip the camera around. Use your promotional resources to talk about things already happening in your community.
In other words, make it about them—not you.
Gwinnett Church does a great job with this with the hashtag #ForGwinnett. Go ahead and search that hashtag.
Sure, you’ll see a few pictures of church services and church events. But you’ll see a lot more stuff about the community.
Here are a few examples illustrating how Gwinnett uses their social media to be about the community.
When you talk about local businesses, local schools, and local events, people notice (and often share). You remind people that you’re not just interested in the growth of the church but the good of the community.
Idea #2: Equip your people with tools to invite.
I’ve said this before, but churches do a great job asking their members to invite others.
“Don’t forget to invite your friends next week,” is a common encouragement at the end of many church services.
But we don’t just need to ask them to invite, we need to equip people to invite. We’ve got to give them the tools they need. Remember, the easier you make something, the more likely someone is to do it.
Simple invite tools are not expensive.
It could be a few creatively designed invite cards printed from Next Day Flyers.
It could be pre-written social media posts (with pictures) that people could cut, paste, and post.
It could be car stickers, flyers, or graphics people can easily share.
Most people in church have smartphones in their pockets. That’s not something to fear; that’s something to leverage.
Here's what we mean.
We’ve seen churches put creative signs on the floor, so people can take pictures of their feet and let people know they are at church.
I’ve seen churches encourage people to take out their phones during the welcome and let everyone know they are at church.
I’ve seen churches create sharable notes and quotes so church attenders can share a little about their experience.
The main idea here is to recognize the collective influence of your congregation and find ways to help them leverage those relationships.
Idea #4: Go old school.
Maybe most people in your church don’t use social media. That’s okay.
There are plenty of non-technological ways you can get the word out about your church or a church event.
In fact, in a digital age, it might even be easier for something counter-culture to get noticed. There are plenty of old school, grassroots methods that still work in addition to new methods.
Printing flyers and handing them out might seem outdated, but if that’s what you can do, go for it.
Printing road signs and putting them out on the weekend can help you get some positive attention.
You can hang door-hangers in neighborhoods.
Be creative and be fun. And promote relevant events. But you don’t have to abandon traditional methods just because someone says everything is going digital.
Idea #5: Join outside-of-church community groups.
This won’t cost you a lot of money, but there could be a significant long-term impact.
If your community has civic groups, join one.
If your church has more than one person on staff, divide and conquer.
Can you imagine how many relationships and opportunities would happen if every civic group in town had a representative from your church? Someone should be at every Chamber of Commerce meeting. Someone should join the Kiwanis club. Someone should show up at the Young Republicans meeting or the Young Democrats meeting.
Be present in your community and look for ways to help. Your church just might be a solution to a problem some group is trying to work through.
Those are five ideas for how you can promote your church on a tiny budget. Some of these don’t involve any money at all.
But we’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment with what you’re doing and share what’s working in your church.
A phone call or voicemail. A church in Charlotte, NC uses SlyDial to leave a voicemail for a guest. The person’s phone never rings but a voicemail is waiting for them when they get to the parking lot.
An automated email sequence. You could use your database program or a tool like MailChimp to send 3-5 emails spread over a month to new guests. The content of these emails can be tailored to new people and answer the most common questions.
A hand-written thank you note. In the digital age, this might feel antiquated, but it’s one of the most personal and often the most effective follow up strategies.
Here is an example of a documented follow up process (the original, editable file along with step-by-step coaching and sample email content is available instantly to Church Fuel members).
Even if you don’t have many guests, I recommend working hard on your follow up process. The act of intentionally planning will help solidify your priorities and create a healthy expectation.
#4 – Design your service with guests in mind.
Gavin Adams, the Lead Pastor at Woodstock City Church, says we should not worry about being seeker-sensitive but we should strive to be seeker-comprehensible.
One specific place this principle matters is the church service itself.
The fact of the matter is that many church services are designed for people who understand how church services work. They assume people know what’s going on and have context for everything happening.
Now most people probably know the drill.
But new people will not.
That’s why it is important to design everything in your church service with guests in mind.
Pretend someone is at your church for the very first time. Pretend a 5th grader is attending “big church” for the very first time.
Explain every single thing every single time.
And when regulars say, “We get it…you don’t have to explain it any more”… remind them the explanation is not for them, but for new people.
You probably don’t need to change anything you do and you may not need to adjust anything you are planning to preach. You just need to explain it.
Here are some examples.
If you’re asking people to turn to a book of the Bible, give specific directions, and context. Don’t assume people know where Philippians is.
If you’re observing the sacraments of Baptism or Communion, explain the meaning every single time. Don’t assume people know what it means or why it’s important.
If you receive an offering, explain how to participate. It might sound silly, but this is one of the most important moments in your church service.
If you’re making announcements, don’t toss around ministry names that won’t mean anything to a guest.
Carey Nieuwhof says one of the marks of a church service designed to reach the unchurched is the service already engages teenagers. He writes, “If teens find your main services (yes, the ones you run on Sunday mornings) boring, irrelevant, and disengaging, so will unchurched people.”
It’s a common refrain among church leaders in charge of small groups: How do we get more people involved? The average church has 6 out of 10 attendees involved in some kind of small group ministry. That means 40 percent of your church is likely not connected to a group.
As more ominous statistics are released each year detailing the decline in American church attendance, many church leaders have started focusing on small group participation as a key indicator of the health of their church.
“In the future, church attendance won’t drive engagement; engagement will drive attendance,” writes Toronto pastor Carey Nieuwhof on his blog. “The goal will become to get people engaged faster and to engage people more deeply in the true mission of the church…”
While there are many ways to engage more deeply with your members, small group participation is one of the surest signs that an attendee is moving toward deeper involvement in the life of your church. Which is to say: healthy churches need healthy small groups.
Connecting that other 40 percent to a small group won’t be easy, but it can be done. Here are a few time-tested ideas to get you started.
1. Get more leaders!
Obviously, the number of your small groups is typically dependent upon the number of leaders you can enlist. It’s certainly easier said than done. But start by raising the profile of small group leaders. It’s not hard. Small group leaders are on the frontlines of your church. Their ministries are flush with stories. Tell their stories from the pulpit. Share them on your website. Speak of these leaders as heroes, those who make great sacrifices to make an impact in your church and in the broader community.
Also, take a look at your requirements and expectations for group leaders. Your strategy may dictate your expectations, but make sure you don’t have any outdated expectations that don’t fit today’s culture.
2. Leadership must model small group involvement.
Small groups can’t just be something your church leadership talks about. Your leaders must actually participate. This includes your senior leader. Small group involvement for leaders, particularly senior leaders, has its pitfalls. Depending upon the personality of the leader and the others in the group, having senior leaders step into a small group can stifle natural conversation. Senior leaders may also find it tough to be completely open during group discussion.
But it’s so crucial to the overall success of the small group strategy that leaders and the groups they’re in must choose to work through these difficulties together. You could try things like having the senior leader actually host a group, back off, and let another leader take over. This can be a great time for the senior leader to get to know their church members on a more personal level.
Church bodies can smell a “small group faker” from a mile away. If your leader encourages people to participate in groups he isn’t a part of, it’ll seem hollow and will ultimately fail.
3. Consider using multiple types of small groups.
There’s no rule saying you have to follow a particular small group strategy rigidly. Many of the strategies out there accommodate (and even encourage) an investment in other kinds of groups. Just because you offer sermon-based small groups doesn’t mean you can’t have some missional groups (in fact it doesn’t mean your missional groups can’t also do sermon-based studies as well). Just because most of your groups are closed doesn’t mean some of them can’t be open.
4. Give people a short-term group option.
You’d be surprised what a person would be willing to do for four or six weeks that they don’t want to commit to indefinitely. Even if your church prefers models that support long-term small groups, start a few short-term groups at key points in the year (after Easter, beginning of summer, the start of school, etc.). Target times when people’s schedules may be in flux (like at the beginning of new seasons or the start or end of school). Once these new groups form, encourage participants to consider extending their time together by suggesting a follow up study.