11-7titlegraphicOver the years, we’ve seen churches go to extreme measures to attract people to church.

Ed Young once spend 24 hours in a bed on the roof of the church to promote a new series.  Another Texas church gave away televisions, skateboards, guitars, furniture and fifteen cars in order to increase Easter attendance.  A German church doubled attendance with a Star Wars themed service.

Getting a crowd of people to show up at a church service or a special event really isn’t that hard.  With a little bit of hype and some fancy marketing, you can attract a crowd.

But attracting a crowd and building a church are two very different things.

If you want to truly connect people into the life of the church, and help them become committed Christ-followers, you must get intentional about your connection process.

Here are ten opportunities you have to connect people.

Step #1: Your Website

Most people will visit your website before they visit your service.

More than ever before, people are forming opinions of your church and deciding whether or not to attend based on your website.

Thom Rainer says a bad church website is one of the ten ways churches drive away guests.  In response to an informal survey, he writes:  “Most of the church guests went to the church website before they attended a worship service. Even if they attended the service after visiting a bad website, they attended with a prejudicial perspective. The two indispensable items guests want on a website are address and times of service. It’s just that basic.”

Your website should not be a digital dumping ground for all church-related information.  It’s the new front door to your church.  That’s why you should design it for new people, not members or faithful attendees who have lots of other ways to get information.

Here are a few questions to consider about your website:

  • Are the service times clear and visible on the home page?
  • Do you have a “Plan Your Visit” or “What to Expect” page?
  • Are you clear about where to park or where to go?
  • Do you explain what parents should do with their children?
  • Does your homepage focus on the regular programs and ministries?
  • Can people watch a service or see an overview of Sunday programs?
  • Do the words on your website make sense to people who are not familiar with your church?

Connecting people to your church can begin before they even visit a service.

[ctt template=”4″ link=”8LpuM” via=”no” ]Connecting people to your church can begin before they even visit a service.[/ctt]

Step #2:  The Parking Lot and Front Doors

While connection starts on your website, it continues in your parking lot and at the front doors.  Before people even sit in the service or hear a sermon, they are trying to figure out “Is this a place for me?”  That’s why guest services are vital to your connection process.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Before people sit in the service or hear a sermon, they are asking “Is this a place for me?”” quote=”Before people even sit in the service or hear a sermon, they are trying to figure out “Is this a place for me?””]

LifePoint Church in Fredricksburg, Virginia has friendly people in the parking lot, holding up signs to welcome people.  They are creating a positive impression on guests before they even get out of the car.

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At Gwinett Church in Atlanta, volunteers patrol the parking lot with wagons, looking for guests with young children.  They give them a wagon ride to the welcome center, all the while showing parents children are valued.

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Mariner’s Church starts connecting people in the parking lot with a special parking area for guests.  There are no boring “guest parking” signs…these have personality and spirit.

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In addition to staffing the parking lot with friendly people, pay special attention to who stands at your front doors.  It’s simple, but make sure you’ve got friendly people there. Long-time members engrossed in conversation with each other are barriers to connecting new people.  

#3: Family Check In

If you’re visiting a church for the first time with young children in tow, there’s nothing more stressful than checking them into a classroom for the first time. 

You know it’s safe and clean and properly staffed.  You know the children are going to have fun and learn about Jesus. But the first time mom or dad doesn’t know ANY of that.

They wonder what the room looks like.  They worry about their young children being left alone.  They want to trust, but maybe a bad experience somewhere else makes it hard.

This is an opportunity to turn something that’s normally tense into something that’s inviting.  You have the chance to redeem a confusing and chaotic moment and help people see your mission and vision in action.  Here are some things to consider about your children’s check-in area.

  • Do you have a designated place for first-time guests?
  • Do you have really big signs everywhere so people know where to go?
  • Is your check in area staffed with friendly people gifted in customer service?
  • Is the check in area organized and clutter-free?
  • Are you asking for unnecessary information on forms?
  • Are kids standing by while volunteers type stuff into a computer?
  • Do you have information to hand parents so they can review in the service?
  • Are you set up to give tours if people look like they need it?
  • Are your pick up procedures simple and clear?

If you want to connect young families into the life of your church, make sure their first experience sets the stage.

[clickToTweet tweet=”To connect young families into your church, make sure their first experience sets the stage.” quote=”If you want to connect young families into the life of your church, make sure their first experience sets the stage.”]

#4 – Handout or Bulletin

Though some churches are going paperless, most still put something printed in the hands of each attendee.  Whether it’s a place to take notes or announcements about upcoming activities, this is an incredible opportunity to speak to guests and begin the process of helping them follow Jesus.

Most handouts contain TOO MUCH INFORMATION.  What’s truly important gets lost among all the announcements.  So instead of loading it up with information, make sure to highlight one simple step new people can take.   Instead of talking about five ways to get connected, talk about the best way to get connected.  Instead of describing five upcoming programs or activities, take your time and fully explain the benefits of the most important one.

This will require honestly and focus, because all church programs are not created equal.  While all might be valuable, all are not equal in the minds of guests.  Trying to put every program and ministry on equal ground will result in a myriad of options that lack real effectiveness.

When writing your bulletin or handout, here’s are two thing that will make a huge difference:

  • Make your information about them, not about you.  Think about what’s going on in people’s lives and write to your audience.  It’s about them, not about you. Talk about the benefits of the children’s ministry, not just the times and topics. Talk about why someone should participate in small groups, not just the location of the sign up table.
  • Focus on your everyday ministries, not just your special events.  The things that happen in your church on a regular basis have the greatest opportunity to impact people, yet these regular ministries often get bumped for special announcements about work day or the ice cream social.  If you want to connect people to your church, talk about the regular, ongoing and most important ways for people to get connected.

Take a look at your handout or bulletin from the perspective of a new person and see if makes sense.  This is a great opportunity to connect people to what really matters, not just inform them about what’s next.

#5 – The Welcome

In each church service, there should be a moment where someone (the pastor, a staff member or even a volunteer), intentionally welcomes guests and talks about a next step. It’s the first church-wide push to encourage people to take a step. This is a critical moment in the connection process.  

During the welcome, you should intentionally speak to guests.  Say something like, “If this is your first time here,” and then extend a heartfelt welcome.  Let new people know what to expect and where they can go if they have any questions.

Another important thing to do in your welcome time is talk about your mission.  You might say something like, “The first thing you need to know about us is our mission.  We’re here to…”  This is something you could say each and every week you gather.  It might get old to you, but people need to hear it over and over again.  They need you to talk about it, illustrate it, and point to it when you see it happening.  New people especially need to know what your church is about.

If you want to connect people’s information, the welcome is the perfect time to describe a communication card and talk about what you’re going to do with people’s information.

Gavin Adams, the Lead pastor of Watermark Church in Canton, Georgia gives these nine suggestions to improve this element of your worship service.

  • Keep it short.
  • Specifically welcome guests.
  • Preemptively answer their questions.  Gavin says the question on most people’s minds is “How long is this going to last?”
  • Limit announcements.
  • Evaluate your words…all of them.
  • Define your target.
  • Dress appropriately.
  • Be likable.
  • Let your best communicators communicate.

Watch a 3-minute welcome segment from Gavin to his congregation.

#6 – The Welcome Center

Each church should have a central place in the facility where people can go to ask questions, get more information, or meet someone in person.

Rather than create multiple sign-up tables or information centers, you might find it most effective to create one central location for all next steps.  A bunch of sign up tables creates competition but one central location creates focus.

To encourage people to stop by the welcome area, you might offer them a free gift.  During your welcome segment in the service, you might let guests know that you have a special gift for them at the welcome center right after the service.  Hold it up and let people know what it is.  When they stop by to pick it up, a trained volunteer can have a short but intentional conversation.  Not only can you put a gift and some information in their hands, you can facilitate a real conversation.

#7 – Follow Up

As we continue our journey from guest to fully involved disciple, let’s turn our attention to follow up.  Until now, we’ve focused on creating a clear and quality experience for guests.  Now it’s time to get super intentional about connecting them.  After all, we don’t want people to just have a good experience.  We want them to get involved and ultimately, we want them to follow Jesus.

Our follow-up experience is a critical bridge in this process.

One of the most exciting things here is you get to design a process.  Go ahead and assume you’re going to have guests this month.  You get to create their post-visit experience.  You get to shape this with intentional communication.  

You and your team should get in a room with a whiteboard and create a flow chart of what you want to happen.  When should people get a phone call?  When should they get an email or a handwritten note?  How long should we wait before we email again?  These are great questions and you should talk them out thoroughly.

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In the end, you should end up with a flowchart that describes your follow-up experience. We have lots of training and sample templates in our Resource Library, accessible to all Church Fuel members.

# 8 – Ask people to do ONE THING.

Whether it’s Sunday morning or a part of your intentional follow-up process, one of the most effective things you can do to connect people in your church is talk about one thing.

While there are undoubtedly lots of places where people can get connected in your church, you should get super-intentional about the first step of the process.  By making the first step a really big deal, you’ll encourage more people to take it.  

Church of the Highlands in Birmingham does a great job with their Growth Track of classes.  The 101 class is the first and obvious step for people who want to get connected at Highlands.

You might have a newcomer’s lunch or a membership class or a different opportunity in your church.  But if you strip away some of the other options and focus on the first step, you’ll likely find more success.  Remember, in the presence of many options, people generally choose none.  So decide what environment gives you the best opportunity to connect people and commit wholeheartedly to that approach.

What’s the first thing you want people to do? Talk about that in your welcome, in your handout, and throughout your follow up process.

#9 – Push people to small groups.

While there are many successful models, the principle here remains the same: Christians need community in order to grow in their faith.

If you want to help people follow Jesus, one of the best things you can do is create an environment where Biblical community is normal.  

We could devote a slew of articles to this step in the process, because it’s that important.  But here are four practical suggestions to make this a meaningful part of the discipleship process at your church.

  • Choose a model.  You can have open groups, closed groups or age based groups.  Read books and ask questions about the variety of models, but then choose a model that will work best for you.  One clear model will work better than a conglomeration of ideas.
  • Kill the competition.  One of the biggest reasons groups don’t work is because there is too much competition.  If you want people to connect relationally, you can’t busy them up with other church activities.  
  • Develop leaders.  This is the #1 reason groups don’t work.  Leadership development is hard.  But if you want groups to succeed, invest your time and resources developing leaders.
  • Have a sign up season.  People don’t do things that are always available to them.  They think they will do it later.  So focus your sign up efforts and have a kickoff season.

#10 – Ask people to serve.

Another way to connect people to the life of the church (and ultimately – to following Jesus wholeheartedly) is to connect them to a serving team.   

Eric Geiger writes:

Viewing “discipleship” and “volunteer engagement” as completely distinct from one another, however, is an unhelpful false dichotomy. People can be discipled through volunteer engagement. In [our research], we discovered that people are most likely to grow spiritually when godly leaders apply the truth of God to their hearts while they are in a teachable posture. Growth takes place when there is a holy intersection of truth, posture, and leaders.

In your church, you might find engaging people to serve others is one of the most pivotal moments in their faith journey.

People decide to visit a church for a variety of reasons.  Maybe they are new in town and looking for a church.  Maybe a friend invited them. Maybe there’s something in their spirit that compels them.

The preaching, the music, the children’s ministry, the website, or an outreach event – all of these things can draw people to a church for the first time.

But what initially draws someone to a particular church may not be the ultimate thing that keeps them involved.  More often than not, what keeps people involved in a church is one of two things:  a relationship or a responsibility.

If people are connected relationally – to others, to the pastor or to family – they will likely stay involved at a church.  Or if they have a responsibility – they serve or they lead – they will have a much deeper reason to participate.  In the end, both the relational and responsibility aspects of a connection system should lead people to follow Jesus.

So What's Next?

Feel like your church should be growing, but it's not? From someone who used to be a pastor and church planter, I know it can be frustrating.

Ultimately, church growth is up to God. But what else can you do as a steward to reach more people?

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