Churches spend a lot of time, money, and energy encouraging guests to visit their church. And rightfully so.
Our churches should be places where the community is welcomed and where guests are expected. We should create welcoming environments, equip our people to invite, and constantly be on the lookout for fresh ways to advertise and promote.
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.
Church's First Time Guest Follow-up Process
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 notecard, 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 Up the Process
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 its place?
Don’t just tweak your process based on a 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.
Join Church Fuel
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.