When someone visits your church, whether online or in-person, you want to see them. You want to know their name. You want them to know that you’re glad they showed up.
And you don’t want their first visit (or first view) to be their last. What’s the key to getting guests to come back? Following up. Guest retention rate is highest when you follow up with people quickly and strategically.
In other words, an effective follow-up process is one of the most crucial processes you can have in your church.
Why does a follow-up process matter for a church?
- It makes people who visit your church feel cared for.
- It increases the likelihood that a first-time guest will come back again.
- It shows how well your congregation is doing at inviting people to church.
- It puts a system in place to help make sure no one falls through the cracks.
But follow-up also tends to be one of the most neglected processes in churches.
In the haze of happiness about a new guest visiting the church, we forget to follow up and ask how they’re doing, how their experience was, how we can pray for them, or how they’re interested in getting connected.
Close the gap between first-time attendance and long-term engagement by revisiting that neglected (or nonexistent) follow-up process in your church. Here’s how.
How to Measure the Effectiveness of a Follow-Up System
How well does your church retain first-time guests?
How effective are you when it comes to connecting new people into the life of the church?
Do you get them through the front door only to see them leave out the back door?
These are important church growth questions.
If people visit your service but never get connected, your church will struggle to grow.
That’s why every church needs to know its guest connection rate. It’s one simple number that lets you know how well you’re reaching and keeping new people and very few churches know this number.
To figure out your guest connection rate, you need to know two things:
- The number of first-time guests who visit during a specific period
- The number of those people who are connected six months later
Let’s dive in a little deeper…
How to Track First-Time Guests
If you want to know how many first-time guests are connected, you first need to get a grip on how many first-time guests are visiting. Here are three places you can get information from first-time guests so you can know who is there.
- A Connection Card – When properly explained, a connection card is the best way to get relevant information from guests. You might even offer a gift for guests who complete the card. You can also set up a virtual connection card form for online services using any survey site (such as Google Forms or Typeform). Some church database platforms, like Church Community Builder, offer built-in forms.
- Kids Check-In – When parents check their kids in for the first time, this is a great place to get relevant information. Ask someone on the administrative team to “flag” the names of people who checked in their kids for the first time and plan to follow up with them.
- A Welcome Center – Your church should have a clear and visible area for new people to get information. Whether you give guests a brochure or a gift at the welcome center, make sure that they filled out their contact information so the church can follow up with them.
For the purpose of calculating your guest retention rate, choose a period of time, and count all first-time guests during that period. For example, you could choose the month of January or the first three months of the year. Take a look at how many first-time guests visited your church during that period and write down the number.
How to Know Who is Connected
Once you know how many guests visited your church during a certain period, it’s time to fast-forward and see who is connected.
Now, this raises an important issue.
You have to define “connected.” It’s hard to know how many people are connected if the term “connected” has different meanings for every leader. That’s why you should discuss it with your team and just decide.
When I was pastoring Oak Leaf Church, we had this discussion and decided that of all the things we wanted people to do, the top three things were:
- Get in a small group.
- Serve on a volunteer team.
- Financially support the church.
Yes, there are other things that are important too, but those were the big three for us. These three actions showed that people we connected and engaged. And we decided that a connected person was someone who was doing two of the three.
You don’t have to define connected that way, but it’s important that you define the word. Once you do, you can figure out how many people are truly connected to your church.
Now it’s time to do the math.
If you know how many guests you had in a certain time period, you can look at that group of people and see how many are connected. Divide the second number (how many people are connected) by the first number (how many guests attended) and that’s your guest connection rate.
So, if you had 10 first-time guests during the month of January, and two of those people were connected in July, your guest connection rate is 20%.
This number is one of the most important metrics in your church.
You don’t have to measure this every week, but this is a great exercise to do twice a year. It takes a little number crunching and some figuring out with the team, but it helps you see how well your follow-up system is working and make adjustments accordingly.
Keys to Effective Follow-Up
Following up is one of the biggest missed opportunities in churches.
Without a clear follow-up strategy and process, first-time guests don’t feel welcome or get connected, new givers don’t know the impact their donation has and might not feel compelled to give again, and new believers don’t get a clear path for growth.
Just like you don’t communicate with your 14-year-old nephew and your 80-year-old grandmother the same way, you’ll use many different methods to follow up with different groups in your church. But there are a few defining characteristics of a great follow-up process that are important for every follow-up process you have.
#1 – Punctuality
Imagine you met someone new and sent them a text message two months later saying, “It was so nice meeting you!” They might not believe you. Timeliness in following up with guests is critical. Research has shown that your guest retention rate is highest when you follow up within 48 hours.
In 1987, statistics from Herb Miller reported how many guests will return depending on how quickly someone from the church visits their home.
- 85% of guests return if visited in 36 hours
- 60% of guests return if visited in 72 hours
- 15% of guests return if visited in 7 days
We can replace “visited” with “called,” “emailed,” “texted,” etc. in today’s follow-up strategies, but the point remains strong: following up quickly makes your guests feel seen and valued, which makes them more likely to visit your church again.
#2 – Personalization
Many churches have a follow-up process that includes one automated email with a generic message about coming back soon and listing the service times. If that’s your church, you have a big opportunity to improve your process by personalizing it.
Emails are still effective but make them more personal with an introduction letter from the pastor and their family, answering frequently asked questions, linking to previous sermons they might find helpful, or a list of ways they and their children can get involved.
The follow-up process is also a great way to involve volunteers. Volunteers can write handwritten notes to first-time guests and givers, make phone calls, or send texts. There’s a place for automation (and, as we mentioned above, a way to make automation feel less automated), but there’s nothing like a personal touch.
Need a little help writing emails? Download our free email templates, 12 Emails to Send Your Church. These pre-written emails will help you communicate with clarity, care, and concern and offer the hope and consistency that people need in uncertain times and beyond.
If you’re a Church Fuel member, check out the pre-written follow-up email templates in The Follow-Up Course and our Resource Library. We have emails for following up with guests, givers, and new believers.
#3 – Clarity
Your follow-up process should answer the “Now What?” question. It’s up to you and your team to define what the next steps are so you can clearly communicate them when you follow up.
“Thank you for giving to our church. Please pray about our upcoming opportunity to reach our community, which your donation will allow us to do in the following ways.”
“We’re so glad you accepted Andrea’s invitation to visit our church. We saw that you live in the Fulton County area, and Jennifer leads an awesome group of women there. I’d love to connect you two.”
“It’s awesome to see you building your new relationship with Jesus. I’d recommend starting with this Study Bible and devotional.”
Clear and simple next steps give a purpose to your process and give people a path to follow.
#4 – Intentionality
It’s time to get serious about following up. A follow-up process that makes guests feel cared for and helps them get connected in your church doesn’t happen by accident.
Those you’re following up with can tell when your efforts are rushed and uncoordinated, so it’s worth taking the time to focus on how your church can intentionally follow up with people.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Start simple by putting a system in place to follow up within 48 hours. Assign parts of the process to different members of your team and ask them to report on how many follow-up postcards, emails, etc. were sent each week.
#5 – Documentation
Don’t assume that everyone on your team knows how to follow up, that guests know what’s next, or that givers know how much you appreciate their giving.
Write it down. Put it on the calendar. Present it to your staff. Documentation takes the guesswork out of what’s next when someone takes an action at your church (visiting, joining a small group, becoming a believer, etc.).
It’s hard to follow a process you can’t see, but when your process is documented, your church has an official plan for following up—one of the most important actions a church can take.
The Best Follow-Up Process for First-Time Guests
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 that 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 your church? What makes a great follow-up process?
First, a few very important principles.
#1 – Your follow-up process should be planned.
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 ahead through what you want to 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.
Download our free Follow-Up Checklist to start evaluating the most important parts of your follow-up processes and establish clarity in ownership, effectiveness, and more.
#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 awesome idea 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 that might overwhelm or confuse them.
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 that 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?”
In the business and marketing world, this is the “Call to Action.” For your church, what action do you want to call guests to? Does your follow-up process lead them to fill out a card or form on Sunday that results in a phone call from a volunteer on Monday?
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, we recommend that 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 discussing and mapping out 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 on 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. And you don’t have to do it alone.
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. Test it as a team and make sure every email, text message, and other steps in your process go off without a hitch.
#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 two.
Is your church’s follow-up process up to par? Use our free Follow-Up Checklist to help you ask the right who, what, and how questions and start establishing clarity.
Tools for Following Up
Building an intentional follow-up strategy for your church can feel overwhelming, but there are many tools available to make it simpler. These tools can assist with both automated follow-up and more traditional methods.
It’s important to remember that you don’t have to purchase a full suite of technology in order to get started. Meet with your key leaders to map out the pieces of your church’s follow-up process, and then choose the tools from there.
Tools for Automated Follow-Up
While a church follow-up process should have connection points that include a personal touch, use automation where you can.
Text in Church is a great tool for sending automated text messages to your church. For sending automated follow-up emails, tools such as MailChimp, MailerLite, Constant Contact, and Vertical Response come in handy. These email services allow you to set up visually appealing email designs, schedule them in advance to send at a specific time, and segment your church’s email list.
Segmenting, which is simply splitting your email list into sub-groups, can help make your church’s follow-up messaging more effective. For example, you can send special emails to first-time givers, following up to thank them for their generosity and share how it will be used to further the mission.
Tools for Manual or “Pen & Paper” Follow-Up
The most essential tool to achieve excellence in non-automated follow-up methods is utilizing teams. You might be thinking, “But people aren’t tools!” While that may be true, people are the most valuable resources a church can have to help execute this portion of a follow-up process well.
Recruit staff members or volunteers to write and mail notes, make phone calls, put gift bags together, etc. You can order church-branded notecards from Church Ink especially for these follow-up notes. This team can even work together on a certain day of the week and use scripts to help guide what to write in follow-up cards or what to say on follow-up phone calls.
And if you want to send a gift box in the mail as a follow-up thank you gift for visiting, donating, or volunteering, Church Swag Box is a service that makes it easy to create custom boxes.
How to Follow Up with First-Time Guests
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. This might be 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 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 plenty 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. 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 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 who 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 give out a $5 gift card to somewhere like Starbucks and include a hand-written note from a pastor. Personal and practical.
#2 – Handwrite a thank you note.
Somehow, we’ve already passed the year after Marty McFly and Doc travel to the future. While the movie portrayal wasn’t altogether accurate, it’s safe to say that 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 number of other guests. I feel like another number.
There’s something about knowing that 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 that your attendees get are typically bills, it would be a treat for a first-time guest to open the mail to see that you remembered them and want them to come back. A little effort can go a long way.
#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 can induce sweaty hands and a rapid heartbeat.
I understand your fears.
Something important to remember, though, is that you have the upper hand. As the pastor, staff, or high-capacity volunteer 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 and check-in. You can thank them for visiting and close by asking if there is anything that 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. Again, this communicates 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 recognize, 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 feel obligated to respond. Especially for first-time guests who are “church shy,” it may be best 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.
And text messages are also more likely to be read. Compared to the 20% average open rate of emails, text messages have an average open rate of a whopping 98%.
#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 natural 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.
How to Follow Up with Online Guests
Does following up with virtual guests feel confusing or daunting?
A guest follow-up strategy has always been an important part of church ministry but following up with online guests requires us to adjust our standard in-person practices.
Where we once asked people to fill out a card directly in front of them or required them to give us their information for our children’s ministry, the COVID-19 pandemic meant that we now have to consider how to engage a Facebook user that clicks on a video from the comfort of their couch. Regardless of your follow-up process, the first step to engaging your guests is getting their contact information.
Here are a few creative ideas to engage the guests who visit your church online, capture their contact information, and build a relationship with them.
#1 – Engage Guests with Video
Draw a new visitor in with a customized video on your website or in follow-up emails. From a behind-the-scenes look at your ministries to an introduction to your lead pastor, video increases traffic, increases interest, and gives people a connection to your church.
#2 – Live Chat
Whether you’re chatting live during your service, or you offer a chat-to-text service, offering a live chat provides an opportunity for new guests to ask questions, request info, or feel a part of the community in real-time.
Tools like Church Online Platform allow you to chat in real-time with people watching your live stream. Keep in mind that any direct communication tool is only as great as the team behind it. So have a person or team of people equipped to engage your guests effectively. Notice the live chat option for the Rhiza Church livestream.
#3 – Offer a Personalized Introduction to Your Church
In a world of automation, personal touches make a big difference. When you ask guests for contact information, let them know that someone from the church (either a staff member or volunteer) will follow up with them to answer any questions they might have, and to check-in.
You might be surprised at people’s willingness to give you contact information knowing that it will be used to reach out in a meaningful way, and not just spam their inbox. Being personable and helpful can go a long way
#4 – Use Data to Drive Content
Pay attention to your Google Analytics, and where your visitors are going when they click around on your church’s website. If they’re looking for services, make sure that it’s clear where to find them. If they’re looking for contact information, make sure it’s on your landing page.
Whatever it is that your guests are searching for, design your website and social media platforms to allow for easy discovery.
#5 – Have an Online Connect Card
From utilizing a text-in-church service to a google form, an online connect card allows your guest to easily give you their contact information so you can begin the process of getting to know them. For best results, make sure to limit the form fields.
A few great examples of online connection cards to inspire you:
- Fusion Church of Madison
- New Horizon Church
- Liv It Church
- Crossings Community Church
- Grace Church Fremont
- Ikon Church
Take the Next Step
The Follow-Up Course is newly updated with a detailed guide that includes 6 more creative ways to follow up with people online, follow-up email templates for following up with guests, givers, and new believers, practical coaching videos, and resources to help you create a solid foundation for every follow-up process in your church.
The course is designed to help you create, improve, and launch an effective follow-up process and get people connected. If you’re tired of people falling through the cracks, take an intentional action step to learn and lead the way for a better follow-up system in your church.