Visitors come and visitors go, but successful churches create systems that make it easy for them to stay. Visitors come to church for different reasons; they may like the worship, want to hear the pastor, or think your kids’ ministry is great. But visitors stick around for one reason – relationships. Churches must create a culture and put systems in place that build relationships that transform visitors into engaged members.
Step 1. Treat Visitors Like VIPs
New visitors should be treated like VIPs backstage at a concert. Visitors want to get to know the pastor. They want to be introduced to other people and small group leaders. They want to know their children are being well cared for. Some churches say, “if you’re new here, we’d like to welcome you by…(insert your process here).”
Step 2. Train People to Look Outward and Not Inward
Your current members love catching up with each other on Sunday morning, and it’s good for them. But teach them to keep their circle open and invite others into it. Greeters are important, but they aren’t enough. Visitors expect the greeters to talk to them. You need to teach everyone in your church to engage your visitors.
Step 3. Train People to Connect Visitors With Others of Like Interest
For instance, if your current members and greeters greet a visitor who has recently moved to town, who’s just gotten out of the military, or has similarly-aged children, teach them to connect that person with an existing member who has a similar background. It’s as simple as, “Oh youyou might want to meet (fill in the blank), they have kids the same ages as yours.”
Step 4. Have Next Steps for Visitors
Build into place a natural next step for people to follow. Maybe you want them to come to a church barbecue at the pastor’s house next Sunday, or to volunteer for a community service project you’re hosting. You might invite them to a small visitors or “meet the pastor” reception after worship or to sign up their kids for an event. Whatever the next step is at your church, you just need to have one.
Step 5. Collect Visitors’ Contact Information
Kids’ Church, welcome areas, and connection cards work great for data collection. Create a kids’ check-in process that is fast and reliable for newcomers. Set up a welcome area where visitors can gather, learn more about your church, mingle, and give their contact information. Or encourage people to fill out connection cards during every service. Many churches encourage everyone to fill out a card every week so that visitors don’t feel awkward doing it alone.
Step 6. Review the information
Have a point person or team that goes over guests information collected from children’s check-in, the welcome area, and/or connection cards that were filled out. This team may contact new visitors or they may pass their information onto other more appropriate groups for communications and process. When new people are reached out to, be sure to point to step four and invite them to the next step in the process of getting plugged in at your church.
Lastly, here are some suggestions for ways to reach out and processes to build into your visitor retention practice to help grow your church and get people connected in meaningful ways:
First-time givers—Send them a handwritten note thanking them for supporting the church’s vision. Snail mail is rare, and handwritten notes will be opened.
First-time visitors—Send them an email or postcard. Have these ready to go because you have around 36 hours to make your next contact. As soon as they leave, the timer starts.
Gifts in the lobby—If you’d like to give your visitors a gift, make it available after service in the lobby. A meaningful book like Case for Christ or a book your pastor has written will go a long way. Put a lable on the back of the book that says it was a gift from your church. Include your website address and phone number. Here’s another great list of gift ideas. Pro Tip: Don’t give them a copy of your sermon or a CD of your worship team unless they ask for one.
Gifts for kids—Gifts for kids often go farther in reaching families than gifts for adults. Goodie bags with a small New Testament, candy, and a craft can be a huge success. Make sure to include a flyer for the next youth-oriented event at your church.
Receptions—Schedule a regular monthly, weekly, or bi-weekly time for new people to connect with the pastors and leadership. Put out some coffee, bottled waters, and snacks and create time and space for people to socialize and develop relationships with each other. Make it known that newcomers are welcome, whether they have visited once or even a few times in the past.
These steps can help get make your church an inviting place for people to experience God and receive love and a neighborly welcome in the name of Christ.