Every weekend is someone’s first time in church. Churches like yours realize the ministry opportunity in first impressions even before your first-time guests hear God’s word. First impressions give people a feel for how genuine your church is. An off-putting experience with your ushers, guest services, or parking lot welcome team can leave a bad taste and most likely cause guests not to return.

Different churches will appeal to different guests, even if your guest’s first-time impression was very welcoming, and that’s okay. For those who would be blessed by your church, the question is how can you usher them into your ‘discipleship’ next steps process?

Discipleship is a multilayered topic, but for this blog, we are going to focus on the second C in the 4Cs of an ideal guest follow-up strategy (Connect, Capture, Communicate and Convert) by sharing the three reasons why using Digital Connection Cards (online info capture forms ) may be hurting your chances to connect and then follow-up with your guests.

Why Capturing Your Guest Data is Both Important and Challenging

Even if your guests were blessed by your service, life happens—including the ‘enemy’ (1 Peter 5:8) doing all they can to throw obstacles at your guests during the week, to make returning to church the second weekend a distant thought. Hence, the need to follow up.

Following up is not a new idea. The apostle Paul constantly checked in with the various “church plants” by personal visits and letters. Paul could do this because he had the contact information (where they were) and a workable method (travel/couriers).

Today, to facilitate the ‘discipleship’ Next Steps process, churches need the same—their guests’ contact information and an effective follow-up method.

As life became faster, cities became larger, and people started moving more often, pastors were required to do more in less time. This led to different methods for capturing data such as ushers, guest books, sometimes just a printed piece of paper, and physical connect cards.

With digitization, the physical card attempted to move online to become the digital connection card—basically an online form to capture guest information. This option didn’t work very well because there was such a disconnect between the offline guest and the online capture process.

Marrying digital connection cards with texting—the ability to have guests text a specific keyword (trigger word) that auto sends a link to the church’s online form—worked better and was more natural, but there were still issues. Even though guests didn’t have to open their browsers and type in a website address, not all guests filled out the cards. Also, not everyone wanted to use their data or had data to use when away from their home wifi or other mobile wifi-hotspots. There was also the likely scenario of “I will fill it out later” but again, life happens.

In this article, we’ll focus on unpacking the three challenges churches face when digitizing their guest follow-up process:

Reason #1: Asking for Too Much Information

At times, the Digital Connection Card form asks for too much information from guests. Often, forms can stall the ‘momentum’ by asking for too much information all at the same time, information such as:

  • Name
  • Phone
  • Email
  • Address
  • Comment / Needs

And even if you are only asking for name, phone, email, and a comment—and making most of those optional—a process that feels overwhelming can cause “form abandonment,” the “I’ll do this later.”

The fact is people are people, and the psychology is the same.

You see, “sales momentum” in the marketing world is about getting the least amount of information at each step to move the person to the next step, avoiding “complete form abandonment.” And if you get the most important data like the phone (or even email), you can still follow-up with a “promo.”

Same with the church follow-up process. Digital connection cards make it a bit easier as guests can type, delete, and don’t have to concentrate on penmanship, but if the church capture process feels long or is long, there will be “form abandonment” or “fake data” because generally, people hate filling out forms.

Imagine if your church gathered information gradually as your guests visited, got connected, and the trust was built. Wouldn’t that be easier for your guests and more ideal for your follow-up process? Imagine using a method that was even more natural than filling out a form online. Which situation would make you feel better as a new guest?

Reason #2: Trying to Speed Date Your New Guests

Since every weekend is someone’s first weekend with you, churches need to provide their first-time guests with a ‘first date’ experience, not a ‘speed dating’ one.

Church speed dating is when a church is only interested in getting to know someone enough to collect their data for either a guest follow-up or the weekend new “growth numbers.” Either goal may create a non-welcoming culture that is unintentionally cast to your guest services team, creating the wrong first impressions with the guests.

The key aspect in ‘dating’ is to at least get to the second date, then the third, then it becomes easier, right? And that over time, you would build mutual trust and ask guests to share more information as you go.

Instead of one digital connection card that may ask for three to five different pieces of information, what if your church could spread out the info needed across an automated simple text bot that doesn’t require links and is scheduled over a longer process?  Something to consider: guests might give you their addresses on their first visit but might hate the idea of having to do so when they don’t really know you yet.

Just like a good date experience, you are going to ask the least amount of questions, listen more and follow-up in a day or two to see how the person enjoyed the meeting and begin sharing and receiving more information about each other. The question the proposed solution will answer is “What is the least amount of information you need to collect from first-time guests, and how you would automate additional asks over time?”

Reason #3: Having a Church-Focused Rather Than a Guest-Focused Process

Try and remember to view your process from the guest’s perspective like Jesus did: minimal but intentional.

If five people come to your church and only two fill out your digital connection cards right away, two more decide to do it later but never do and one has no intention of filling it out, then that’s still 40%. But what if you can get a better number?

Digital connection cards mean less work for your team and a higher chance of accurate data, but what about your guests?

Using only digital connection cards means first-time guests need to:

  • Know the website address—so it needs to be easy to remember
  • Have access to data
  • Load their app browser, confirm, then type in this next step link, then enter their information

This might sound like “first world problems,” but that’s still a reality for your first-time nervous or skeptical guests. Each step is unnatural (not something they do a lot in these circumstances) and creates a mental barrier.

All this coupled with the fact that people don’t really like giving their personal information to “strangers” because they are usually not sure how that information will be used.

The option of asking guests to ‘Text your number for a link to our church digital connection card’ removes some of those steps, but it can feel overwhelming to first-time guests.

Remember, it’s their first time at your church. As easy as it might seem from your team’s view, generally, digital connection cards don’t work well for many churches for the reasons shared. For many, skipping digital capture options altogether would be a better fit. Many systems allow you to do manual entry into the guest follow-up process to continue the next steps.

To understand what to do, putting yourself in your guest’s shoes is critical. Make a follow-up process that matches what would work best for the people who walk through your doors and not what will work best for your team.

So What is Recommended?

Honestly, there isn’t a golden egg for guest follow-up, and it’s recommended to do an AND strategy. AND would entail traditional capture cards AND a digital solution. Once you keep your system guest-focused, and you continue to listen and tweak, the solution that works best for you is the best solution.

However, for churches with the specific desire to use digital options to capture their guest information and then follow up, the data suggests that text bots (digital connect texts) outperform digital connection cards by huge margins.

What are Text Chat Bots aka Digital Connect Texts?

Text chatbots are digital conversations based on the most used form of communication: texting. Text chatbots can be simple or advanced (using AI like Alexa or Siri). They work on the #1 digital communication device: the mobile phone. Churches can use text bots to automatically, directly capture information from guests in a matter of seconds. No links. A question is asked, the guest replies, and then that data is stored correctly. For example, a digital connect text process could enable first-time guests to share name, address, email, phone number, and birthday one step at a time. All via texting. No links. And if they stop at any point in time, you already have at least their number and a name.

Differences Between Digital Connection Cards and Digital Connect Texts (Text Chatbots)

Difference #1

The cards work via data capture (go somewhere and fill out forms online), but the texts work via auto-response (answer a few, easy questions step by step in a more conversational way).

Difference #2

Digital connect texts are a more natural and ubiquitous response format. Texting or chatting online is something done across generations. Often, the more natural something feels, the more information people are likely to give you.

Difference #3

The cards are an ‘all or nothing’ process—you either win or lose. The texts are an ‘as you go’ process—even if your contact stops at a certain point, you still have the information he or she supplied to then. And texting platforms such as PastorsLine can check the stage (step in the process) a contact is at, resending a gentle reminder to continue.

The differences above are great reasons to consider giving digital connect texts a try. But there are even more compelling considerations.

Huge benefits to using Digital Connect Texts as part of your first-time guest follow-up process include:

  • An increased number of responses
  • A more personal connection

and at the same time:

  • A decrease in admin time
  • A more automated and streamlined process

And the Top Two Overall Gains…

  1. A guest follow-up strategy which can significantly help grow your church
  2. More time freed up; time which could be spent on connecting with these guests on a more personal level or even on other areas of your church which really need attention

Overall, new technologies can help your overall guest follow-up strategy. Pastorsline is a new digital tool to connect with people who come to your church. Sign up for your free trial today.