Remember when we talked way back when about gathering your church’s first-time guests’ contact information ?
I’m hopeful that with those tips and a little bit of time, you now have a handful of ways that you are gathering contact information on a weekly basis.
But, if you’re the expert church communicator I know you are, you have probably said, “now what?”
You’ve started to consistently gather contact information from your guests. Now you’re now ready for the next step. Any guesses on the next step in this process of genuinely and effectively pursuing your first-time guests?
Connect with them.
I know, I just blew your mind, right?
Okay, this may seem obvious, but let’s dive into what I mean.
There’s not a lot of value in having contact information from people who visit your church if you don’t have a plan for what to do with it. Tell me if this sounds familiar…
Your plan right now is to collect all of the new contact information from Sunday morning on Monday or Tuesday. Either you or an Administrative Assistant spends an hour or two organizing the information into a database or spreadsheet, whatever you use. Then, you sit down and divy up who will call who, maybe you send a few emails, and you work really hard on committing all of their names and faces to memory so you can catch them next time.
This is a lot of work, right? Plus, as your church grows, this will go from an hour or two on a Tuesday, to your entire day.
Connection can, and I would argue should, start to have a systematic flow to it. This doesn’t mean it’s not genuine and organic. But it does need to be planned.
When people give you their contact information, that’s a big step. They’ve given you, people and a church they hardly know, permission to get to know them. What we are doing with these connection strategies is stewarding this relationship well. Because, let’s be honest, left to our own devices, a ball would get dropped. Not because we are unorganized or forgetful or don’t care. But because your workload is heavy, your schedule is full, and your work is so very important. You don’t have hours and hours sitting around waiting to be used up.
So, implement these 4 connection points, and watch the impact they will have on your first-time guests!
1. A Welcome Center
The Welcome Center is a one stop shop for your first-time guests. Labeling this something similar to “Welcome Center” communicates that it’s a spot for newbies without totally spotlighting them. You don’t have to call it the Welcome Center. It can be a little cafe area, a room, a table in the middle of your foyer, the details are up to you! The Welcome Center is a great spot to send people after service with some sort of an action step.
Here are a few ideas...
“Stop by the Welcome Center so we can meet you and give you a small gift to thank you for being here!”
“If you’re new here and interested in meeting some great people, they’re waiting at the Welcome Center and would love to have you join them for lunch!”
“Please feel free to stop by the Welcome Center after service for some coffee and donuts; we’d love the chance to connect with you!”
Giving them a reason to go to the Welcome Center provides an ice breaker. Instead of a guest having to saunter over there and hope someone notices them, they can walk over knowing someone’s expecting them. Shoot, they can even grab the gift and leave if they don’t want to talk to anybody!
In addition to the Welcome Center being an excellent buffer to connect first-time guests with a staff or church member, it is also a great place to have information about ways people can get plugged into your church. For example, you can have sign-ups for Sunday School or your church’s upcoming Vacation Bible School. Maybe you do a local service project every month or have a “Next Steps” class you want everyone to take. This is a great spot to let people explore your church!
One thing I would highly recommend having at your Welcome Center is your Connect Cards. Whether it’s a Smart Connect Card on a tablet, paper cards on the table, or a combination, this could be your chance to make a face-to-face connection with someone who hasn’t been willing to give their information yet. Maybe, after meeting a kind person or two, they will feel more comfortable receiving some follow-up.
The most success I’ve seen at a Welcome Center is when it’s in a central location. It makes a ton of sense for a guest to walk out of service and almost inevitably find themselves at the Welcome Center. If it’s centrally located, there is also more traffic in general, creating a more natural gathering place for members and guests alike. We have seen a lot of the organic connection happen at the Welcome Center simply because people all file out of the sanctuary and land in this same spot.
I think an important point to make here is that your Welcome Center is pretty useless without people at it. Don’t send first-time guests to a Welcome Center empty of staff or volunteers. A considerable part of guest care is the people who are hanging out, watching and waiting to love on the guests that come. Think about how you’re training your guest care volunteers, or if you even have any. That is an essential piece to the Welcome Center... obsessing over how you care, communicate, and connect with first-time guests.
2. One Next Step
I’m going to keep this point short and sweet. Take your first-time guests on a journey and don’t make them ask “what do I do next?” I know that, for a lot of you, you have a handful of options a person can choose from when they come to your church. They could go to Sunday School, join a small group, attend a Worship night, enroll in a discipleship course, and on and on. These are great things, but when we are starting at square one with someone, especially someone who has never been part of a church, let’s go one step at a time. So, what’s the one next step you want someone take after they visit your church?
At my church, we want everyone to attend the luncheon we host for new families and individuals. At the luncheon, we introduce them to our staff and leadership, cast our church's vision, and share how they can be a part of our ministries and church programs. The only thing we ask people to participate in as a guest is this.
Try this out. You will be surprised how much response you get when the options are limited. Too many choices so often leads to no choice, so give them one, clear next step.
3. Connection Activity
This is a perfect segue into our third connection point. If you can, make your one next step a connection activity specifically designed for guests. As I mentioned, my church offers a lunch once a month. But there are all kinds of fun things you can do!
One tip I would give you is to remove as many barriers as possible when creating the next steps. Think about things like childcare, food, location, etc. We know you can’t make every event work for everyone, but you can be conscious of the demographics at your church and what their greatest needs are. Are you leading an older church? Maybe have a Sunday afternoon gathering. Are you leading a church with lots of young families? Provide childcare so parents can relax and actually connect with other people. Are you leading a church with lots of singles? Maybe have your event at a trendy coffee shop close by. Be creative and intentional. These don’t have to be expensive and extravagant. In fact, they shouldn’t be, because they need to be offered on an ongoing basis.
Quick aside on this point: this is a great way to get active members/attendees involved. Have a team of volunteers who do the planning, coordinate the food, attend and connect with guests, etc. Guests love meeting the church’s leadership, but they also love meeting other “regular” people ;)
4. A Follow-Up Plan
An effective follow-up plan consists of the right kind of messaging, delivered in the right frequency, over the right amount of time.
Think of it like a formula: content + frequency + duration = YAHTZEE... Or something equally exciting. How about GRAND SLAM… for you fellow baseball fans!
As far as content goes, the key is to diversify. Obviously, if you know anything about what I do for work, you know I think texting is a great idea. 26 billion text messages are being sent each and every day. Text messages have a 98% percent open rate; email comes in second at closer to 20%! And 90% of texts are read within the first 3 minutes of being received. I mean, do I need to go on?
Alright, but texting isn’t the only way. We recommend emailing, writing a hand-written letter, making a personal phone call, even having a gift for them. Here, check out our calendar…
We have templates written for all of these follow-up tools (texting, email, Facebook, phone call, hand-written note) in our Ultimate Guest Follow-Up Plan . These are proven messages and timelines, so give that a download! (it’s free, don’t worry).
Having these 4 connection points builds in a safety net for you to start building relationships with as many of your first-time guests as you can. Sometimes, when I find myself overthinking some of these strategies, I’m reminded of when I was in 6th grade. We had just moved to a new state, and I was starting at a new school in the middle of the semester. The most dreaded part of the day, for weeks, was lunch. I would wander into the lunchroom and try to play it cool. It’s not like I didn’t start to make friends or have some familiar faces I could ask to sit by. But I was the outsider, the new girl. Having to ask to sit with someone was terrifying. Luckily, there was a girl who always managed to make eye contact with me. She would smile and pull the chair next to her, signaling to me that there was a seat for me by her. She had plenty of friends. And as I started to find my way there, I made friends and had different tables I would sit at lunch. But the invitation by her was always there, and it meant the world to me.
Just think about that. What we are doing is creating seats at the table. We are signaling to the new people, the people who feel like outsiders, that we see them and we’ve thought of them, and there’s always room enough for them.
Stay tuned. Next month we will wrap up this series with our last step. Any guesses on what it is?!?!