Effective Guest Follow-Up: A Recap from ENGAGE Conference 2020

This blog post comes from Yvonne Gentile's presentation at ENGAGE Conference. She shares three principles for effective follow-up, 3 steps to establishing an effective follow-up process, and some examples of this process from her experience on staff at the United Method Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.

Guests check out a church for the first time for a number of reasons. They're seeking connection. They're curious. They're also questioning. They may be fearful of being judged or pressured into something for which they are not quite ready. As church leaders, we have to go out of our way to create a great guest experience that creates openness, breaks down barriers, and makes guests feel comfortable and accepted just the way they are. 

The guest experience doesn't end with the benediction. Guest follow-up is an extension of our hospitality and the guest's experience. Our messaging and approach are critical. Follow-up should communicate to guests that they already belong, or, at least, could belong. Before anyone decides to grow deeper in their faith, heal their brokenness, or get connected to a community, they first have to feel like they belong.

Excellent follow-up increases the chances of this happening. While we know follow-up is important, knowing how to do it can sometimes be a mystery. Sometimes, in spite of our best intentions, follow-up can be more of a turn-off than an encouragement to connect.

There are three principles to effective follow-up that are true regardless of whether you are following up from worship or program participation.

1. Prompt Follow-up

In Bill Eason's article, “How to Grow a Church of Less than 500,” following up within 24 hours led to an 85% chance that a guest would return. The return rate fell to 60% if follow-up was initiated between 24-72 hours after a visit. Waiting more than 72 hours led to the return rate plummeting to 15%. Prompt follow-up is an indicator to guests that they matter to us.

2. Personal Follow-up

Guests aren't looking to make a connection with your building. They are hoping to find community. A person-to-person interaction is the most effective method of connection. If you send a written follow-up, make sure it uses the guest's name and not a generic greeting. In their book, “The Power of Moments,” Chip and Dan Heath wrote that what makes a guest experience memorable is a personal touch and the element of pleasant surprise. This only happens when human beings interact.

3. Pleasant Follow-up

Sometimes our attempts to acknowledge and identify new guests can make them uncomfortable. 63% of guests prefer to wait until they've visited a few times before they let someone know they are visiting. Allow guests to fly under the radar if they would like, but make sure they also know they were not invisible. Make your follow-up process as light and non-invasive as possible. Avoid church lingo as much as possible. Use plain language and a friendly, conversational tone. Creating a positive emotional response with our follow-up is key because guests return based on how we make them feel.

With these three principles in mind, how do we create effective follow-up processes?

1. Establish a reliable method to identify who guests are and how many times they have visited. Some churches have a designated area for guests to stop by to interact with staff. Other churches use connect cards during worship that guests fill out and turn in later.

2. Determine milestones and the goal for each contact. With what frequency and for what duration of time will you follow-up with guests? Be intentional with what you hope to accomplish with each follow-up contact.

3. Vary your communication method. Some communication methods will connect with one group but not another. A variety of channels makes follow-up more engaging and less likely to feel overpowering. 

At Resurrection, a text message is the first follow-up a guest receives. Last fall, Resurrection started using Text in Church. Half of Resurrection's first-time guests give the church their phone number. The follow-up text is personal, both addressed to the guests by name and identifying the sender by name. Resurrection has found that, of the 50% who give the church their phone number, 50% of the initial follow-up recipients respond to their message. 

Included in the initial follow-up stage is the delivery of a coffee mug within 24 hours of a guest's first visit. Volunteers are trained to take less than 60 seconds to drop the mug off and not enter the guest's home even if invited. If the guest isn't home, the mug is left with a hand-written note. The touch is quick and light.

People keep branded gifts on average for seven months. One third of all people keep branded gifts for two years. A gift branded with your church's logo will continue to invite the guest back to your church over a long period of time.

The last stage in Resurrection's follow-up with first-time guests is a letter from the senior pastor. The letters are sent on Tuesday, are personalized with the guest's first name, and includes an invitation to visit again the following weekend.

Most guests parse out the information they share with the church over several visits. If they only give an email, they only get a text. If they only give an email address, they only receive an electronic version of the church's newsletter.

Resurrection's next communication milestone is the guest's third visit. This milestone is used to create a personal connection with the pastors. Pastors call or email guests who have visited three times to invite them to introduce themselves after the next week's service or to schedule a time to get coffee with the guest.

The final stage of Resurrection's follow-up is an invitation to their membership event, Coffee with the Pastors. This invitation is triggered when a guest has attended five times in one year. Two weeks prior to the event, everyone who has attended five times is sent a folded notecard with a personal invitation to the event. This is sent either by mail or email.

If guests visit or participate in any other ministries of the church, that ministry area will also follow-up with the guest. Every ministry progressively follow-up to create greater engagement.

Remember, effective follow-up, regardless of the ministry conducting it or the initiating contact is prompt, personal, and pleasant. Follow-up contacts should also be as light and non-invasive as possible, while creating a warm, positive emotional connection with the guest.

Text In Church is so proud of the content put out at ENGAGE.  These speakers pour their heart out for listeners in hopes that there is something of value in there for your church, your community.  This session specifically resonates with the Text In Church community as guest follow-up is something we like to talk about a lot :) If you're ready to start doing guest follow-up like Yvonne talks about, with a tool to save you time, then start your FREE trial today.