If there’s a similar theme we hear from pastors we work with, it’s this:
“we don’t know how to get guests to come back...and we’re overwhelmed.”
Now, we don’t always hear those exact words, but we can connect the dots.
That’s why we are seeing churches spend more money than ever before on their worship ministry, and why we’ve seen people able to make a career consulting with churches on how to grow. It’s why we’ve seen churches hire a staff person dedicated solely to connecting with first time guests.
It’s a big dang deal. And while the efforts so far have been incredible, they’re a bit incomplete. You see, most people, when they come to your church for the first time, are coming because of 1 of 4 reasons…
- Death in the Family
- Displacement (they’ve moved)
Now, make sure you hear me: Your worship and your preaching and your Sunday school classes are all SUPER important. Your church needs all of those moving parts to be operating super smoothly.
But that’s not why people are showing up.
They’re showing up because they’re real people, with real lives and real hurts and real questions. And they’re searching.
So, the solution, we think, is fairly simple…
Connect with them. People aren’t looking for a friendly church, they are looking for a friend.
Show them that you’re also a real person, you’ve got a whole church of real people!
It’s a simple solution with a far less simple execution strategy. Those elusive little things called time and resources need to be involved, and everyone needs more of those. I get it. Life is moving too quickly and it’s hard to keep up.
We’ve found a pretty good strategy. But, before we dive into it, there’s a fundamental piece that has to be in place.
First time guests need to be obsessed over.
First time guests need to walk through the doors of your church and think “they were hoping I would be here.”
They need to leave your service and think, “they hope I come back.”
They need to be followed up with and left thinking, “they care about me.”
It sounds like a lot, but it can be accomplished in 3 steps
We are going to unpack each of these steps at length on the blog throughout the year, but for today, let’s focus on getting a little guest-crazed!
Unfortunately, saying that you are welcoming to first time guests and that you really want them to come back isn’t enough. I like to think of it as an approach that confronts guests with connection opportunity from every angle. I want them to know that however they access church, someone is there and ready. I see this happening in 6 places…
- Parking lot
- Indoor Signage
- Welcome Speech
- Post-Service Plan
Alright, let’s dive in.
1. Website/Online: So, we have the Wright Family. They are new to the area and are wanting to find a church to plug into. They have 3 kids in elementary and middle school. What do they do first?
They look up churches near them and, like it or not, they make their first impression of your church based on that. There are tons of great resources out there on website strategy, but here are some must haves:
- Service Times + Location
- About Us Page: tell them your church’s mission and vision, show the staff, etc.
- Imagery: Have some real pictures of your church- no stock photos, please (: . Let people know what it looks and feels like at your church on a Sunday morning.
- Plan Your Visit Page: Many churches now offer a “Plan Your Visit” function on their website, which has proven to be incredibly helpful. This allows guests to register their kids for childcare, sign up for Sunday School, see a map of the building, etc.
Tech Hack: with the data collected in your Plan Your Visit page, you can schedule a text or email to be sent to this family saying, “We can’t wait to meet you and your family on Sunday! Feel free to come a bit early for some hot coffee :) -Pastor Joan”
Okay, so the Wrights google you, love your website, and can choose whether or not they want to complete the Plan Your Visit Page then or just show up on Sunday morning.
- Parking Lot: The Wrights did the hardest part. They got everybody up and ready and got out the door. As they drive down the road, they see a big sign:
“City Church Sunday Morning Services: 9:30AM & 11AM
Take Your Next Right- Everyone is Welcome!”
They take their first right into your parking lot and see another sign:
“New here? Guest Parking in the Northwest Corner. WELCOME!!”
Obviously the signage can and should look different for every church, but the idea behind it is intentionally welcoming your guests before they even walk through the door.
- Greeters: Greeters have almost become a universal part of church. So everybody give themselves a pat on the back! However, there’s some really awesome strategies churches are using when it comes to greeters that we wanted to share in case you want to spruce yours up a bit.
Have a diverse group of greeters: Be intentional about representing the diversity in your church as well as your community so you can be relatable to visitors.
Have greeters walk first time guests to their next step. Maybe this is Kid’s Church or the Welcome Center to check-in or maybe straight to service. check-in or service, etc.
Have greeters introduce first time guests to a next point of contact (i.e. children’s ministry volunteer, Sunday school teacher, a staff member, another family their age to sit by, etc.)
- Indoor Signage: I know I take for granted the fact that I grew up in church. I can walk into a church I’ve never been to before and feel comfortable asking where the sanctuary is, or the bathrooms, or where to sign up for a small group, etc. I know what to expect. Not all first time guests are that way. Forcing someone to ask for information can often lead to the opposite outcome, so try and over communicate if you can. Here are key things to have signs for:
- Sign in/check in for childcare
- Welcome Center/Info Table
- Fellowship Hall/Gathering Area where any events take place
We want guests to walk into our church and feel like the hardest part is over. They broke their habit of NOT being at church, and now they just follow the steps laid out for them. Leaving someone at the front door at a loss for where to go or what to do next could make walking back out that door pretty appealing.
- Welcome Speech: We will dive deeper into the Welcome Speech in greater detail in the coming weeks, but here’s the main idea: your first time guests need to be acknowledged at some point during your service. This is, often, the first time you get to address them explicitly, so it’s important to do so with purpose. This is a key time to further communicate what they can expect from you and what you’d like from them. Which leads us so nicely into our final point…
- Post Service Plan: We can’t expect someone who maybe has 20 years worth of a life NOT at church to change that habit after one morning. One really great sermon can have a great impact on a person, but let’s make sure we are using the tools we have to help them form a new habit. It is critical that obsessing over your guests doesn’t end on Sunday morning. They need to continue to feel the acceptance and hopefulness they felt at your church for a few hours throughout their entire rest of the week.
To wrap up...
First guests at your church are there are on purpose. They showed up, so don’t worry about coming on too strong. There are 6 places you can work to obsess more over your first time guests, and I’ve included resources for each. Additionally, these 6 steps are just the beginning. Throughout 2019, we are going to walk you through our process of Gathering, Connecting, and Building so that you can make sure guests walk out your door on a Sunday morning impacted and continue to feel that impact for days to come.
6 Steps + Resources
- Parking lot
- Indoor Signage
- Welcome Speech
- Post-Service Plan
P.S. Check out this great FREE resource for preparing for first time guests!