I am amazed at the number of churches who don't seem to care about first-time visitors. Every church will say they care, but why do so few invest the time and energy to make sure people feel valued? I get it; it's much easier to attract first-time visitors to our churches than it is to retain them. However, if we aren't purposeful about the retention side of the coin, we are not being very good stewards of the people God has sent our way.
Here are six essential things I see healthy churches focusing on to help turn visitors into committed members:
- Create an amazing experience
First-impressions begin in your parking lot. From the appearance of your facility, to signage, to the number of smiling faces, the first-time experience is being etched in a visitors mind within the first five minutes. What kind of experience are you creating? I am dumbfounded by the number of times I hear stories about people who visited a church for the first time and never even heard a "hello" from someone. Really?
- Create a sense of "confidence" in your church
Can your volunteers answer a visitor's question with confidence or do they fumble around and look clueless? You must instill a sense of confidence in the first-time visitor's mind that you and your people know what you're doing. By the way, using a digital check-in system in your children's area is a great way to instill confidence in parents. The resulting impression is "man, these guys have their act together!"
- Communicate your vision with clarity... A LOT
Figure out how to communicate your vision in five minutes. What is the heartbeat of your church? What is your vision statement? Your purpose? Develop a concise way to communicate this and talk about it so often your church members utilize the same language in their conversation with guests.
- Create easy connection steps
It is overwhelming when churches provide too many ways for the first-time visitor to connect. Don't provide a catalog of options. Make it very simple and clear. Provide one or two primary options for taking the next step. Don't make them too hard or require too much time. As people move deeper, you can ramp up the level of commitment.
- Follow up
Please... let people know you noticed them and are glad they came. A simple thank-you card will suffice but you can really increase the first-impression if you include a small gift (Starbucks or Gas Card, Bus Ticket, etc). Make sure the note is personally signed by someone... no photocopies! Remember, you are trying to facilitate a relational connection here.
- Monitor and Track
In my view, this is absolutely essential but also the most frequently missed discipline. Take the time to develop core processes in your church. Then find church software which aids in surfacing the first-time visitor and tracks the steps they take. Do NOT count solely on relationships to accomplish this.
Folks, this is a big deal! It really frustrates me when someone stopped coming to my church and no one knew why. As church leaders, we cannot forget our role as stewards of God’s people. We must take the time to make sure people “stick” and be honest with ourselves about why they don’t.
In terms of more practical tools and ideas on this front, I am a big fan of the book Fusion by Nelson Searcy. Many churches use it with great success. If you want a copy, shoot me an email and I will be happy to send you one.
So, let me hear from you. What is working for you? What are some unique ways you have found to connect with your guests?