A couple of years I was asked to visit one of the large, well-known churches in my denomination as a “secret shopper.” The point was to visit with my young family, go through all of the steps that a first-time guest and their family would go through, and then share my experience with the pastor. Without a doubt, it was one of the most enlightening experiences I’ve ever gone through as a minister.
Eager to attend, we arrived early knowing that it would probably take some extra time to get around and check our children into the children’s area. We pulled into the parking lot and spent several minutes looking for a place to park. We got the children out of the van, put them into the stroller and approached the entrance. We opened the door and entered the building. When we walked in, I noticed some folks with name tags talking here and there. I approached a middle-aged gentleman and asked for directions to the children’s area, and he pointed across the large hallway and down some stairs.We carried the stroller down a double flight of stairs to the children’s area. At the check-in desk, we were warmly greeted, walked through the check-in process for first-time guests and shown to the children’s classes.
After making sure that our children were safely in their class, we walked back up the stairs to the main room, found a place to sit and settled in for the service. Without going into all of the minute details, what followed was a service and experience that was geared to minister and meet people who are not like my family. From a confusing “Welcome Time” to an awkward “Pastor’s Reception,” we felt very out of place – and we are a family that has grown up in the church.
One thing that stuck out specifically to me was the followup. I made sure that, as instructed, I filled out the “Connect Card,” and turned it in. I fully expected to receive a call, and then a card, within a couple of days. Neither of these “touches” ever came.
As I have looked back on this experience, I have tried to put myself in the shoes of someone who is either unchurched or had little experience in “church world.” Would my expectations have been higher or lower? Would I have understood the special language used in the course of our visit? Would I want, or expect, a followup to our visit? Would I return?
Previously I shared a post about turning first impressions into lasting connections. This week let me share with you Five Keys For Fantastic Followup.
1. Make a good first impression. Any followup will likely fail if they walked out of your service determined not to come back because they were made to feel out of place or unwelcome.
2. Have multiple avenues for gathering guest information. At Abilene, we are constantly doing our best to make sure we have the information we need to followup with our guests. We use several methods: “plan my visit,” connection card, QR code, child check-in, class registration, personal connections. We don’t want to have someone visit and then not be able to followup with them because we have inadequate information.
3. Help them make a connection with the pastor. As a pastor, and one who has studied churches for decades, I’ve discovered that when people make a personal and positive connection with the pastor (perhaps at a “Pastor’s Reception” or even during the service), it greatly helps with the followup process.
4. Make a personal contact within 48 hours. In a high-tech world, I believe in being “high-touch.” I believe that most guests appreciate (and many will expect) some sort of personal contact sooner, rather than later. I believe that a call, a card and a personal visit go a long way toward helping a guest connect with a church they recently attended.
5. Recognize them when they return. There is a huge, and often unrealized, difference between a person who attends one service and a person who returns for a second service. Make sure you recognize them. Have methods and opportunities to let them know that you’re glad they are back.
When I was a church planter in Ohio, I remember one Memorial Day Sunday morning when a couple named Brad and Penny visited our little church. I talked with them after the service and told them we’d love to see them again. I made sure to call them the next week and sent a card thanking them for worshipping with us. The next week they didn’t return. They didn’t return the next month. I thought that they had moved on in their search for a church home.
I never will forget standing outside the school on the Sunday after Labor Day. I looked up and saw a couple get out of their car and start walking toward the doors. I waved and said, “Hey Brad and Penny! It’s good to see you again.” They looked surprised and very pleased. Not long after that, they joined the church and connected with the ministry. A good first impression, prompt and personal followup along with a little recognition when they returned made all of the difference in turning a first-time guest into a connected and contributing member.
What are some unique and effective ways you or your church have used in following up with first-time guests?