Holidays can bring new people to your church and create opportunities for impact. Most pastors can easily name the big days that bring high attendance. But knowing about big days and planning for them are two different things.
Too often, these calendar-given gifts sneak up on pastors, resulting in last minute planning and low impact. One of the biggest days comes early this year. Easter weekend is only a few weeks away!
When big days sneak up on you, the rule of thumb is to polish what’s working instead of trying to create something new. Creating new requires time and planning, and time isn’t on your side.
The most important thing to polish to enhance your Easter weekend impact? I think it’s probably your guest engagement strategy. Gary McIntosh’s book What Every Pastor Should Know reports the responses from a number of interviews with people who visited a church for the first time. These people were asked, “What made the biggest impression? What affected your decision to return the following week?”
It wasn’t the eloquent preaching, excellent worship or a fun kids ministry. The number one response by far was the friendliness of the church. Effectively engaging new guests with friendliness requires planning and intentionality. It can’t be something we hope happens; it must be something we make happen… because it can determine if they come back.
If your church is unfriendly today, chances are you won’t be able to turn things around by Easter weekend. (Though I’d make it a high priority after!) But if your church has a guest engagement strategy in place, take this opportunity to review it with fresh eyes and polish it up.
Ideas to Polish Your Guest Engagement Strategy
Invite a few “outsiders” to attend your church this weekend specifically to rate the friendliness of your church.
Ask a few people who fit the type of person your church is trying to reach, and let them know you want them to be completely honest. Offer to buy them coffee afterwards. Let them share their feedback however they are most comfortable.
Cast vision again to the First Impressions team.
Share the findings from Gary McIntosh’s book. Help them understand the vital importance of their roles. Help them understand how the First Impressions team engages guests. The right engagement can make a good impression on the people who wander into your church. Train your team with guidelines. For example, asking guests, “Would you like me to show you our children’s area? Would you like a cup of coffee?” can make guests feel very welcome as soon as they walk into the door. Consistency matters.
Reconsider where you locate your First Impressions teams.
Locate your guest engagement teams in the right places. While there is value in having door greeters, think deeper than the front door. Having intentional teams in the lobby, auditorium and hospitality areas can make a huge impact.
These teams should engage and celebrate all people—not just new people (identifying them can be a challenge in a growing church, especially on Easter). If a team member doesn’t know someone’s name, that person is the target. This will ensure both new and returning guests are engaged, feel God’s love and get a sense of community.
Think more strategically about how and why you collect guest information.
Obtaining guest information creates your second opportunity to engage guests after they leave the building. Most churches use some version of a connection card, but getting guests to fill out the card can be a challenge. Here are a few ways to polish your information gathering strategy:
- Make sure your guest service area is highly visible, easy to access, and well-stocked.Ensure church members aren’t congregating there. New guests typically won’t fight a crowd to get to the table. Make sure you have the right information available. Easter is usually attended by families with children. Have strong communication pieces available that highlight your children’s and student ministries. Make sure volunteers at the guest service area are trained to collect the right information and explain quickly how it will be used. That leads me to the next thing…
- Only ask for the bare minimum info and give people options for sharing their info. Do you really need their full name, address, email and phone number? Would you give all of that information out to a church you visited for the first time? Think about what information you actually plan to do something with, and get it down to the bare minimum.Many guests will not visit the guest area. Give people options for sharing their information (connect card, Facebook, church app, etc). A new guest gift can incentivize if it’s something people will actually want.
- Review your first time guest follow-up communication with fresh eyes. If you’re collecting guest information, make sure your system for following up is buttoned-up. It’s tough enough to get someone to share their info. If you manage to do that and then don’t follow up well or at all, you create a negative impression.Keep communication short and purposeful. Always include a next step you suggest they take