Retaining Guests is a Part of Evangelism
I was recently talking with a pastor about the importance of building a strategic calendar and good invite strategies around the “big days” (Easter, Christmas, etc). During our conversation, he said something I have heard countless times before. “The big days are for the CEO’s.” And by the way, he didn’t mean that his Easter Sunday was filled with corporate CEO’s. Instead, he was using CEO as an acronym for Christmas-Easter-Only people. We have all seen it. We see it every year because Christmas and Easter happen…every year.
As a former lead pastor, I can certainly remember the Sundays following Easter, Christmas or some other big day. The services were usually low attended and lacked the energy that was experienced the previous week. Those were usually the Sundays where the number two guy or the youth pastor was scheduled to teach. I’ve been there too.
I have talked with churches that said they have pulled back the energy and efforts in trying to follow up with CEO people, because they never see results. However, not seeing results isn’t a reason to pull back the effort. Instead, it’s the opportunity to ask the right questions, make the changes and do a better job connecting with the people who walk into our buildings. We are called to reach people. And reaching people, especially guests, requires good follow-up. I sometimes have leaders push back and say, “It’s not about the numbers, it’s about making disciples!” Retaining guests isn’t for the sake of an attendance score, it is for the sake of reaching people with the gospel. It’s evangelism at its best. It’s about helping new, unchurched people meet Jesus and having their eternity changed. When that takes a back burner, the mission becomes soft. Although I know we can’t catch everyone, we have to be intentional about following up with as many people as possible.
On average about 20% of new guests return to church. If you’re going to make disciples, people who need discipling have to come back. Here are some ideas and best practices to help you connect with and retain guests…even Christmas and Easter guests.
The ASK is For Their Information
- Make sure the “ask” is at the right place in the service. A lot of guests will be intentionally late or right on time, so asking people to fill out a card at the very beginning of service usually doesn’t create a good result. Ideally, in my experience the best time is the middle of worship or (my favorite place) at the end of worship, right before the offering. I like this place because people are typically seated for the offering. It is easier for a guest to fill out a card when seated as opposed to standing. This particular spot also gives options for guests to communicate. For example, “…please fill our your card and visit our welcome center, or simply drop it in today’s offering. Allowing us to know your name is your gift to us!”
- The language of the ask needs to be super intentional, meaning it needs to make sense to an unchurched person. I remember one church in particular, where the person doing the welcome said, “If you’re a visitor today, we love you and God loves you. Fill out that card and later this week we will contact you to see if we can serve you in anyway.”I’m pretty sure the last thing a unchurched guest wants is someone from the church calling and asking how they can be served. The person doing the welcome was sincere, but the language wasn’t appealing to the people they were trying to reach. Remember, the idea of the connection card is to get their information, not get them baptized.
- Wherever you place your welcome, be sure to create a moment for guests to fill out their card. In other words, don’t briefly mention it and quickly move on. Use a phrase that’s similar to, “Hey, RIGHT NOW, we’re going to take a moment and ask you to fill out your connection card…Would you please do that now?” You would be amazed at how creating a moment can enhance participation.
- If you’re offering a guest gift, great, but make sure it’s the right gift. Guests probably don’t care about getting a church bumper sticker or a coffee mug with the church’s name on it. Instead, ask this question, “What is appealing to the people we’re trying to reach?” Some churches use Starbucks gift cards (who doesn’t want one of those?). One church I worked with gave seasonal, fun gifts, such a travel sun screen and chapstick during the summer. In addition to a gift, I have seen churches donate $5 or $10 dollars to a local non-profit for every guest card received. This can be huge for millennials, as they are always about supporting a purpose or cause.
The Three Week Touch Points:
Once you have the information, what do you do with it? Here are three-points that end with a 12 month marketing/invite strategy. Remember, this strategy is for people who show up one time and do not return (CEO people); a returning guest would have different steps.
Week One: Reach Out Friendly:
Send a postcard. Postcards don’t have to be opened, therefore they are always read. Ideally, the postcard should come from the person who greeted them on that particular Sunday. The front of the postcard should be fun and modern. The script should be short and sweet with a “I am so glad we got to meet” note and an invite back again. The idea here is the postcard isn’t coming from staff or someone who gets paid to work in the office. This adds authenticity to the experience.
Week Two: Reach Out Formally:
Thom Rainer said a hand written letter is a rarity in the world of digital script and technology. I agree. A short letter from someone on staff makes the, “We’re glad you came to our church” smell a little more formal. This could be the senior pastor of a pastor on staff. Again, the content doesn’t need to be spiritually heavy or incredibly long—just a, “We’d love to see you again” blurb is ideal. Be sure to include a P.S. because P.S. always gets read. It should give them a next step if they should return.
Week Three: Reach Out Finally:
It is important that your connection card asks for “preferred communication” with text, social media, email or phone as options (phone calls are rarely the preferred communication). The final reach is a text, social media message, email or call saying, “We wanted to thank you again for being our guest. If there’s anything we can do for you, let us know!” While this may sound intrusive, I can tell you many stories about people who opened up a message via text or social media, and resulted in them coming back. Too often we think people don’t return because they are anti-church or they didn’t like our church. Sometimes it simply because they are in a tough place in life. A final reach can be a life line.It is important that your connection card asks for “preferred communication” with text, social media, email or phone as options. While this may sound intrusive, I can tell you many stories about people where this resulted in them coming back. Click To Tweet
The 12 Month Touch-Points
If the CEO guests haven’t responded or returned to your church after three weeks of follow up, move their contact to a separate file. Planning Center has a great option for contact tracking called Workflows. An old fashioned excel sheet works well too. Here’s the big idea. The people filed here become your new mailing list for big days. For example, if you have guests show up on Easter and never return, they should be on the list to get an invite for Mom’s Day, a summer event, a new fall series or Christmas. Why? Because they are CEO people. They attend church based on events or holidays. This shouldn’t create a cascade of mail or emails. Most churches (should) have three or four big days each year. So it’s an opportunity to invite people who have already been to your church to come back three or four times throughout the year. The fact that they’ve already attended and lived to tell about it amplifies the chance of their return.
The hope is, they will eventually connect with the church and meet Jesus. The other reality is, when (not if) life happens and they need hope, your church will be in the front of their mind. That’s a simple marketing principle. After 12 months, I would suggest moving them to an inactive file.
At the end of the day, you have to build and tweak what’s right for your church. There is no one perfect way. Above all things, pray and ask Jesus to help you refine your process. In doing so, I hope you see new people experience the amazing love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ!