On average, we see churches experience a 15% attrition rate year over year.
People are going to be leaving your church for different reasons, whether it’s a job change, people passing away, people going to another church that’s a better fit for them, etc.
That means if you want to keep your church healthy and growing, you have to be intentional with identifying and connecting with new guests—and then following up with them in an effective way so that we can encourage them to come back and visit again.
Most churches say they highly value these first-time guests, but don’t do a great job of stepping into a new guest’s shoes and figuring out the right ways to show it.
With that in mind, here are some worst practices we see churches using all the time that actually drive new people away—and what to do instead.
Worst Practice #1: Using a phone call as your follow-up strategy with new guests.
If you just think about your own personal life, you know this to be true, but the data reinforces it as well: People don’t answer calls on their phones anymore. In fact, Pew Research found that “eight-in-ten Americans say they don’t generally answer their cellphone when an unknown number calls.” The fact is that people are too busy with their life to answer their phones.
We’ve found that text is really the better way for us to provide that immediate response. In fact, church follow-up platform Text-in-Church indicated that text messages had a 98% open rate within three minutes and a 45% response rate. And we’re seeing churches that are very successful when they follow up with texting.
For example, one church we worked with in Virginia Beach uses texting as their primary follow-up strategy: Guests can opt-in by responding to a texting prompt in the service and the church follows up with a text within the next 24 hours to thank them for coming and then to encourage them to come back and say hi when they do. Then they’ll send out a text message on Friday to invite them to the service for the coming weekend.
This church has seen 49% of their first-time guests return for a second visit and 30% return four or more times.
Worst Practice #2: Offering membership as the very first step into a church.
On the surface, it seems like we would want people to join our churches as fast as possible. We sense that if we can get them to commit, there’s a better chance that they’re going to stick.
But there’s a couple of problems with the strategy:
- We live in a culture that’s increasingly reluctant to become members of anything—especially the younger generations.
- Being a member of a church doesn’t lead to the kind of relational connection that serving or being in a group does.
We see many churches emphasize joining the church rather than connecting with people in relationships. But more often than not, it’s a relational connection that’s actually going to keep people coming back to our churches.
Instead of membership, we should be shifting our focus to helping our new guests get connected on a serving team where they can build relationships early on and have a part to play in the life of the church. And we should also help them connect in a group where they can begin to build relationships with other people who are taking their next steps toward Jesus as well.
(As time goes on, this does seem to be the trend churches are following. Our most recent data shows that 24% of churches did not offer membership as a connection point to the church.)
Worst Practice #3: Making new guests stand up to be welcomed during the weekend service.
Here’s the deal: The majority of new guests don’t want attention. They’re simply there to observe and take in the experience. They want to be welcomed, but they don’t want the spotlight on them.
Instead, the better strategy is to create intentional environments where first-time guests are welcome—and there’s really no better place to do this than at the main entrances to your churches.
I love the churches that are stepping back and asking for that first time guest: What are they looking for? How can we best help them?
For example, a church we’ve worked with in Cincinnati, OH has tables set up at their main entrance with signs overhead (so that when there’s a crowd in the space, you can still see the sign) that simply say: “Welcome – New Here?” It’s obvious if I’m new to the church, that’s where I should go.
Rather than giving them the spotlight, they’re just looking for an opportunity to ask questions and have someone point them in the right direction.
Another key part of this is preparing for guests and making sure that your welcome team is well-trained and ready to answer the basic questions that first time guests have.
Think of it like welcoming a guest into your home. We need to be very intentional about who is on our welcome team—that they’re super sensitive to the people that are joining us for the very first time and the experience that we’re creating for them.
At this free webinar on February 29, the Unstuck team & special guests will walk through proven strategies and best practices for creating intentional weekend services that reach and connect with new people.
Worst Practice #4: Communicating dozens of ways they can connect with our church, then asking them to fill out a long form, then giving them a shirt they’ll never wear.
Communicating dozens of next steps overwhelms them. Offering a gift that they’ll never use doesn’t compel them. And asking for too much information is invasive and likely repels them.
All of this to try to convince them to join our church. Maybe it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it illustrates how complicated churches often make it when new guests are just trying to decide: “Will I come back?”
Rather than taking this approach, we see churches become more effective at connecting with new guests when they focus on creating a compelling weekend experience and addressing the questions that people commonly have, adding value to their life. When we create this type of great experience, as well as a great environment for their kids, they’ll leave wanting more of what they experienced. We’re trying to make it easy for them to say, “Yes, I want to come back.”
We’re also seeing many churches focus on returning guests more. After all, a lot of the key strategy around connections isn’t just about how we connect people to our church, but how we connect people to other people so that relationships can develop—and hopefully through those relationships, we can encourage people to take their next steps toward Christ.