Any church worth its salt has a desire to reach new people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We want to do everything we can to see the message of hope take root in the hearts and lives of individuals and families. So, we work, we plan special events, we pray, we encourage our church family to get involved … and then it happens. That first-time visitor walks through the front door! They look a bit lost perhaps, but they are here. Your church does its best to greet them and make them feel welcome. You glance their way every so often during the service, wondering what might be going through their mind. Are they enjoying this, or are they really looking forward to the end of the service? Is the sermon making sense to them, or are they totally confused? Do they think our church is weird? Have enough people made them feel welcome today, or are they just not feeling the love? You know the gospel can change them, but will they stick around long enough to allow it to take root? After observing more than 5,000 church services over the last 30 years, here’s my collection of “hacks” to consider when interacting with new visitors:
1. Equip a “Welcome Task Force.”
One of the most common reasons a first-time visitor never becomes a 2nd-time visitor? They felt like a number. They came in, sat down, got up and left, and felt like nobody knew they were there. Don’t let this happen! If your church has any size to it, it will be logistically impossible for the pastor to personally find and engage every new visitor before they leave. Rather than “hopefully the pastor can catch them”, here’s a better strategy: Equip a group of outgoing but tactful church members to seek out visitors and intentionally engage them. Notice I did say “tactful.” This may not be the best job for cheek-pinching lipstick-toting Aunt Mabel, but use discretion and choose a group that can interact with visitors without making a scene. Here are a few practical tips to think about:
A. Choose team members from different age groups.
B. Train them properly.
C. Have them introduce guests to the pastoral staff or welcome center staff.
2. Find a way to get their email address.
Do a Google search for “how to get church visitors to come back”, and you’ll find a lot of suggestions about a “visitor’s card” or a “connection card.” Hey, I would totally agree, that a connection card is crucial! But rather than labeling that as one of the “5 Hacks” in this post, I want to drill down even further and propose that outside of their name, the email address is the most important piece of information you could gather from your visitors. What if there was a way to communicate with this new guest quickly and regularly without leaving voicemails, making “not home” visits, or risking a stumble into “creeper” status? That’s what an email address can do for you. I’m not saying it’s all you need, but I am saying that it can be a real game changer if you play it smart! Here are a few important ideas about this:
A. Guard these email addresses.
B. Always make sure the email recipient has a way to opt-out if they no longer want to hear from you.
C. Consider an Email Automation for new visitors.
3. Mug them with sweetness.
What? Mug them? Years ago, my wife’s home church in Georgia would take time during every Sunday morning service to recognize first-time guests. Ushers would walk the aisles with church-logo coffee mugs that were filled with candy and finished off with a bow. I remember the pastor always saying “if you’re a first-time guest today, we want to mug you with sweetness.” For some reason, people would chuckle at the corny joke every week. I’m not suggesting you employ this same method, but my point is this: spoil your guests. Make sure that when they walk out the front doors they are carrying more items than when they came in. Whether you give gifts during pre-service, end-of-service, or afterward at the welcome center, make sure they feel the love. Oh, and make sure it is more than just church literature and a pen from Oriental Trading. Spend a few bucks and spoil them. Remember Proverbs 18:16? A man’s gift makes room for him! Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:
A. Build some mystery into it.
B. Give a gift to each family member.
C. Avoid homemade foods.
4. Take really good care of their kids.
Picture this. The service just ended, and that first-time visiting couple shows up at the children’s wing to pick up their kids. Little Johnnie stumbles out crying and mumbling something about being thirsty, and Sally is nowhere to be found. A couple of workers disappear in the back to find her, and five minutes later she makes an appearance, but she’s only wearing one shoe. Now, maybe this is an extreme scenario, but listen – there is no clearer path to a parent’s heart than through the people they love the most in this world. If you treat their children with care, honor, and obvious kindness, you’ve made a phenomenal statement, and you’re well on your way to establishing a lasting relationship. A comprehensive plan on the children’s ministry program is beyond the scope of this article, but the thought is this: do what it takes to make this experience exciting and pleasant for those kids. If they want to come back next week, guess what? Exactly. Here are some tips:
A. Make sure your children’s workers know who the first-time visiting kids are, and make sure they receive a special gift as honored guests.
B. Have 1 or 2 kids workers who have the responsibility of personally assisting these children.
C. Build anticipation into the children’s program from week to week.
5. Connect with them outside of the church setting
This is a big step and perhaps the riskiest out of all of these, but it may also be the most rewarding. Whether it’s a staff member, a deacon, a small groups leader, or just a friend who is already a member, try to arrange a follow-up meeting outside of the church setting the week following their visit. This may be a casual cup of coffee at a cafè, a bite to eat during lunch break, or a simple play date with kids at the park. Whatever the arrangement, the idea is to take away the unfortunate “walls” that can so easily shoot up within the corporate church setting. As much as we’d like to think this doesn’t happen at our church, it does. Most people simply won’t be up front with you the first time they walk through the doors of your church. They are trying to feel it out and see what the safety level is. Once you work through the awkwardness of arranging the meeting and breaking the ice, it is amazing how many doors of opportunity for ministry can appear. If you decide to go for it, consider these things:
A. Always arrange the meeting beforehand.
B. Make sure the guest knows the purpose of the meeting first.
C. Pay for their meal, drink, treat, etc.
I hope these ideas have been a help to you. Are you currently implementing any of these in your ministry? What have been the results? What other ideas would you add to this list? We’d love to hear from you with a comment below!