This week, I sat with a few Brethren church pastors, and the conversation led itself to church visitors. It comes as no surprise that these pastors were experiencing the same thing most American church leaders experience: attendees hopping from church to church. It seems that we're more and more fighting for a smaller and smaller pool of potential attendees. It's even harder to find folks that have never been to church before.
So, when we're faced with this steep battle, what do we do? First, I hope we're treating visitors like guests in our home. When someone comes to my home for the first time, I don't leave them to flounder on their own. I guide them in, I welcome them. We offer them comforts (drinks, seating, etc.). We introduce them. Here's what I don't do when a guest is in my home the first time:
- Expect them to find their own way.
- Single them out as a new person in front of other guests that have come before.
- Use language in conversation that excludes them.
In the same way, I hope we're creating welcoming, guided experiences for guests to find their way and know what our churches are all about (hopefully Jesus).
When the morning comes to an end though, how can we ensure we reach back out to guests, to thank them for coming, or to follow up with them later? One simple way is by creating a short welcome message. From the small church to the megachurch, this process works! And you can tailor it to make it feel right for your church. The pastor can deliver it, or a layperson (carefully selected and trained). It can happen during the service, or immediately after the service, in a side room, etc. Choose whatever feels like the culture of your church.
Here's why you MUST do this: You need a way to contact your church's guests after they visit. If you can't contact them, you can't follow up with them. If you can't follow up with them, your chances of developing a relationship with them are completely up to whether they show up again. Don't leave this up to chance!
Here's the 4 things every successful welcome message needs:
1. A Welcome
For most folks, this is the most authentic moment they'll experience in your church. So, whether it's the pastor or (even better) a layperson, introduce yourself by name. Share something about yourself, like your role in the church, how long you've been a part of the community, and how you're connected.
"Hi, I'm Patrick Sprague. I'm one of the worship leaders here at Park Street, and we're really excited you've joined us today. My wife and I moved back to Ashland in 2013, and we've loved finding a home and forming some of our deepest friendships with folks here…"
2. Connect People to Your Church's Heart
Every church has a heart. A thing that they're "all about". It's not just Jesus, it's how your church expresses itself in the Kingdom of God and in your community. Tell your guests about why you keep coming back to this church. (Sidenote: if you or your folks can't answer that question with anything better than "we always have", there's a HUGE opportunity for self-examination).
It looks like this…
"…At Park Street, we love that we're a multi-generational church. We're a church that has a place for people of every age and every stage of life. We hope you see that and experience our commitment to that in worship today…"
3. Tell Them What You Expect
Your guests knew they were getting up and coming to a church today. They knew they would hear about Jesus. There is no need to mince words or be weird about it: Give 'em Jesus.
Here's the other thing though: your guests want to know what they should do next, and how. Spell it out for them. Don't beg. Don't give them 20,000 options. Give them one simple step to take if they enjoyed their experience.
Here's what that looks like (and it's going to vary depending on your church):
"As I mentioned before, we're glad you're with us this morning. If you're a first time guest, we would LOVE to connect with you and hear about your experience. Please, fill out the connection card on your seat and drop it in the offering plate…"
This will vary based on how your church collects contact info.
4. What Will Happen, and "What's in it for me?"
Your church might prefer to email, phone call, send a card, etc. In fact, we'll be covering a schedule for follow up in a separate post next. No matter what, get their contact to follow up, and ACTUALLY FOLLOW UP. At the end of your welcome message, answer the "Why?". Answer the "What's in it for me?" question.
"…We'll pop you a text this week and answer any questions you might have, and give you any more info about the church you might want. We just want to give you a chance to get to know us, and we'd love to get to know you. We also have a small gift for you this morning, just as a way of saying thanks for checking Park Street out, so be sure to stop by the info table and talk to Stef and get your gift!"
This sets expectations, and it also gives you a second line of defense for getting info (if they didn't fill in the card - your info table folks can ask). The greeters can also start establishing a relationship with your guests, which will go a long way.
In the second part of this series, we'll cover some additional tips that will help you and your team in the delivery of this message. Great delivery equals great results, and it's worth getting this right!
As Outreach Chair, I have been wanting to make up a guest "package". Since I haven't done it yet, I may resort to buying something from a catalog. My model is one like I received at a church I was visiting while on vacation in Florida. The small sturdy plastic folder contained printed material that explained what their denomination believed, an ink pen, and a package of microwave popcorn among other token gifts. A short "glad to see you" note explained that the popcorn was to remind me that the church was glad I "popped in" to visit! I explained I was from Indiana, but they insisted I keep all the material anyway. I remember about 4 folks taking the time to really speak to me before and after the service. If I ever get back to their city, you can bet I'll be visiting them again. Their gift was tangible evidence of very nice people who made me feel welcome.
Nice start to this series. As an additional idea, one of the local churches here in Columbus came up with a great idea for getting info cards filled out. For every filled out card that they get, they make a donation to the local food bank. They are a church that is very involved in ministry to the poor, so it really fits for them as a church and it helps visitors who share their heart for that type of ministry immediately connect with the church.
When it comes to invite cards, we have tried them all. The best option, by far, has been attendance and information cards that are physically a part of our programs. Everybody gets one, and the info cards are perforated. Each week we ask EVERYONE to fill one out, so visitors don;t feel singles out), and to place them in the offering plate. Our greeters identify visitors and make sure they get a welcome bag with a nice gift and a letter from me. Of course there are also multiple follow up contacts in the weeks ahead.