Similar to your being asked to return for a second job interview, if a guest visits your church twice, then you know they are serious. Whether or not first-time visitors give you a second look may be determined by how you follow-up after their initial visit. While statistics on the subject are dated, most suggest that when a church follows-up with its guests, they are more likely to visit again. Here are a few great ways to increase the odds.
Timing is everything. The more quickly you follow-up, the more likely it is that guests will return. Don’t let a day go by (literally) without reaching out to the newcomers who have graced your pews. Begin by taking advantage of the opportunities you have while they are still on the church grounds.
Include a formal welcome. Enlist volunteers to greet and assist people as they enter your church. Make sure greeters are easily recognized with name tags or vests. Train volunteers to be perceptive, to look for and recognize those who may be new.
Collect contact information. Use a card format that doesn’t ask for too much information. Here are some visitor card templates you can download and customize or purchase cards designed for United Methodist churches. Tell guests what you are planning to do with the information, and assure them that you won’t sell their information or make unannounced, unrequested visits. Hand the cards directly to visitors when possible, and don’t assume they have a pen. If you are not personally collecting the cards, make sure visitors know how/where to turn them in.
Set up a welcome booth or table where a volunteer can provide information on your church’s ministries, ask for contact information and point visitors in the right direction.
Provide welcome packets for your visitors. Order easily-recognizable, reusable plastic or canvas bags with your church logo and contact information printed on them. Fill them with important information such as service times, specific ministries and information about The United Methodist Church, such as The United Methodist Handbook.
Teach your members to practice radical hospitality. Remind them to look for people who may appear out of place, uncomfortable or who are carrying a guest bag. Encourage them to smile and to not be afraid to talk to someone new.
Give newcomers a gift. Consider a gift that they will use and keep, something that reminds them of your church or has the church contact information printed on it. Consider using an online form to ask for their contact information.
Host an “after-service” reception. Set aside a small area where you can serve a light snack and drinks. Announce that all visitors are welcome and give clear directions to the area before the end of the service. Make sure a pastor or other church leader is there to welcome them and answer questions.
Follow-up after they leave
While making initial contact is imperative, it isn’t the end-all of guest relations. Don’t smother your guests, but make sure your church has a plan to follow-up further.
Mail a note. Provide volunteers with pre-stamped postcards and a pile of contact cards. Ask them to write a note or two thanking the guests for their visits. Ask your volunteers to write the notes before they leave the church and leave them in a designated spot. Pop the notes in the mail on Monday to ensure a mid-week reminder of Sunday’s visit.
Send a digital greeting. Don’t just input guest information and wait for the next mass email to reach them. Instead, ask a senior volunteer or a creative college student to send free online greeting cards, such as the thank-you notes offered at MyFunCards. You can also send a brief but personalized email to let guests know that someone noticed them and would like to see them again.
Take goodies. Every church has people who enjoy crafting or baking. Take advantage of those talents. Use services such as Take Them A Meal or Meal Train to enlist cooking volunteers who will fix something homemade (a loaf of bread, a plate of cookies, a basket of homemade soap or a jar of candy) and deliver it to the visitors at home. Call first, and resist the temptation to stay. Keep it short and sweet. Drop it off and go.
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Immediate contact is crucial if you want visitors to make a second appearance. But no one likes to be forgotten. Help them remember you by showing you remember them.
Keep communicating. Add their contact information to your database to email service provider to send newsletters and church information. Invite them to church activities, and send them a card on their birthdays. Keep them in the loop, but make sure not to overload their inbox.
Provide a call to action. Make sure they know the “next step.” Don’t just encourage them to “come again.” Give them a time, date and place for the next service, small group, Sunday school class or special event. Let them know about any newcomer or new member classes in which they might be interested.
Pray for them and let them know you did. Designate a prayer team or set aside time during your staff meetings to pray by name for those who have visited your church. Then send them a postcard letting them know that you did. While the message can be pre-printed, make sure that everyone who is praying signs the card. There’s something special about knowing someone is praying for you.
Since one of the primary goals of the church is to reach the unchurched, there is a lot riding on guest follow-up. It doesn’t happen by accident; so don’t let it fall through the cracks. United Methodist Communications has welcoming resources to help you make a plan to reach and keep visitors. When you act fast and are intentional, you help guests want to make a second appearance!
— Tricia Brown has been a freelance writer and editor for more than twenty years, ghost-writing and editing for individuals as well as for health, education and religious organizations. She enjoys reading, writing and public speaking commitments in which she teaches and encourages other women.