It is easy to neglect or overlook guest follow-up. In a single staff church or as a bi-vocational pastor, it can seem overwhelming to be the person who has to do it all. After all, getting people through the door is more straightforward than getting them to stick around. So ask yourself:
- How effective is your church at getting guests to return and to connect?
- Does your church have a clear and practical pathway for a guest follow-up?
- How do you know if it is working?
- Do you have a volunteer or group of volunteers to make contacts?
A church’s follow-up or connection process is the beginning of what helps new people find their place in the church. No matter how great your strategy for getting new guests to attend, they may just walk right out the back door and never return without a good follow-up process. Here are a few suggestions to help you evaluate and possibly improve your guest follow-up process.
Develop a Guest Follow Up Plan
Start by charting out what should actually happen once a new guest has visited your church. For some churches, this may be a process of looking at what you are currently doing and changing or improving your current plan. You may need to start from scratch. The bottom line is that if you don’t have a plan to execute, effective follow-up will not happen. Once your plan is in place, it should be automatic for every guest who visits your church.
Follow up quickly and with Multiple Contacts
The general rule for follow-up is the sooner, the better. Several studies suggest the quicker you follow up, the greater the chances for a return visit and retention. Some research indicates that retention is best if church follow up happens within 48 hours. This could be a home visit, a phone call, email, or another form of contact. Be creative! You know your community best.
Multiple forms of follow-up help communicate well and ensure that the guest feels welcomed and appreciated. Multiple contacts also share that the church is interested in connecting with and ministering to the individual or family. Numerous connections are good, but you can also overdo it. 2 to 4 different types of contacts are healthy. This could be a combination of an automated email, a personal card or call from a pastor, an informational piece about the next steps, and possibly personal contact from a small group leader. Single staff and bi-vocational pastors, remember you do not have to make all the contacts. You just need to be intentional that they happen.
Make it Personal
Another critical point is to make the follow-up personal. Automated emails and texts are useful and will not hurt your follow-up process but are not enough in and of themselves. A personal contact communicates that we are interested in you as a person, and we want to get to know you. It says, “We want you to be more than a warm body in a seat; we want you to be a part of our family.”
A personal email, a phone call, a brief doorstep visit, or a handwritten letter are ways to communicate well and add a personal touch. I serve in a large church with many guests each week. One impactful follow-up can be a pastor sending a handwritten card to each guest from the previous Sunday. These cards are then mailed out within 48 hours. Personal investment is always worth the effort.
Communicate Next Steps
Guests are probably interested in knowing more about your church and the next steps to getting connected and involved. Joining a small group, registering for a membership class, or serving information should be clearly communicated. Printed pieces, websites, and even personal interaction with a greeter or host are ways to effectively communicate this information.
Regular evaluation will help you see if you are being effective or need to make corrections and adjustments to your process. How do you know if your follow-up process is working? Are you retaining the guests that are visiting your church? An assessment also lets you know if someone is dropping the ball in your follow-up process.
One way to measure your effectiveness is to note the number of guests for a given time and then see how many are active and connected in your church six to eight months later. This will give you an idea of your retention rate. Another way to measure effectiveness is to interview a new member and ask about their experience with your follow-up process.
Churches spend energy, time, and money to get people in the door. Advertising, outreach campaigns, invite emphases, and many other tools are used along with a lot of work and effort to get people to visit our churches. We want our churches to be viewed as a place where people are welcome, wanted, and valued. How effective are we at communicating that message and then actually keeping them? Evaluating your current follow-up process and developing a clear follow-up pathway will help your church connect and retain new guests.