Here are five things NOT to do if you want to see visitors return to your church:
1. Make them feel like outsiders
Have you ever been to a party where everyone is laughing about an inside joke, but no one bothers to fill you in? Makes you feel pretty uncomfortable, doesn’t it? Don’t do the same thing to the people visiting your church. Avoid using obscure acronyms and evasive ministry titles in the bulletin or when delivering the announcements. Visitors may not know what an ABF is, but if you explain the opportunities to get involved with a small group, they’ll understand.
2. Forget about them
I once visited a church and filled out a form requesting more information and provided all my contact details. I never heard back from them. Nothing. It left a bad taste in my mouth, and I didn’t want to go back.
Don’t make this same mistake. Show people that you have a genuine interest in them and help them learn more about your ministry—and don’t wait too long. Nearly 90% of church visitors will return if someone follows up with them that same day. That number drops to 60% if you wait 24 hours to make contact.
All of this follow up doesn’t need to—and often shouldn’t—be made by the pastor. Depending on the size of your church, delegate follow up to teams of volunteers based on location, demographic, or special interests. If you’re going to follow up in person, consider taking a small gift and be prepared to answer any questions they may have.
3. Be pushy and pressure them
While you should provide visitors with information on how they can connect and get involved with your church, don’t force them to sign up for a small group, the church picnic, and 15 ministries on their first visit. They shouldn’t feel like they’re signing their lives away, and you don’t want them to say “yes” out of guilt or obligation.
But you can help them with the next steps if they’re interested. Offer more information about the church and its ministries. Answer questions. Let them know the best way to get involved. Determine the next step you’d like them to take—attend a visitor’s luncheon or informational meeting—and give them an easy way to sign up.
One of the biggest complaints of the unchurched is that they believe churches only want their money. While you’re actually passing around the offering plate for your members to conveniently give, some visitors feel uncomfortable letting it pass by without dropping in a donation. Consider nixing the traditional offering in favor of giving kiosks, online giving, or an offering drop in the foyer.
4. Neglect them
If a visitor walks into a church of 75, everyone will likely notice. But recognizing visitors in a church of 7,500 can be a challenge, especially when you host multiple services.
So create a welcoming atmosphere from the time they walk in the door. A smiling face and kind word can make all the difference. Make sure you have friendly greeters stationed at the entrances—but don’t stop there. Encourage everyone in your church community to reach out and introduce themselves to people they don’t know. Avoid questions like, “Is this your first time here?” that might insult a longtime attendee. Opt for “I don’t think we’ve met yet” and a cordial introduction.
While we don’t like to compare church to a business, you really are trying to make a great first impression to visitors in order to sell them on your church. So think about a great customer service experience you’ve recently had—how did that coffee shop or bookstore make you feel valued? How can you recreate that positive experience for your visitors?
5. Keep them in the “visitor zone”
When people keep coming back to your church, don’t be afraid to move the relationship forward—they probably want to be more than just visitors. Let them out of the visitor zone!
- Encourage them to check in from the very first time they visit—you’ll get their information for follow-up communication and help them make attendance a habit. Show visitors that you do want them to attend regularly.
- Treat people like they’re more than just numbers. Form relationships with them. Help them get connected to a small group where they can grow and engage. If they find just five friends through your church, they’ll be less likely to leave.
- Once they’ve decided to become a part of your church community, don’t make it easy for them to just blend in. Whether it’s attending a Sunday school class or serving in a ministry, keep them accountable and don’t lower your expectations. Thom Rainer has found that people generally don’t want to be active in a church that expects nothing of them. When people can just coast along unnoticed, that’s when you’ll see a higher turnover.
Check out these other great resources for more insight on church visitors:
Image Credits: istockphoto