Updated: Jan 12, 2021
Few things are more exciting than a first-time guest. That an individual or family would choose to attend your church on any given Sunday is a tremendous thing. Especially considering that church attendance numbers across the board continue to fall.
Yes, first-time guests are exciting. However, the goal is always to get them to come back for a second visit. Getting a guest to return says a lot about the impact your church had on them.
Unfortunately, this is no easy task. Some studies have shown that as little as 10% of first-time guests return for a second visit. If you could increase that number to 20%, 30%, even 40% your church could be transformed in one year.
So how can you make it more likely that a first-time guest will return? Here are 5 things to consider.
A Good First-Impression
Yes, it's obvious, yet so important. You must make a good first impression. The difficulty of overcoming a bad first impression makes it worth the effort. There is no other way.
Many guests make the decision to return to your church within minutes of entering your building. That means that before worship is done or the sermon is finished, many guests have long decided whether or not they will be back.
Give your campus and facility a good look. Try to see through the eyes of someone brand new. Look for anything that might create a negative impression: overgrown grass; building in need of a power wash; less than perfect bathrooms. These a “big ticket” items that your guests will notice and can create a negative impression immediately.
First impressions are not just in the big things, but in the details as well. Consider offering a local business owner who doesn't attend your church coffee or lunch in exchange for them stopping by and giving an honest assessment. He or she will likely notice things that you and your members have long overlooked. These are the little things that guests will notice as well.
Related to making a good first-impression is being prepared to receive guests.
Have you ever gone to someone's house and it was obvious that they were not quite ready for you yet? You were invited, you showed up at the right time, but they still had a little cleaning up to do. You could feel their stress as they zipped around or quickly wrapped up the cord to the vacuum to put it away. You might think to yourself, "Did I come at the wrong time? Should I come back later? Sit in my car? Maybe just reschedule?"
Being the guest of an unprepared host gives one the sense of being an unwelcome interruption. Likewise, when guests come and teams (especially hospitality teams) aren't ready to receive them, they will get the impression that they are crashing a party that is not for them.
Often this comes in the form of door greeters not paying attention as a guest walks in, the Welcome Center attendant being late, ushers leading guests on an epic journey for a seat because they weren't keeping track of open seats, and security personnel appearing unnecessarily gruff and unapproachable. Make no mistake: These things do not go unnoticed. In fact, they are magnified for guests in ways that leaders and longtime members cannot appreciate.
Create a Guest Reception System (Learn it, Stick to it, and Perfect It)
One of the best things you can do for your guests - and subsequently, for the growth of your church - is to create a system that will facilitate an excellent guest experience. At the very least, your system should start from the moment a guest enters the parking lot until they leave the property. However, a more advanced system will start from the time your guests google your church and navigate your website, and will extend through the entire week of their visit. Your system should have a plan for every moment that a guest is on the grounds (and beyond).
Train staff and volunteers on the system. Treat it like a football playbook and everyone on the team needs to memorize every "play." This way, everyone will be on the same page, knowing exactly how to interact with guests, and ensuring that no one falls through the cracks.
Another advantage of training is that the system runs in a way that is natural and less perceptible to guests, putting the guest at ease. An under-trained hospitality team will focus more on running the system accurately than they are on the guest themselves. In sports, when a team is so focused on running the plays perfectly that it causes them to struggle in execution, it's often referred to as "playing tight." This means that there is a lack of natural, instinctive fun taking place on the field. Well-trained hospitality ministries give the impression of a fun yet well-prepared place of worship that is guest-ready and guest-focused.
Give Them A Gift
Who doesn't like free stuff!? (Notice I didn't say "free junk"). During certain stretches of the year, I receive a "blue box" of free promotional items from a large marketing company. I get excited when I see that blue box! It doesn't matter what's in there and not all of it is meaningful to me, but I love getting, free, new, quality stuff simply because I was once a customer. In fact, my already cluttered office is decorated with cups, mugs, and random pens from the company.
Generally speaking, your guests will appreciate the free stuff you give them. It doesn't have to be expensive, but it should be new and functional. Also, if it is within your budget, try to have at least one item with your church name, logo, and website on it. Here are some ideas:
pens with the church's name
cups/coffee mugs/metal tumblers
magnets with the church's info
a welcome letter on church letterhead signed by the pastor
any combination of these in a nice cloth bag with your church's logo on it
I realize that some or all of this may not be within your church's budget, but it is worth considering investing in guest gifts when it becomes possible. A great resource to check is 4imprint.com (enjoy your blue box!).
Gifts are a nice touch, but there is also a practical reason to give them: They help your guests to remember your church for the entire week and beyond.
I'm neither a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but I'm going to guess that you have a magnet on your refrigerator that's been there for years. For us, it's a frog on a surfboard from a 2011 missions trip to Costa Rica which Lindsay and I were chaperones. For almost 10 years that magnet remains on our largest household appliance as a reminder of that trip.
Every time your guests write with the pen or drink from the mug with your church name on it, they are reminded of their visit. Further, if you are unable to keep a line of communication, the gift might fill the gap until they return.
If you're not making an effort to follow-up with guests, you are limiting the likelihood that they'll return. As friendly as the church may be, and as powerful as the services are, in this day and age you have to take every opportunity you can to grab people's attention. It's just that simple.
I'll be writing more about ways to follow up with guests soon, why texting is better than email, and how digital communication has made the hand-written letter cool again.
In the meantime, if you would like to discuss an effective guest follow-up process for your church, please message me at email@example.com.