A while back my wife and I were invited to dinner with another couple in our church. From the moment we arrived until the moment we left we were treated like honored guests. The food was great, the fellowship was great and the overall experience was just very relaxing and enjoyable.
The next morning we discovered the host family had sent us an email thanking us for joining them for the meal and we found a post on Facebook announcing their joy in spending time with us. I was really impressed that they were still thinking of us even after the official ‘event’ was over with. It was definitely a Romans 12:13 experience.
“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
There are so many things the local church can learn and should emulate from my experience with this family. The one I’d like to highlight in today’s post has to do with the importance and value of effective guest follow-up.
Consider this scenario:
It’s Sunday afternoon and Tim & Joanne just finished lunch with their two teenage kids. Conversation centered around everyone’s impression of the church they visited that morning for the first time. Everyone was in agreement that they enjoyed the service and the people were mostly friendly. Since attending church is not something they normally do as a family they found it a novel experience, to say the least. That said, nobody suggested going back next week.
Two days later Joanne and her daughter are sitting in the living room watching TV when a commercial comes on, distracting them for a moment. Joanne mentions that she received a nice letter from the pastor expressing how glad he was that they visited and letting them know he’d love to talk with them sometime if they have any questions about their first visit to the church. This sparks a lively conversation about one aspect of the service that they did find awkward (the singing). Before the show resumed, the daughter wondered if they should try visiting again some Sunday.
Fast forward three weeks to a Saturday afternoon. Everyone is driving back from a baseball game when Tim announces he had just received an email that morning from one of the greeters of the church inviting them to come visit the church again sometime. He asked his family, “What do you all think of us going back tomorrow morning?” After some discussion about schedules, everyone agrees to give it another try.
A simple little story that highlights just one thing: the potential influence of guest follow-up. In this scenario, had the church not reached out to that family again, it could have been months or even years before they ever came back. The busy-ness of life and schedules hold a greater demand on their time.
Church was hardly the center of this family’s attention or priorities, but they decided to visit again. I wonder what might happen after they have come a second time? Will their conversation at lunch that Sunday result in a die-hard commitment to the church for the rest of their lives?
I doubt it very much. Assuming they have another great experience (which is sometimes ‘iffy’) they may find themselves a little more vested than a month ago, but not enough to become regular attendees yet. Thus, the importance of a second time guest follow up.
I’m a firm believer in consistent, intentional and friendly follow-up to Sunday service guests.
I believe there is a RIGHT way and a WRONG way to follow up with church guests. In fact, poor guest follow up might actually end up being worse than no follow up at all. Check out some of these tips for great guest-friendly follow-up.
10 Follow-Up Tips
1. Decide to Follow Up.
One of the biggest reasons church’s don’t follow-up is simply because they are already busy and overwhelmed. Follow-up is just one more thing to do and often it gets shoved to the back burner for more urgent tasks. What most pastors and leaders forget is that effective follow-up may ultimately be one of the most mission-critical things you do besides the Sunday morning experience. Your passion to see lives transformed means you should be committed to finding ways to encourage people who need what you have (Christ’s Transforming Love) to return again and again until they have received it. Make a decision this week to start or begin evaluating your guest follow up.
2. Ask Permission.
Nobody likes to receive communications without at least some small amount of permission first. It’s not necessary to literally ask a person if you can send them information; but it’s usually wise to create a system whereby they give you their email, phone numbers, and mailing address (as opposed to surprising them by sending them communications by looking them up). The simple task of having them write out their information is implication enough that you just may DO something with that information. For example: Asking them to fill out an information card during their visit to the church.
3. No Pressure.
Please don’t pressure your guests to come back or make them feel guilty if they don’t visit again! This is, perhaps, one of the worst ways to communicate with new people in your church. Whether you are sending a letter, email, Facebook message, or calling them on the phone, remember to treat them as you would want to be treated were you in their shoes. Guests want to feel valued and special when they hear from you. This also means that you shouldn’t presume that they will or will want to visit the church again in the near future.
4. Be a Giver.
The focus of your follow-up communications should stay solely on serving your guest. What can you give to them to help them in this season of their life? You know they may be interested in your church, so GIVE them information they are interested in receiving about your church, with no strings attached. Ask them about their experience on Sunday and if they have any questions about anything. You also know that, whether they know it or not, people usually attend church because God is drawing them. If possible, find out what’s going on in their life that you or your church can help them with. Ask them if there’s anything they would like prayer for. As a bonus, if you can find ways to literally give your guests gifts I’m sure they won’t be too upset. For example: Include a $5 gift card or see if a business owner in your church would be willing to give out free coupons to guests for their product or services.
5. Look Out.
In this article I discuss the difference between Insiders Looking In, Insiders Looking Out, Outsiders Looking In, and Outsiders Looking Out. Taylor your follow up with an ‘Outsiders Looking In’ or an ‘Outsiders Looking Out’ perspective. Remember the world they live in and that their lives are probably already complicated and full.
6. Follow Up More than Once
It is very common for churches to send one follow-up to guests and then to never contact them again. Unfortunately, one follow-up is rarely enough to encourage repeat visits for every guest. Fact: Your guests will probably NOT attend your church consistently at first. They may visit two, three or more times over the course of several months before they start attending weekly. Fact: Your guests have NOT decided to make your church their church home after visiting two or three times. They may say they like your church and the people, but they are not vested in attending regularly yet. Follow up after each guest attendance – at least the first three if not more. Consider following up more often in between visits as well. For example, I know a church that sends a letter to all the guests who visited their church the previous month.
7. Build Follow-Up Systems
There is no way you will be consistently successful in guest friendly follow-up without some systems in place to accommodate what amounts to a highly administrative part of church work. Check out this article I wrote about the Systems/People Matrix. This means you need a simple system for collecting guest information, processing it, tracking it so that you know how often your guests have attended, clarifying which type of follow up should happen (first time follow-up, second time, etc.), and getting the right tasks to the right people in order to actually do that particular follow up. Note: there’s no way around it, you will need a secretary or an administratively gifted individual to champion your follow-up systems.
8. Be Relevant
What worked last decade probably isn’t relevant today. Letters are nice in certain communities and for the older generations they are probably great. But take into consideration your demographics and who you are trying to reach when you choose your methods of follow-up. At one church I worked with for many months they chose to follow-up with a mix of phone calls, letters, emails and Facebook posts.
9. Be Personal
Another way to say it is, “Be friendly.” It is altogether too easy to write an email or letter that sounds formal and businesslike. Not good. Work hard at ensuring the tone of your nonverbal communications are down to earth and friendly. Work just as hard at your verbal follow-ups. You may even consider writing out a script that could be used to ensure your language is friendly over the phone. For instance, “Hello, this is Pastor Bill from the Community Church. I was wondering if I could speak with Tim or Joanne? Oh, hi Joanne. (1)Am I catching you at a bad time? Great. (2)How are you today? . . . (3)Joanne, the reason I’m calling today is simply to follow-up on your visit to church this last week. (4)I was wondering how you liked the service and if you had any questions about your experience . . . . . . Hey, one more thing before I let you go. (5)Is there anything I can pray for you and your family about this week? . . . . OK. (6)I’m so glad we were able to connect for a few minutes. Have a great day! Bye now.” Notice the script includes several key phrases I wouldn’t want to forget to say. I also phrased them in a conversational way to help me keep the conversation informal.
10. Follow Up in Bite Size Chunks
You’ve heard the phrase, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.” It applies here. Please develop your Guest Friendly Follow Up, but don’t try to go from zero to hero in one week. Build your follow-up systems in small pieces to ensure the systems work. A few months ago I was coaching a pastor and he told me he was ready to take another step in his follow-up systems. We developed a system where a particularly nice and caring man in the church gets a list of 2nd time guests once a month and calls them to pray for them and invite them to an upcoming special event or Sunday service again. It was one step forward. He spent several weeks getting that strategy up and running, and then came back and started talking about what should happen after that.