In just a few weeks, you’ll be holding one of the biggest church services of the year to celebrate Christ’s resurrection! A great blessing of Easter is that the holiday draws a host of visitors. As you prepare to welcome all who come on Easter morning, this influx of guests is a reminder that it’s important to have a system in place for reaching out to first-time visitors. Since these weeks leading up to Easter are a great time to assess whether your church is doing everything possible to connect with newcomers, here are a few key strategies for successful outreach:
1. Make a great first impression.
The first step toward connecting with visitors is to make them feel welcome as soon as they enter your church. (For tips on how to do this on Easter Sunday, see our recent blog post.) Every week, there should be greeters at the doors who not only offer a warm welcome, but also can answer any questions a guest may have. Train greeters to keep an eye out for unfamiliar faces so that they can offer their assistance even if visitors are too shy to ask for directions.
It’s especially important that greeters know the details of the childcare and nursery system. Families need to know that their children are safe and well cared for, so they’ll want to learn the ins and outs of the nursery and kids’ program. Having a great check-in / check-out system and other safety protocols for childcare in place will help instill confidence in your church. Because many parents make decisions on where they’ll attend church based on the childcare situation, it’s important to make a great first impression.
2. Capture visitor information.
You’ll want to be able to follow up with guests after their initial visit, so try to collect contact information before they leave. A popular way to do this is through a visitor information card. (While it would be ideal to capture this information electronically, churches may find that guests are more apt to fill something out on paper. But if you do have a kiosk or tablet already in use, don’t be afraid to try them out, just have some paper cards on hand as back up.)
Use this checklist to make sure that your visitor information cards are on the right track:
- Make it easy to find and turn in a card. Tuck cards in the pew backs or attendance books. Also, have stashes at the front/welcome desk and other literature tables. Greeters and staff should be ready to collect any cards that have been filled out, and there should be clearly marked receptacles to collect cards.
- Explain how the information will be used. On the card itself (and when guests are asked to fill them out), explain why you want their information and how it will be used. If you plan on following up with a phone call or email, let them know. Make sure that they know that you won’t be pestering them or adding them to an email list with out consent.
- Collect as little information as possible. Don’t ask for more information than you really need. People are more likely to jot down their name, hometown, and email address, but may be less comfortable providing a phone number and mailing address. Just ask for what you need for an initial follow up, and trust that if they’re interested in coming back, you can get more information later.
- Offer an incentive/gift (optional). Maybe you want to send first-time visitors a small thank-you gift—like a nice mug or $5 coffee shop gift card. You could give the gift when they turn in their visitor card or promise to send it to them using the collected contact information. (Many gift cards can be emailed, which would save postage costs.) Whatever your incentive, make sure it’s something they’ll like, not junk or church swag. If you choose to send it to them, send it out promptly the next workday.
3. Track visitors in your database.
To make sure that visitors don’t slip through the cracks, set up a system for recording visitor information in your database and tagging them for follow-up. Each Monday, it should be a designated staff member’s job to check for submitted visitor cards and enter the information into the church database. Follow these steps to make sure the process is complete:
- Collect all visitor information cards. If there are multiple places that these may be turned in, check all locations every week.
- Search for duplicates. Before each entry, the staff member should do a quick search and make sure that there isn’t already a record of the visitor. It may be that they filled out the card on a prior visit and there’s already information on them in the system.
- Enter the information and include pertinent notes. Enter all the information collected on the card. Utilize the notes section of your software and include any helpful comments or observation. For example, if John had an in-depth conversation with a pastor or greeter, expressed an interest in membership, or carefully scrutinized the child check-in system, the notes section should reflect this.
- Tag the visitor record for immediate follow up. Someone on staff should follow up with the visitor within the week. The staff member responsible for entering visitor records should make sure that each record is assigned to someone for follow-up.
- Update the notes section. When a staff member follows up with a visitor, this should be recorded in the notes section for future reference.
4. Follow up with visitors.
It’s always important to follow up with new visitors, but if they’ve filled out an information card, it’s especially crucial that you keep up your end of the agreement and send them whatever gift you promised or contact them as they requested. Here are a few tips for great follow-up:
- Be timely. Make contact within a week of the visit.
- Be personal. If the visitor made a personal connection with someone on staff or on the welcome team, try to have that person reach out. If that person isn’t able to make the phone call or send the email, but can furnish some notes about the visitor to whoever does, the touch can still be fairly personal.
- Be sensitive. Now isn’t the time to be overbearing or ask for a commitment to come back. Just let them know that you’re glad that they visited and would love to see them again soon or whenever they can make it!
- Be listening. Ask for feedback on their experience. A first-time visitor can have valuable insights, and everyone appreciates having their thoughts listened to. Being an attentive listener is a great way to build trust and demonstrate sincerity.
- Be excited. Most of all, having a new visitor is a great win for your church, so be excited! Hopefully, the visitor will come again and give your congregation another opportunity to welcome him/her into your church family.
We hope that these tips will help you successfully minister to all who enter your church, especially on this upcoming Resurrection Sunday. May His victory and grace bless you and all who enter your church doors—from every-week worshippers to first-time guests!