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One way to get first-time guests to return

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One way to get first-time guests to return

If the church is to grow, we need to almost be an expert at getting people to return. The likelihood of a guest making a commitment to Branches in one service is next to nill. So the only option we have is to get them to return one more time. After that service, the goal becomes getting them to return again one more time. On and on this cycle goes until the “hook is set deep” to borrow a fishing term.

The last few years I have put time and effort into finding pieces that work in getting guests to return. We continue to refine the process of connecting with guests and will never stop working on it.

I want to share some simple things our church has found to work. I also want to make available the exact schedule we follow for communicating during the most important first week after a guest visit. It’s a downloadable PDF and includes the messages we send (clickable link).

If your church is not doing something to connect with guests beyond the Sunday they visit…You must start now! This is crucial!

“Have an easily accessible location where church and visitor information can be obtained.” Gary McIntosh

If you are going to connect with your guest beyond the Sunday worship service, there must be a way to collect information about them in place. The simple way to start collecting information is to immediately have an individual invite guest to fill out an information form. The person you ask to fill this role should be warm and be welcoming in personality, not pushy nor brusque. They are the first person starting the trust building process.

What information is most important?

Here are the items you want, numbered from most important to least important.

  1. Name
  2. Cell Phone Number
  3. Email
  4. Mailing Address
  5. Number of Family Members
  6. Age Grouping
  7. Interest in Bible Study, Life Group, Etc.

Include on this form a statement that informs them of the following: “We will not sell your information, nor spam you with constant messages.” I don’t know if this helps people feel better about sharing their information, but I do feel that it is a good practice.

I have their contact information now what should I do?

As stated before, the goal is simple. Get them to return for another worship service. We use a four-pronged approach when enticing a guest to return.

The four prongs are

  1. Email
  2. Text Messages
  3. Handwritten Card
  4. Phone Call

I put a limit on contacting people three times in a week. Example: They may receive an email, handwritten card, and text message, but not a phone call. Or they receive a phone call, email, and handwritten card, but no text message. Why have a four-pronged approach if you only use three at a time you might ask? Because every person does not respond the same to every type of connection. For example, a person in their thirties or twenties often times will respond right away to a text message but will ignore a phone call from a number they don’t recognize. A person in their sixties will likely respond better to a phone call. It depends on the person you are trying to connect with. The phone call is the one I use least. People in our community tend to be too busy for a phone conversation.

Email to me is one of the best ways to send messages to people. Here are my reasons: First, it is only intruding on their day if they allow it to. Second, you can automate email if you use an email marketing service (i.e. MailChimp). We send an email as soon as we can. The message is clear and simple – We were happy that you chose to worship with us.

The most important part of this email and every other email is the postscript. In this postscript, I ask them an open ended question. “What part of service moved you most? The worship, preaching, altar service? Hit reply and tell me, I want to know.” It is an invitation to open a deeper connection beyond the normal “thanks for coming, hope to see you again.”

The following Friday the guest receives a second email. This email is all about getting them back on Sunday. I remind them about last Sunday’s worship. That we were happy to have them worship with us. Then ask, would they join me again tomorrow? I include a schedule of the different elements (classes, worship, kids, etc.) of our service. Again the postscript is the most important part. You may wonder why I keep pointing that out. Email marketing research has shown that the postscript is one of the most read elements of an email. So it is some of the most valuable communication space. In this postscript, I write “I have a gift waiting for you, pick it up at our connect table. See you tomorrow!”.

This is a powerful postscript. If they were on the fence about coming back I may have given them a reason to return. In the second year of the church plant, we decided to leverage the gift we give to first time guests in a way that turned them into second time guests. I don’t regret the move at all. Gary McIntosh lists one of his rules in his book What Every Pastor Should Know as “Give higher priority to second-time guests than to first-timers, and to third-time guests than to second timers.”

Big Ideas

  • Collect information
  • Start communication ASAP
  • Postscript. postscript. postscript.
  • Ask for a response
  • Leverage your first-time guest gift to get them back

Here is the schedule I promised. If you don’t receive the email including a link, be sure to check the spam folder. This is the calendar we follow for communicating with guests including the messages we send.



In my next post, I will share what I have found to work at getting many second time guests to return a third time.

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