In the first part of this Multisite Monday article, we focused on the first time guest experience, how to make a lasting impression, and compel guests to come back. While that first visit is crucial, a pleasant experience doesn’t guarantee a return visit. Life is stressful, frustrating, difficult, not to mention busy. The experience your guests enjoyed last Sunday fades as days pass. It gets pushed to the back of their minds and what felt like a decision for Christ gets disregarded as unnecessary in the face of a demanding schedule and endless distractions. Unfortunately, there is no way for you to combat those influences. Wait. What? I know what you’re thinking, “Why even write this article if we can’t influence their decision to make church attendance a priority?” The answer…YOU can’t, but HE can. God has a plan for every child, student, and family that walks through the doors of your church. As you follow-up with those individuals, your goal is to remind them of the encounter they had with God, and to make room for the Holy Spirit to move. Put yourself in your guests’ shoes. What would make you feel welcome, accepted and loved? A personal relationship with Jesus is just that…personal. Your strategy to connect people to the love of Christ should be as well. Below you will find several ideas to get you thinking and considering how to do just that.
First Time Guest Gift
This is a t-shirt, mug, water bottle, or even a tote bag with your church or ministry logo. The goal of this gift is to make your guests feel special, anticipated. “We were waiting on you to come and now we’re celebrating your arrival!” If your logo is present, it will not only remind your first time guest of his or her experience at your church, but also serve as a walking advertisement for your ministry each time he or she uses the gift. For kids, think of something fun and entertaining, a slap bracelet, custom frisbee or sunglasses, even neon shoelaces with your kid ministry logo.
Second Time Guest Gift
Not only does it make for a great second experience, but letting your first time guests know in advance there is another gift awaiting their return, provides additional incentive to come again, ESPECIALLY FOR KIDS. It’s why once every three or four months parents reluctantly forfeit a Saturday morning to Chuck E. Cheese. Kids beg and plead to visit the mouse’s den, knowing they are leaving that place with loot. If you could ensure a prize on the second visit, kids would no doubt drag their parents to your church. While I do believe in the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, we’re talking about kids. They’ll do just about anything for a prize, and if a secondary gift allows for another chance to minister, my next question is, “How many should I order?”
Keep it brief, no more than three or four sentences thanking them for coming and giving them contact information should they have questions. The more personal you can make this the better. If it feels like a form email, the reader won’t get beyond the first sentence. The best emails come from those who personally greeted the family at the door, or the volunteer that spent time teaching or caring for their child.
In the day and age of messaging, a phone call stands out. This may seem like a waste of time. You might be thinking, “No one picks up their phone anymore.” And you would be right, but that’s not the point. It would be great to have a one-on-one conversation with each guest that attends your church, to answer questions and possibly get feedback, but even if it’s just a voicemail, the energy expended isn’t wasted. Time is a hot commodity. When you dedicate a portion to a first time guest, a virtual stranger, it communicates value and esteem. The call doesn’t have to come from the Senior Pastor or Children’s Director. If your church is large and has multiple locations, it may be wise to assemble a team of volunteers who can communicate well and are familiar with the heart of the house. Let those individuals own this part of the follow-up process.
So much can be done through a simple text. Think beyond words. Pictures, links, gift cards for coffee, series promo videos, even voice memos can be a great resource if done well. Technology makes the world smaller. Remember to keep it brief, relevant, and personal.
Letter / Card
A signed form letter is ok. A personal hand-written card is better, and before you say, “Where would I find the time?” let me assure you, it can be done. eKidz at Elevation Church ministers to nearly 6,000 kids every weekend at more than a dozen locations. Following a first time visit, every child receives a hand written post card from the volunteer who led his or her small group or cared for them as a baby or toddler. The card is often adorned with stickers or written with colorful gel pens. The more personal, the better. It’s not complicated. It’s a system, thoroughly thought through and put into action. A letter is better than nothing, but always think of your actions through the lens of impact. The effort expended is directly related to the impact it will have. If you want guests to feel welcome, honored, and loved, a personal touch is essential.
Following our first visit to Elevation, the church sent my family a pizza on Tuesday night. I remember opening the door and there before me was a pizza delivery guy. He said, “This is for the Bealer family. Elevation Church just wanted to set you up for success this week and invite you to join them again next Sunday.” I was floored. Literally, mouth hanging open. I nodded, like a zombie, took the pizza, and closed the door. Within minutes, I was on the phone with every friend and relative raving about this amazing church that had just sent us PIZZA! I’m not suggesting you should add a line item for pizza delivery into your church budget for next year. Well…maybe you should, but that’s not the point. Your follow-up process must evolve. Elevation doesn’t deliver pizzas anymore, but the strategy for first time guest follow-up is just as effective as it’s ever been. Think big, but stay personal. Be willing to try new things, but stay true to who you are as a church or ministry.
Your strategy should be multifaceted. Just as we repeat a hundred times the bottom line of every Bible lesson to preschoolers, we must also reiterate our welcome to our guests. It takes repetition to make an impact. Your visitors expect you to send them a letter or call them and thank them for attending. It’s just what churches do. They are not expecting to receive a call, an email, a letter, a handwritten postcard, a text, and a pizza delivered to their door. That would make an impact. That was why we called Elevation Church our home. They cared about my family and they made it known over and over again.
Have you ever been to Disney World? My family has gone a few times since my kids came “of age,” and every time I recall the mouse ear memories I smile outwardly and cringe inwardly. There are two words I feel adequately characterize the happiest place on earth, FUN and EXPENSIVE. Whenever my daughter mentions it, I hold my breath and anticipate her next words, “When can we go again?” I immediately think of all the sacrifices my husband and I had to make the last time we took her and the rest of our children to the infamous WDW. It cost a lot of money! We had to use our treasured vacation days to traipse around a muggy park just to hear my children say time and time again, “How much longer is this line?” Inevitably, we broke the Mickey ears we purchased and lost a hat or two on Space Mountain. We lived on PB&J sandwiches all week because park food costs an arm and a leg, and every single time we made it to the front of a character line, he or she needed a potty break. Ugh! Why would we ever want to go back? Inevitably though, every few months I get a piece of promotional mail from Walt Disney himself (at least I pretend it’s from him). I look at the pictures of the smiling children, the beautiful princesses, and the fireworks over the castle and I can’t help but long for those sweet moments with my family, the squeals of excitement when it’s finally our turn on the roller coaster, the groans of delight when we each take that first bite of a churro, and the cool breeze of the ferry boat shuttling us back to the transportation center at the end of a long day in the Magic Kingdom. It only takes a bit of nudging and I’m reminiscing about our last trip to Disney World, vacation days well spent, expense forgotten.
Your first time guest follow-up is similar. To a family whose routine doesn’t involve regular church attendance, it was a sacrifice to even show up. They set an alarm, forfeited sleep, and put off those plans for Sunday brunch and the dog park. They probably didn’t immediately regret their decision, or at least I hope they didn’t. I hope your church was friendly and inviting, the message was relevant and the worship was moving. Regardless, when Monday evening rolls around they may wish for those hours back. By Wednesday, they desperately need a break and those dog park walks are looking mighty tempting for the upcoming weekend. By Saturday, they’ve already decided on the restaurant for Sunday brunch. But what if you could remind them of the powerful encounter with God that awaits them? What if you could help them recall how they felt during that worship song that spoke directly to their heart? That’s why a strategic follow-up plan is not only important for the growth of your church, but essential to the life-change that awaits your first time guests.
In a multisite model, your first time guest follow-up strategies have to be in synch. They must be universal across all locations. When someone visits your church, they will inevitably review his or her experience with friends and colleagues. Word of mouth is the best advertisement, but if your first time guest experience varies, the hype may not live up to the reality for those visiting a different location. Unmet expectations is the proverbial deathblow to a first time experience at your church. Systemize and standardize. Make plans and make them universal. A great experience doesn’t conclude with dismissal. It doesn’t conclude at all because the point is to connect people to the love of Jesus Christ and the support of the local church body. When you adequately fulfill that calling, you successfully transition first time guests to active participants. Remember, your goal with follow-up is to remind them of their encounter with God and make room for the Holy Spirit to move in their hearts.
I hope you will join me again next week for Multisite Monday!