I have a friend who recently moved to a major city. In his quest to find a church home, he stumbled upon something else in the process:
An incredible church mug collection!
Not surprisingly, nearly every church he visited offered him a coffee mug in exchange for completing a Connection Card. I should give credit to a few of the more relevant churches in his town. They’ve really broken the norm, offering plastic water bottles over the traditional handled mug.
As church leaders, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be a real “church guest;” especially someone with little church experience. So imagine this:
You just walked into a new store where you’ve never shopped. The clerk smiles politely and says, “In exchange for phone number, email, and street address, we would like to offer you an incredible, brand new, store-branded……coffee mug.”
Would you really trade access to your inbox and cell phone for a small gift?! You might give them an email you never check and the receptionist’s landline at your office. But that’s far from making a personal connection with the organization. It’s simply a small, impersonal exchange.
Is it possible that in our attempts to connect with guests, we actually push people away by feeling corporate and transactional?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for following up personally with as many people as possible. But the way we go about it sets the tone for our relationships with them. Simply asking for contact info and sending some one-way scripted messages (even on a phone call) is far from making a connection.
So how can you truly connect with guests and engage them in the life of your church? Here are four ideas to consider with your team:
Serve Before Soliciting
Rather than leading with a request for personal information, go above and beyond to make guests feel comfortable from the moment they arrive. Set up “First-Time Here” stations just outside your front doors. Make yourself readily available to help them navigate a new building, check-in their kids, and find a seat. When you serve first, you’ll earn trust and prove you’re an organization worth connecting with.
Focus More on Getting Guests to Come Back
It is safe to say that many people won’t complete a Connection Card on their first visit. That’s ok; in fact, it’s normal. Give guests the option to complete a card but don’t push it too hard. What’s most important is that they enjoy the experience enough to return next Sunday. Once they feel “at home,” they’ll let you know they are there.
Make Your First Step Smaller
I see more and more churches asking guests to attend an “orientation” that will last for several weeks. That’s a big commitment for someone who is just visiting. Instead, create a quick place and time for them to connect with a staff member, ask any questions, and learn about a few of the ways they can further connect when they’re ready. (North Point Community Church does a great job of this in a 30-minute orientation called Next.) The smaller you make your first step, the more likely people will be to take it.
Follow-Up with Kids
You likely ask for information every time you check a child into your kids’ environment for the first time. What if that new child’s small group leader sent him or her a personal postcard the following week? It’s a small ask of leaders that makes a big difference to families. I’ve had parents tell me they decided to truly connect with the church after they saw their child cared for so personally.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against coffee mugs, water bottles, or any other gift that says “We’re so glad you’re here.” But it is important to be sure that in the process of connection, we go above and beyond to be as personal as possible. As we do, more people will feel comfortable enough to engage true relationships that could impact their lives forever.