+ The Best Way to Help Guests Self-Identify & Decide to Return
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They’re just trying to decide whether or not to come back.
And we hit ’em with everything we’ve got. Think about that.
Most churches say they highly value first-time guests, but most don’t do a great job of stepping into a new guest’s shoes and figuring out the right ways to show it.
When we read the bulletin at many churches, the next step we see promoted most prominently is membership. I’ve said this before, but membership (in any type of organization) is no longer a value for people, particularly Millennials or younger.
And truthfully, going to a class and becoming a member of a church doesn’t lead to the same level of relational connection that serving or joining a group does.
We should be helping a new guest want to come back and create a personal connection. Why do we spend so much time asking them to become a member?
In this episode, Amy and I expound on this point and share three other WORST practices for connecting with new guests that we see when serving churches for The Unstuck Group.
Do you recognize any strategies your church is currently using?
Going to a class and becoming a member of a church doesn't lead to the same level of relational connection that serving or joining a group does. Click To Tweet Most churches say they highly value first-time guests, but most don't do a great job of stepping into a new guest's shoes and figuring out the right ways to show it. Click To Tweet
In this conversation, we discussed:
- The 4 new guest connection strategies we hope all churches will give up and replace with something more effective
- The BEST practice (for now) for helping first-timers self-identify and encouraging them to come back
- The first “next step” many churches offer that should really be eliminated, or at the very least de-prioritized
- The type of attention almost no new guest enjoys (but many churches give) and a better a way to approach it
- Why you should be very selective about the gifting / wiring of the people you allow to serve in front-line weekend service roles on the Connections team
Leader Conversation Guide
Want to take this conversation back to a staff or senior leadership team meeting? Here are some sample questions and strategies to help you navigate the conversation:
- How do you feel when you attend a large gathering alone at a new place for the first time? What helps you feel at ease? Do you have any observations we could use to refocus our first-time guest experience lens?
- What strategies are we currently using to welcome first-time guests and encourage them to return?
- Do we have evidence our strategies are working? What should we rethink?
- What’s the first “next step” we want new guests to take to encourage relational connection and give them a part to play in the life of the church?
- How do we need to refine our verbal communication and our communications pieces to reinforce a simple, clear next step message?
Share Your Thoughts and Questions on Social Media
We use #unstuckchurch on Twitter, and we start a real-time conversation each Wednesday morning when the episode drops. You can follow me @tonymorganlive and The Unstuck Group @unstuckgroup. If Facebook is where you spend your time, I’m there, too.
Links & Resources from the Episode
Episode 78 was brought to you by The Church Lawyers. I’m finding most churches need legal support but don’t often realize they can actually afford it. David and Steven at The Church Lawyers provide a focused national law firm serving the legal needs of churches of all sizes. Their membership program gives you high quality legal expertise that’s really affordable. Find them online at thechurchlawyers.com.
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Tony: 00:00 Hey, before we start, I wanted to share a resource I’m finding churches need but don’t often realize they can actually .afford The Church Lawyers is a solution focused national law firms serving the legal needs of churches of all sizes. Their membership program gives you high quality legal expertise that’s really affordable. The team prioritizes the relationship part of the attorney client relationship to learn more about becoming a part of their membership program, contact the church lawyers at thechurchlawyers.com.
Sean: 00:34 Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast. My name is Sean Bublitz. In each week our team is having a conversation about getting churches unstuck. How many first time guests at your church come back for another visit? If they’re less than you’d like it might be a strategy issue. Today on the podcast, Tony and Amy are discussing four of the worst practices we’ve seen in connecting with new guests and we’ll have some better strategies your church could be utilizing. So let’s dive into this conversation with Tony.
Amy: 01:01 Um, this past week, several of us were talking about the channel changes that we’ve seen in churches and how they’re connecting with new guests, and I was sharing about that time where I was attending a new church and if you remember all the guests were asked to stand up that was awful. How did, how did that make you feel, amy? Oh, really? Really exposed. All I can say.
Tony: 01:23 Yeah. Unfortunately we’ve seen a lot of worst practices at churches over the years, and I guess we’re going to talk about a few of those today, but the good news is that as our team at the unstuck group works with churches around the country, we’re also seeing some best practices that are really working.
Amy: 01:40 Right? Well today let’s talk about the worst strategies for connecting with new guests. And um, while there’s probably dozens, Tony, that you can think of, what do you think are four of the top worst practices for connecting with new guests?
Tony: 01:53 Yeah. So we’re going to take them one at a time. Worst practice number one is to use a phone call as your follow up strategy with new guests. Uh, this, uh, if you just think about your own personal life, you know this to be true but the data reinforces this as well. People don’t answer calls on their phones anymore. Research from 2017 showed that on average, Americans ignore 337 calls each year. I’m ignoring more than that.
Amy: 02:23 Do you ignore my calls? Is that why I can never get a hold of you?
Tony: 02:27 Sometimes. And also three out of four deliberately don’t pick up when they believe it’s a sales call. And I would be one of those three, three or four as well. The fact is people are too busy with their life to answer their phones. And so text is really the better way for us to provide that immediate response. We’re seeing churches that are very successful when they follow up with texting. One example, our friends at essential church in Virginia Beach, they use texting as their primary follow-up strategy. And what they’ve seen is that 49 percent of their first time guests returned for a second, the second visit and 30 percent return four or more times. So they’re just seeing a great response from that at Essential Church, what they do is guests can opt in by responding to a texting prompt in the service and after that the church follows up with a text within the next 24 hours to thank them for coming and then to encourage them to come back and say hi when they do and what they’ll send out a text message on Friday, then have that week to invite them to the service for the coming weekend.
Tony: 03:41 And so, Amy, I mean it’s just it’s a new day and it used to be a, we would discourage churches from making door to door visits with new guests. Now we’re having to discourage them from phoning guests and instead leveraging texting technology,
Amy: 04:00 Right? I’m sure people think that’s more personal with a phone call, but I don’t know, people like to drive their own time and response and I know phone calls just catch me off guard and that’s a great retention rate. That texting program, I think you said what, 49 percent first time guests come back. So, so that seems to be working. So back to strategies that don’t work, what’s worst practice number two,
Tony: 04:22 Worst practice number two is to offer membership as the very first step into a church. And Amy, I hear the chuck on your voice. You’ve actually seen this, haven’t you? So on the surface it seems like we would want people did join our churches as fast as possible and we sense that if we can get them to commit, there’s a better chance that they’re going to stick But there’s just a couple of problems with the strategy. First, we live in a culture that’s increasingly reluctant to become members of anything and especially the younger generations and membership to any organization is just off their radar. Secondly, being a member of a church doesn’t lead to the kind of relational connection that serving or being in a group does. And as a result, we’re seeing churches are emphasizing joining the church rather than connecting with people in relationship.
Tony: 05:20 And it’s that relational connection that’s actually going to keep people coming back to our churches. This isn’t just the church. We see this all throughout culture. In fact, businesses have capitalized on this need for relationship, for us as humans, and they started designing their buildings as connecting spaces, so just look at Starbucks or the Crossfit craze or McDonald’s literally tears down their buildings and rebuilds them to create more social environment inside of their stores. So instead of membership, we should be shifting our focus to helping our new guests get connected on a serving team where they can build a relationship there with people they serve with early on and have a part to play in the life of the church. And then we should also help them connect in a group where they can begin to build relationships with other people who are taking their next steps toward Jesus as well.
Amy: 06:19 Right. That’s really good. You know, in our most recent unstuck church report, I think we found that there’s a growing trend, Tony, correct me if I’m wrong in churches who are discontinuing membership commitments. If I remember right, 19 percent of the churches surveyed, they don’t offer membership as a connection point anymore.
Tony: 06:36 Yeah. I can’t remember the specific stats, Amy, but you are correct. There’s more of a shift now towards a churches not even offering membership, but really focusing on these relational connections being the priority and again, especially for the younger adults in our congregations, that’s what they’re looking for. They’re not looking to join or become a member of our churches. And so I think especially if we’re going to continue to be vibrant, healthy churches for the coming generations, we need to shift how and what we’re asking people to do once they visit our churches for the very first time.
Amy: 07:15 Just one quick practical thing. Churches may not think they do this, but I see it all the time when I do the secret shopper experiences that I, I get this program and I’m a new person so I want to find my seat and then I just start to read the program or the bulletin for something to do. And first page, first place it’s welcome. And then they’ve got a membership blurb that they may not be aware that they’re doing it, but it should be welcomed and then some different next steps then the membership one.
Tony: 07:44 Yeah. And I know this is a a big deal for some churches do to get over because membership’s been a part of their tradition for many years and then the logical question follows, well, there are, there are times where we need members to vote on a specific issue within the context of how we make decisions as a church. And so what we’re seeing is that the churches that are moving away from a a membership effort like that, what they’re doing is they’re just identifying when a vote is required of members, they’ll look and see who’s who’s, who’s been connected in a group, who’s been serving, who’s been giving for the purposes of the vote there. Identifying those people as members rather than having people go through membership and then wondering if they’re ever going to connect relationally, connecting, serving, and then connect and giving.
Amy: 08:35 Great. Okay. What’s a worst practice?
Tony: 08:39 Worst practice number three is having new guests stand up to be welcomed during the weekend service. So amy, this literally happened to you.
Amy: 08:47 It literally happened to me. I was in a church where I already sort of stood out because I didn’t fit the complete culture of the church and who they were attracting, but when they made that call out for us to stand, I instant, I didn’t stand up. I instantly turn blood red. However, because I just felt like they’re all gonna know that I’m the new person and a couple people did stand up. Here’s the worst. Well, the second thing they said was, we want you to stand up because we want some things from you.
Speaker 4: 09:17 And I’m like, I’m so glad I didn’t stand.
Tony: 09:22 Oh goodness. Yeah. So here’s the deal. The majority of our new guests, they don’t want the attention appointed to them instead. They’re just. I mean, they’re wanting to kind of observed, take in the experience. They want to be welcomed, but they don’t. They don’t want the spotlight on them. Yeah. Instead, the better strategy is to create intentional environments where first time guests are welcome and there’s really no better place to do this then right at the main entrances to your churches. And in fact, uh, I would just add a church, Amy up in the Cincinnati area just in the last several days, and they have three primary entrances to their building, beautiful space that they have right at the very front door, right at their main entrance. They have tables set up with signs overhead so that when there’s a crowd in the space, you can still see the sign and basically it’s all the signs says, welcome new here, question mark.
Tony: 10:22 And it’s obvious if I’m new to the church, that’s where I should go. If I’m looking for help on figuring out where I go next or what’s going to be happening. And it’s just a very obvious for the first time guests, this is where we go. I love the churches that are stepping back and asking for that first time guest, what are they looking for? How really can we best help them and rather than giving them the spotlight, they’re just really looking for an opportunity to ask questions and have someone point them in the right direction.
Amy: 11:06 Right. Well, there’s more to it than just having a place for them to go, you know. What else would you say Tony is in that secret sauce for having great guest services?
Tony: 11:15 Yeah. So part of this is preparing for guests too and making sure that the team is well trained and that they are ready to answer the basic questions that first time guests have and just to make sure you’re, I mean, you’re really doing almost like you would welcome a guest to your home for the very first time to make them feel at ease, welcomed. We’re trying to do that same thing with people that are coming to our churches for the very first time as well, but we have to have people trained and ready to respond to the questions and the needs of those first time guests.
Amy: 11:50 Yeah, I think, I think the key here is really who’s on team, who was on the guest services team. I’ve literally stood at some of those guest service kiosk where they’ve been well placed and the signs there and I will stand there and watch them talk to one another. They’re just not comfortable engaging and they don’t even have like that antenna up for new people. Other times there is no kiosk, but I could not escape a gifted volunteer who saw I was new. I mean the hospitality was amazing and she actually, when I secret shop, I’m actually kind of a ball of nerves because, you know, I, you know, if they approach me, I actually had to come up with a story as to why I’m there. But her hospitality was amazing. She had this gifting to put me at ease and I think because she was comfortable, you know, I was comfortable and I got a great tour of the church and it was a really positive experience.
Tony: 12:41 Yeah. I think I’ve shared the story previously. Amy, I visited a church once on a Sunday morning. It kind of a secret shopper experience, like you were just discussing and they had probably three or four services over the weekend. And I just kinda parked myself in the middle of there a lobby space by the coffee bar, had a cup of coffee in my hand and I just stood there between services and this church really saw themselves as being a friendly church. Well, what I learned is they were friendly with each other, but they were not welcoming towards me because at this church, no one during that entire weekend approached me and welcomed me and kind of introduce themselves and, and so yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s a key thing that we’re super sensitive to the people that are joining us for the very first time and the experience that we’re creating for them.
Amy: 13:33 Right. Alright. Well last but not least, the fourth worst practice for connecting with new guests is.
Tony: 13:39 Yeah. So the last worst practice for connecting with new guests is to communicate dozens of ways that they can connect with our churches and then ask them to fill out a long form so that they can so that we can contact them every possible way in return. We give them a tee shirt that they’ll never wear. And all of this to try to convince them to join our church. Did you catch all that, Amy?
Amy: 14:02 I did. I’ve been to that church.
Tony: 14:05 I know that was a long definition of a worst practice. But it illustrates how complicated churches often make it when new guests are just trying to decide will I come back and communicating dozens of next steps overwhelms them offering a gift that they’ll never use, doesn’t compel them, asking for too much information. It’s just invasive. It probably repels them. So how, how we see churches become more effective at connecting with new guests is just by creating a compelling weekend experience and then addressing the questions that people commonly have and add value to their life. And by creating this type of great experience, super environments for their kids, leaving, wanting more of what they experienced, what we’re trying to do is make it easy for them to say, yes, I want to come back and we’re seeing many churches focus on return guests more. So maybe even then getting those first time guests.
Tony: 15:07 And it’s really what’s helping them see connections to the churches increase. And again, I think a lot of that strategy around connections isn’t about how we connect people to our church, but rather how we connect people to other people so that relationship can really develop and hopefully then through those relationships we can encourage people to take their next steps toward Christ.
Amy: 15:30 That’s really good. Well, thank you for sharing those worst and best practices. Tony, do you have any final thoughts before we sign off?
Tony: 15:37 Yeah, so on average we see churches experience about a 15 percent attrition year over year. People are going to be leaving your church for different reasons. Whether that’s job location, people pass away, some people may decide to go to another church that’s a better fit for them and whatever their life circumstances. So if you want to keep your church healthy and growing, you have to be intentional with identifying and connecting with new guests and then following up with them in an effective way so that we can encourage them to come back and visit again. You’ll have to continually cast vision to your church that we’re. We’re actually expecting guests and some of this will be just in how you communicate from your platform on Sunday mornings. Our natural tendency as humans is to focus on ourselves and it’s going to take a lot more energy and effort to keep our focus on those people who don’t yet know Jesus and don’t have a church home.
Sean: 16:37 Well, thanks for joining us for this conversation today. If you’d like to learn more about how the unstuck group brings churches perspective and practical help to better engage new guests, visit our consulting page at theunstuckgroup.com. For more on this topic, you can check out the show notes at theunstuckgroup.com/episode 78. If you’re enjoying this podcast and it’s helped you in your ministry, would you consider leaving us a review on iTunes? We greatly appreciate your help in getting the word out. Next week. We’re back with a brand new episode, so until then, have a great week.