Engagement Strategies for Pre-Guest, Empty-Nesters, Transient Areas, Online Services and More
A little while ago, we hosted a webinar on the topic of increasing church engagement, and as part of the event, we fielded questions from people who tuned in. We weren’t able to get through all of the questions live, so in this episode, we’re digging a bit deeper.
We’ve heard from 100s of churches who are really interested in this topic of engagement! I love that so many churches are working on this, because to me, that signals they’re really focused on helping people take their next steps towards Jesus.
In this episode, Amy and I share our responses to 7-8 more questions on church engagement that we couldn’t get to live. Things like…
- How to engage more empty-nesters in volunteers, groups and leadership roles
- How to increase engagement if you’re doing ministry in an area with a lot of transition—like military communities and college towns
- The two-prong strategy for engaging more first-time guests that most churches are really struggling with (but when they get it right, it works amazingly well)
- The question of whether to prioritize engaging people in serving opportunities inside the church vs. outside in the community, and the reality we’re seeing that goes against popular assumption
- How to approach re-engaging people who stall out on your discipleship path
- Strategies for increasing engagement from your online services and moving people from that new “front door” to attending in-person
One other thing I’d like to note: a key part of the Unstuck Process focuses on helping you clarifying the path your church will define to help people grow as disciples.
If in all of this talk about engagement you start to sense your church could benefit from some fresh clarity and direction in how you engage people in spiritual formation, let’s talk. We’re helping churches find that and then build the systems and processes to support it. Engagement strategies for pre-guest, empty-nesters, high-transition areas, online services and more… in [episode 109]of #unstuckchurch #podcast Click to Tweet
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Links & Resources from the Episode
- How to Increase Church Engagement Webinar Replay
- Increasing Church Engagement – Episode 106 | The Unstuck Church Podcast
- The Unstuck Process
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Sean: 00:02 Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Following a recent webinar and podcast on the topic of church engagement, we’ve received a ton of response from those who tuned in with follow-up questions. Today on the podcast, Tony and Amy are going to answer your questions as we continue to explore the best practices of increasing church engagement. Make sure today before you listen to subscribe to get the show notes in your inbox. Every single week, you’ll get one email with the leader conversation guide, all of the resources we mentioned during the episode and bonus resources to support the content. You can also get access to the archive of all of our podcast resources from past episodes. Sign up by going to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast. And now here are Tony and Amy to address your questions on church engagement.
Amy: 00:54 Well, recently, our team hosted a webinar on the hot topic of church engagement, and as a part of the webinar we fielded some questions from those who were tuned in. And, in the time we had, we weren’t really able to get through all the questions, but because we know this is such an important topic for church leaders, we wanted to take a podcast and dig a bit deeper into some of the questions that were posed to us. So Tony, let’s start with this. On that podcast on engagement, you seem to have a lot of energy around engaging with people before they even attend our churches.
Tony: 01:26 Yeah.
Amy: 01:26 If a church has a strategy for that pre-visit engagement, what should they be measuring and are there any best practices or systems in tracking that type of engagement?
Tony: 01:37 Yeah, so in fact, Amy, you and I were just having another conversation on this very topic just a little bit ago and we were talking about the fact that there really needs to be a two prong attack for pre-visit people—pre-guests if you will—and it involves two things. Number one, having intentionality about how we encourage people just to develop relationships with others in their lives, and then secondly, more of a content based strategy to engage with people before they consider visiting our churches. On the first topic, I think, and we talked a bit about this I think on the webinar itself and then the podcast that followed, we’re in this culture now where I almost think we need to be reminded again about how to develop relationships with people.
Tony: 02:30 Our worlds are so isolated. It’s interesting—I think social media actually has helped us be more isolated. We’re friends with more people, but we’re yet more isolated than we’ve ever been. And I just think people need to be reminded about how to develop relationships with folks that are in our lives and our neighborhoods or coworkers where we gather socially, whatever that looks like. And again, I would encourage, if you’re listening, go back to the podcast that we recorded with Jeff Brodie from Connexus Church because he talked about their strategy related to this very topic. And they identified this phrase, kind of find your four—be praying for four people in your life, serving, listening to, eventually inviting people in your four to take a step toward Christ, inviting them to church and whatever that looks like. So one way to measure that part of engagement would just be to ask people, “Do you know who your four are?,” or whatever it is for you. Maybe it’s just one—who’s that one person in your life that you’re praying for, that you’re developing relationship with, and periodically asking your church, “What’s the answer to that question?,” so you could track engagement, pre-engagement, that way. The other way, again, related to content marketing really is as simple as tracking how people are engaging with your content, whether that’s through your website or social media or YouTube or whatever that looks like, and just monitoring what topics are people engaging with? What are the pieces of content that people are sharing in their social networks? That will give you a sense of number one, what are the issues that you’re talking about that are really helping people in their life and their spiritual journey, but secondly, it’ll give you a hint at then the questions that normal people are asking about life and spiritual things as well. And that’s a good thing. Not only for engaging with people before they are a guest to our church, but I think that’s pretty important for us to be shaping our teaching on Sunday mornings as well.
Amy: 04:46 I’m just going to add on, I think maybe because we have been talking about this so much, but I think the stats are somewhere like 90% of people will come to a church for the first time because they have a friend or family member and man, I think I’ve just been sensing we lean so much I think sometimes as church leaders telling people to invite, but telling people to actually build those relationships and to care about the people you’re inviting—man, that’s just got, I mean we talk about pre-engagement. If you engage your people with actual people, that’s a strong pre-engagement strategy because it’s not just about the invite, but do you really care about those people beyond them just coming to your church?
Tony: 05:26 Yeah, and so, I’ve lived this Amy. I mean, I’ve lived the invite in the past and I can tell you it really works when you have an existing relationship with somebody. But when I’ve tried to invite where I didn’t have an established relationship, I’ve been turned down every single time. And there’s an intentionality of developing relationships that precedes any next steps we want to invite others in our life to take.
Amy: 05:55 Yeah. Okay. Well, Tony, another question that came in was around serving inside the church versus serving outside the church. Do you find that people are more likely to engage in serving in the community rather than in the church?
Tony: 06:10 Honestly, no. You would think the answer to that I think would be yes. I think that’s the assumption, actually, in a lot of church teams these days—it’s a lot easier to ask people to engage serving in the community than in the church. But the reality is when we look at data and when I unpack that with churches, they’re saying the opposite—that it’s harder, for whatever reason, to get people to serve in the community in serving teams on a regular basis. It’s easy to get people to serve once for some sort of event or engagement in the community. But that ongoing commitment to serving in the community, we’re not seeing it happen as often. Now, the question, natural follow up question, might be, “Is it okay if people only serve in church or only serve in the community?” And you know, part of me wants to say, if you’re using your gifts to fulfill the mission of the body of Christ, I don’t think it matters, but you and your team need to wrestle with that to decide what the win is. I could also make the case that part of being a part of the body of Christ is we need to serve inside the church and we need to serve outside the walls of the church too. So you’re going to have to decide as a team what the real win is there, but I don’t think assuming that people aren’t going to serve inside the church, that they prefer to serve outside the church, I don’t know that that’s actually actually happening in real life. When it comes down to it, I think the reason for that is that people are busy and they look at engagement outside the walls of the church is just another thing they’re adding onto their life. And so you’re going to have to help them catch a new vision for what their personal mission is in the world that they live in.
Amy: 07:57 I think that’s because there’s a lot of buzz right now about like cause marketing, those types of things and there’s an assumption that people want to serve because there’s a cause attached to it. And that’s partly true, I’m sure, but I think people also want to get to know people. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and you can do that both inside and outside, I guess.
Tony: 08:18 And the cynical side of me—
Amy: 08:21 Here it comes!
Tony: 08:21 Yeah—people want to be known for social causes but getting them to commit to serving for whatever the cause is, and in our case it’s a cause that supports the gospel mission, that’s a bigger ask.
Amy: 08:37 It is. Alright. So another question that came in was someone asked, “Do you have any suggestions for a church that’s trying to engage people but they’re in a more transient area of the country?” So, if there’s turnover every few years, how can churches in those spaces still be effective at helping people take steps?
Tony: 08:56 Yeah. The key here is that you need to really shorten your on-ramping process, whatever that looks like. We were engaged in another conversation earlier, talking about someone connecting new to a church, and this is someone who knows church—not a typical unchurched person. They knew church and they were trying to connect to their new church and this person, it took them I think seven or eight months was what was communicated to connect and to get into engaged in a number of different steps that they had to jump through to do that and in communities that have a lot of transition, you just can’t afford to do that. We’ve worked with some churches and military communities as an example and I think the rotation might be every two or three years.
Amy: 09:43 Yeah. I was just thinking about them too.
Tony: 09:45 Yeah. And this one of those deals where you have to help people move quickly into group relationships, into serving team opportunities, and you know, if you’re putting people in places of influence, of course you have to make sure they’re qualified, biblically qualified, qualified to lead out in your mission, your vision as a church, but you need to have processes that really allow people to make those connections pretty quickly. And so, trying as best as possible to eliminate extraneous steps that may be in your process, and then making sure that you’re offering frequent on ramps for people to engage. Amy, any other thoughts you have, particularly thinking of those churches that we’ve worked with in military communities or university communities as an example?
Amy: 10:33 Yeah, you and I both served this church, but they also just lived with the expectation they were going to lose a lot of people every two years because of the transient nature. So, they actually design their strategy around that. Quicker on ramps and they didn’t have an expectation of three, five, 10 years. They kind of knew it was going to keep moving. So, it just influenced how they built out their strategies for connection.
Tony: 10:57 Yeah, that’s very good.
Amy: 10:59 Alright. Tony, we’ve heard from several churches that they’re struggling with helping empty nesters and retirees engage in their church. Do you have any thoughts on how we can help them continue to engage at this later season of life? Which I believe I’m in now.
Tony: 11:15 Yeah, I was going to say—shouldn’t I be asking you this question?
Amy: 11:19 I’m much too young to be in that group, but I just happened to be there.
Tony: 11:22 Uh, technically, I’m not an empty nester because we still have one at home. So, she keeps me young. Let’s put it that way, I guess. The first thought when I heard that question was this is a vision and mission gap that exists because if your church understands that you are trying to reach a community that doesn’t yet have her faith in Jesus, and if you’re trying to build a multigenerational church that’s reaching all generations, including your kids and grandkids, if that vision was in front of people on a regular basis, I think it would be easier to engage even the empty nesters and retirees in that part of your mission. The other piece of this is it indicates to me you’re not tapping into that thing and all of us that wants to leave a legacy for the next generation. It’s been probably about 10 years ago, I found myself up to that point trying to soak in everything that I could—every bit of teaching, reading, and Amy, you know, that’s still a part of how I’m wired up. But it finally dawned on me, there’s a whole generation now younger than me in ministry, in leadership, and they’re kind of looking for me. They’re kind of looking for me to give them some wisdom. And so you know, we all go through that transition, but now as I’m creeping in the empty nester and even thinking longterm about retirement, that thing about leaving a legacy, it’s staring me in the face right now. And so somehow you have to help people in your church that are entering this life stage prepare for that life stage. I think preparing them for what’s about ready to come, but then when they get to that place, then to really offer that opportunity for them to leave a legacy in the next generation, which again, hints at a couple of things. Number one, we have to have an intentional strategy to encourage people that have lived life, that are seasoned, that are spiritually mature and able to disciple/mentor others, that we have a strategy for engaging them and compelling opportunities like that. But secondly, we really need to prepare people for that transition in their life too, before they are entering into it because after they enter the empty nest and retirement world, if we’ve not helped prepare them for that, they’re not going to be thinking about how they can be investing that next season of their life. But Amy, that’s all speculation. I’m not an empty nester yet. Any, anything you would add to that?
Amy: 14:13 Well, in my experience as an empty nester, what I think about when I think about empty nesters and retirees and just the age group where you’re not raising kids anymore, you have lived a little bit. You’ve learned a bit. You’ve got something to give back. And I start to think about these churches that might be struggling to engage them. Are they actually creating higher level leadership roles in the volunteer ranks?
Tony: 14:37 That’s right.
Amy: 14:37 So, I mean, I remember our church, we had a gal who retired and she was kind of in the C suite of her company and she became basically an unpaid full time person with us and completely helped us design our outreach strategies. She gave a two year commitment, and she didn’t work full time by any means, but she didn’t need to with her experience or skills. She built a team, she designed our strategies—that’s what these folks can do. They, a lot of them with a leadership gift, can lead at a much higher level and be a load lifter for your ministry leaders. So I wouldn’t expect him just to come shake hands, you know, or wave a flag in the parking lot, but think about how they can actually help you solve some of your challenges within the ministry ranks.
Tony: 15:18 That’s good. That’s good.
Amy: 15:20 Alright, a couple more questions. Do you have any thoughts on how churches can reengage people who might’ve taken some initial steps and then they stopped somewhere along the path?
Tony: 15:30 Well, first, I would ask you to step back and look at your path and the systems that are encouraging people to take next steps, and ask the reason, “Why did they stop?” Or, “Why did they not go onto the next step?” And so for example, if they’ve connected to your church, they’ve connected into a group but they’re not connecting and serving, why aren’t they connecting and serving? Is there something about how you’re presenting the serving opportunity that’s not appealing? People don’t think it’s going to add value to who they are? Help them take their next steps? Or vice versa. People—they’re going to groups, but some of them aren’t. Or they’re trying groups, but they’re not reengaging with groups. Well, maybe it has to do with the groups. Maybe it’s not the person, but maybe it’s your group strategy. So, just back up, first of all, and ask, “Is it us? Is it about me?” Or, is it really about the fact that that person has stopped, paused or disconnected—whatever that looks like. And then the next part, it’s going to sound like I don’t care, but I’ve seen too many times churches try to chase after people who have left the church or left a specific ministry or whatever the case might be. And you can spin your wheels going after people that have disconnected or left your ministry. I would encourage you rather than focusing on the people that aren’t engaged to focus on how we can get new people coming to our churches to engage. And my suspicion is that if you give that kind of attention to new people connecting to your church, making sure the connection is happening and that are they engaging in the next steps, as you improve those systems and strategies, even some of the people that walked away in the past are going to reengage at some time in the future. But we can’t assume that every person is going to walk through our discipleship or spiritual formation process the same way at the same pace. It just doesn’t happen.
Amy: 17:44 Yep. Well said. Well said. What should churches be including on a dashboard, Tony, when they want to track engagement? How would you segment that out? How would you track it?
Tony: 17:54 Yeah, so one of the things that we offer at The Unstuck Group, it’s called Vital Signs, and so you might want to check out the vital signs resource theunstuckgroup.com. In that, we include a number of different benchmarks that we’re encouraging churches to monitor on a regular basis. Some of it does have to do more with attendance, just showing up, but a number of those factors look at how people are engaging in our churches once they are attendees at our church. And the great thing about that resource and is if you process that with your team, then on a quarterly basis, we’ll provide the benchmarks from all the other churches that are using that resource, including all the other churches that go through the consulting process with our team going through our unstuck process. So that’ll give you a sense of how does the engagement in our church stack up/measure up against other churches that we’re working with. And it’s been actually somewhat of an encouragement to several churches that have gone through that vital signs process. Last church I was working with—their groups numbers really off the charts. They’re winning in that area, but it was actually a little bit of a surprise to them to look at their volunteer engagement and find in an area that they thought they were winning, they’re actually a little bit below what we see in typical churches. So I think will help you give a sense of are we winning when it comes to engagement? And you know, some of the other things that are a little bit harder to measure on a regular basis, like we mentioned earlier, on your dashboard, you may want to start to track somehow how are people engaging in relationship with people outside the church. You can’t monitor that on a weekly basis, but you could probably check up on that at least once a year. Just ask people who are you praying for? Who are you developing relationship with? And then the other thing is you do really do have to start to think about how people are engaging with your content in all its different forms—social media, wherever that might be. And those may be key things for you to include on your engagement dashboard as well.
Amy: 20:17 That’s really good. Alright, last question. What do you think are some best practices for increasing engagement from those who are watching online? Are there any specific ways? We can track them or gather information so we can be proactive about helping online users/watchers take a next step?
Tony: 20:35 I really appreciate you asking me the last question because I don’t know the answer to this question.
Amy: 20:42 I like to finish strong.
Tony: 20:44 Yeah. I mean, just to be honest, I’ve never been responsible for online engagement for streaming services and things like that. That’s never been part of a responsibility that I’ve had personally, but here’s what I would encourage you to do is to look at your online experience just like you do an experience in your physical buildings. In other words, have an opportunity to welcome guests online, encouraging them to connect with you, to take a next step, whether that’s through chat or email or texting or whatever the case might be, some online form, obviously, but some way for them to offer—hey, I’m here and I want to take a next step of engagement connection to your church. And then, most importantly, invite them to actually come to a service at some point. And what we’re seeing, in fact, the data that we looked at just a few months ago when it comes to some of these engagement questions, is that the churches that are growing are offering streaming of their services and are actually seeing more attendees, more guests as a result of offering that the streaming of their services. And so it appears that streaming of services is kind of becoming a new front door for our churches. And if that’s the case, we should, weekly, intentionally, invite the people that are watching us online to come to one of our services as well.
Amy: 22:11 Yep. Yep. Alright, well thank you Tony for your thoughts today. We’ve heard from so many churches who are really interested in this topic of engagement and with hundreds of churches attending our recent webinar, it was great to take some additional time to answer their questions. So thank you. Do you have any final thoughts as we wrap up?
Tony: 22:29 Yeah, actually, I love that so many churches are working on engagement because that means they’re really focused on helping people take their next steps towards Jesus. And part of The Unstuck Process really focuses on this conversation of clarifying the path to help people grow as disciples. And if you sense that your church could benefit from some fresh clarity and direction in your pathway, we should really talk. We would love to help you develop the systems you need to help people become and grow as disciples. And you can visit us at theunstuckgroup.com to start a conversation.
Sean: 23:06 Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. If you like what you’re hearing on the podcast, we would love it if you would help us get the content out by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform, giving us a review and telling your friends. At The Unstuck Group, we’re working everyday with church leaders to help them build healthy churches by guiding them through specifically designed experiences that focus them on vision, strategy in action. If that’s a need in your church, we should talk. You can start a conversation by visiting us at theunstuckgroup.com. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. Until then, have a great week.