A guest visits your church on Sunday and provides you with his contact information, essentially giving you permission to communicate with him. You have a name, and maybe a mailing address, a phone number, an email, or even a cell number. Now what do you do?
Current practice on the matter varies among churches --- from a single letter from the Pastor arriving mid-to-late week to instant texts (sometimes while the guest is still in the church building). From a phone call conversation to handwritten cards. From an assortment of calls, texts, mail, cards, to a systematic battery of all the above stretched over weeks. Content varies, too, from thanks to the guest for making their visit to information regarding expressed interests. From Guest Appreciation gift cards to printed materials about the church. From text reminders about Sunday’s sermon to links to the church website and social media.
Each church is clearly different in their response and they should be. A church should identify what fits with its values, the needs of guests, and the effectiveness of various methods in its context. Simply following traditions or trends is not the best practice either for the guest or for the church. Neither does a one size application fit all.
So, rather than suggesting a model that says what to send and when to send it and how to get it there, I am going to offer a principle-based approach for your consideration. I call it 4 P’s Minus 1 P. Here it is:
1. Personal. Guests can sniff out impersonal communications a mile away. I once got follow-up from a pastor expressing how glad he was to meet me. The problem? He didn't meet me; he was not even at the church on the Sunday of my visit.
Beware of saying the right words when they ring hollow. Form letters, for example, can subtly affirm to guests their absence of a genuine connection. Note that if a letter can be sent to a dozen more people by simply changing the name in the “Dear____,” line, it beats nothing; but it doesn’t beat personal.
Personal is attained away from the assembly line of simply signing follow-up form letters on Tuesday morning. Cranking ‘em out! It often looks handwritten, it highlights information learned in a conversation on Sunday (whether with the Pastor or someone else), it offers availability, e.g., to meet up for coffee during the week, it provides the sender’s contact information and says or implies, “I can be reached.”
Personal makes what may seem overwhelming to a guest (getting connected in a church) seem less so. Personal demonstrates somebody at the church is paying attention. Personal is less formal, less institutional, and more relational.
2. Prompt. In a narrow window of time on Sunday morning (e.g., between songs), a guest hurriedly complies with a request for contact information. And then, it takes 6-7 days for the church to do something with it. What? Why so long?
There is no “slow” advantage. Delayed follow-up fails to demonstrate to the guest that the church found value in
his effort getting to the church for the Sunday visit (and completing the registration). Quick responses to your guests, on the other hand, demonstrate the church's appreciation and pleasure for the guest’s visit.
Keep in mind that prompt, anymore, is measured by the word instantaneous. I can text a friend back and forth in seconds. How long does it take the church to gather guest registration cards, put the data into a computer, print out a letter, get it to the Post Office, and then wait for snail mail delivery?
Might speedier methods improve the process? There are options: texts, emails, and phone calls can all happen rapidly, even the same day as the visit or certainly inside the first 24 hours after a visit. And that kind of urgency signals to the guest that their visit is a priority for the church.
3. Prolonged. Follow-up is not a one and done proposition. At least, it shouldn’t be. Instead, follow-up occurs over of time, even stretched over weeks.
Why? Because there is much to be said and it can’t all be stuffed into one letter with positive results. Good follow-up takes time! Prolonging communications assures the guest of the church’s ongoing interest, alerts the guest to strategic upcoming church events and ministries, and assists the guest getting over the hurdle of returning for a second and third visit.
To facilitate the process, it is beneficial for a church to utilize a guest follow up strategy using a variety of communication methods. Here is a quick example --- Day 1: a short text acknowledging the visit; Day 4: a letter from the Pastor introducing the church and encouraging a return visit; Day 10: a phone call thanking the guest for the visit and answering questions and offering assistance; Day 13: a text describing the sermon theme for Sunday.
The possibilities are many. What the church chooses to communicate in its follow-up strategy and how often it does so is up to each church with these keys in mind: 1) avoid information gaps, 2) reduce monotony of style and presentation and material, 3) stay fresh and enjoyable. And, of course, it should be timely, relevant, and guest sensitive. Never TOO prolonged!
4. Practical. The experience of going to a new church can be like a walking into a thick fog. It can seem awkward to guests --- like having to feel their way.
Follow-up communications can assist the guest through the haze by offering practical input on guest sensitive matters. Simple tips and instruction can provide handles for the guest that guide them forward in the church experience.
Of course, this will vary with each church but here are some guest sensitive examples for practical tips:
"Do I want to make a return visit?" --- Make sure to invite the guest back next Sunday.
"How do I get acquainted with people?" --- Invite the guest to a post-service lunch to meet the pastor and staff and other guests.
"Is there a small group for me?" --- Point the guest to a registration table in the church Lobby to learn about possible small group opportunities.
"How can I trust Christ as my Savior?" --- Link guests to online testimonies of faith and the Gospel.
"Can I make some new friends?" --- Provide a coupon to the Coffee Bar where the church has people positioned to meet and greet.
"What can I get answers?" --- Make phone calls and respond to the questions people are asking.
Meet your guests where they are, offering practical solutions. When the fog is gone, the guest will be more comfortable with their next visit.
Minus PUSHY. Guests don’t want to be pressured or hurried. Give guests some space. Allow them time to process. Don’t wear them out with expectations. Don’t close the door they have left open for you relationally. Be a friend!
There you go: 4 P's minus 1 P. How does that compare to your current church practice? Every follow-up communication plan deserves an occasional review. Is the church saying what we should be saying? Are we leaving the impressions that we intend? Are we addressing the needs of guests? Are we assured that current practice is working like it should?
Let me know how I can come alongside your church to improve your guest follow-up. Training and consultation options are available.