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Retaining Easter Sunday Guests

Updated: Jan 16, 2019

When is Easter this year?

Unlike other holidays with fixed dates on the calendar, e.g., Christmas Day on December 25 every year, Easter moves around. This year, by the way, Easter day is April 16.

Now, that we have that covered, let’s get back to the question itself: “when is Easter this year?” When ministry leaders ask the question, not uncommonly, a destination date (call it a goal date) is in mind. April 16, Easter Day this year, is the destination of lots of planning and preparation. A culmination day! April 16 will, in fact, be the day that churches around the country will have a much larger than usual attendance – some as much as double or triple the average Sunday morning crowd. Lots of first time guests! So, it is good that we make ready for that day.

Here’s another question: what about April 23? April 30?

Many of us know from personal experience that a large Easter crowd can shrink unceremoniously to a small, even less-than-average crowd on the following Sunday. All those guests that filled the seats on Easter Sunday can easily go “kapoof” within the week.

If what we build toward on April 16 suddenly falls flat on April 23, we must ask, “has anything really been accomplished?” Maybe a smarter way to look forward to the upcoming Easter season is by noting April 23 on our calendars with a similar, if not equal, April 16 vigor.

From that perspective, April 16 is not be the culmination of our efforts but rather another step forward in the overall efforts to reach people. Just as certainly as we expend energy and resources to get people in the doors on Easter day, we would do well to spend equal amounts of energy to conserve and retain the visitors that come.

Yes, I know that many of them won’t come back due to the nature of their visit (e.g., out of town visitors). But the likelihood of returning visitors in the weeks after Easter decreases exponentially if we do not have a mindset to intentionally keep as many of them (coming back) as possible.

Here are a few items, I think that mindset should include:

  1. Think continuity: In addition to the unique and special events which guests enjoy on Easter day at your church (viz. Sunrise services, pancake breakfasts, cantatas and musicals, Easter egg hunts, etc) be sure to be prepared with services and programs beyond Easter Sunday. When guests leave your church on Easter day, they should have a clear and compelling reason to want to return clearly planted in their minds by what they learned from their visit about upcoming church events. What will that be at your church? After all the Easter fanfare is passed, have you given them a relevant and attractive reason to return? Consider a couple of options: 1) Launch a new sermon series on the first Sunday after Easter or even Easter day) on a topic of felt needs, 2) Incentivize a return with a Gift Card at the church’s café (e.g., 3 free punches for the following 3 weeks), 3) Invite people to connect with new small groups, 4) Host a “Welcome Back” Barbecue lunch for guest families after church on April 23. Helping your guests to tie into an upcoming event or relevant ministry increases the likelihood for a return visit.

  2. Think relationally: The highest retention for first time guests is among those that have a pre-existing connection to somebody in the church already. Work with that reality. Encourage your existing church attendees to make big the opportunity to invite a friend, neighbor, co-worker to church on Easter. Google Trends demonstrates that there is a spike in searches for “church” in the weeks surrounding Easter. Easter draws out people to seek a church to attend even if they seldom attend church on another Sunday. When invited by a friend or family member on Easter day, those same people are more likely than ever to attend; and once they attend they are more likely than other random visitors to return.

  3. Think hospitality: If Easter guests find their experience visiting the church confusing to negotiate, awkward to understand, or difficult to enjoy, odds are they will not be back. How can your church take the edge off an Easter guest experience? How can you add a measure of grace to the experience so that your guests are wow-ed by the ease, pleasantness, and value of their visit? Here’s a couple of things: 1) Keep it simple: The once a year Easter attendee will not be familiar with platform personalities; introductions, please. Church jargon can be a foreign language to Easter guests; make sure announcements and preaching can be understood by first-time guests. The content and movement of the worship service may also need additional interpretation or clarification for guests. 2) Provide adequate seating: guests arriving at the last minute will not enjoy finding seating on already packed rows of people and purses. For that, additional seating may need to be added in the form of temporary chairs or, perhaps, with a second or third service. (By the way, optional service times are advantageous for busy Easter day schedules) Another helpful option is to provide ushers who will assist with directing guests to the remaining available seats. Don’t embarrass guests by leaving them wandering the aisles looking for a place to sit down. 3) Welcome warmly: Nothing takes the uneasiness out of a guest experience more than being made to feel welcomed. Make sure every Easter guest receives a personal greeting. Have a robust greeting team (bigger than usual) trained and stationed to greet and assist everyone coming (and going) through the door, especially guests. In addition, a genuine and convincing platform welcome for guests can assure guests that they have come to the right place.

  4. Think family: Easter church attendance is not uncommonly a family event. That fact demonstrates how important it is on Easter day to communicate the church’s family services and programming. What is happening for children? Youth? Scheduled events visible in handouts and promoted in announcements that address family sensitive concerns (from the Easter Egg hunt after the service to the parenting class or the financial seminar) will reflect value for guest families and may provide incentive for mom and dad and kids to think about returning to the church after Easter.

  5. Think connectivity: Securing guest contact information on Easter cannot be overlooked. It is your vital link for future communication with your guests. Make sure that guests are given a clear and non-threatening opportunity to supply basic information about themselves. Name, email or home address. Maybe phone number. Don’t expect them to provide mountains of info or you won’t get any. Incentivize turning in the information by providing a valued and relevant gift. And then, use that information to communicate with your Easter guests promptly and appropriately.

Make your Easter efforts yield lasting results by thinking of them as just one piece in the overall strategy for reaching people. Remember April 16 and April 23 are not necessarily let-down Sundays. They could be the next step in seeing your Easter crowd become an ongoing part of the Sunday experience.

Be sure to share your retention tips for after Easter. Add your comments below.

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