Look Who's Back! Or Not
Main Article Jan 2017

Look Who's Back! Or Not

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Look Who’s Back! (Or Not)
How to connect with holiday visitors and turn them into “repeat attenders”


Christmas has come and gone. Visitors have come, too. Have they come - and gone? Or might the Holy Spirit want to use you to help turn visitors into guests, guests into friends, and friends into members - not just members of your church, but members of the Body of Christ?

Rick Warren puts it this way: “As Christians we’re called to belong, not just believe.

But how do we move people along the continuum from believing to belonging? How do they go from being “church shoppers” to being “repeat attenders”?

Start with Attitude
Some churches answer this question by launching into sales mode. The problem is, everyone in our culture is already drowning in a sea of sales pitches. We’re desensitized to them. Besides, they turn each church into just one more option for weary, overbooked consumers.
What’s the alternative? At the risk of stating the obvious, we first need to let the church be the Church, the family of God to each other and to those in our communities. As the Greeks said to the disciple Philip, “Sir, we would see Jesus” (John 12:21 KJV).
The Church is God’s redeemed people reaching out with God’s love to the world God so loved. Jesus remains front and center in all we do - before, during, and after each worship service. If visitors are to become “repeat attenders,” they need to see Jesus living and loving them through God’s people.
This means helping your more spiritually mature members understand that the time before and after services isn’t about them. It’s not about chatting with church friends. It’s about the hurting, lonely, and questioning people God has led to your doors. It means equipping your members to welcome newcomers with more than a nod. It means teaching members how to strike up a conversation with folks they don’t already know. The skills may be obvious to you, but they are not obvious to everyone. The good news is that the skills can be taught - so teach them!
Follow Up Soon . . . But Not Too Soon

Some research shows that newcomers will drop out if they don’t connect with a group within two weeks. Conversely, when newcomers make meaningful connections, they tend to return. We need to facilitate those connections but in ways that don’t overwhelm and in ways that don’t feel like we’re trying to sell something.

A friend of mine commented, “We moved into a new community and visited a church last weekend. Before we reached the door, three people had said hello. It’s really friendly, but we didn’t feel smothered!” That is the experience you want to cultivate.

Here are other examples of great touch points. Visitors like

  • having someone shake my hand, ask my name, and tell me his or her name;
  • receiving a handwritten note from someone who greeted me;
  • receiving a little gift, like a mug filled with chocolates or a coupon for free snow-shoveling, lawn-mowing, or babysitting;
  • coming home to find a plate of freshly baked cookies on my front step, with a note thanking me for being a guest of the church;
  • an e-mail encouraging me to return and inviting questions at any time; or
  • a phone call to say, “Thanks for coming!” and “We hope to see you again!”

Keep the Pastor in the Closet

No matter how friendly the pastor is, people won’t stay in a church where the staff does all the welcoming. Consider the importance of both timeliness and lay leadership suggested by one expert’s statistics:

When a layperson makes a personal, 15-minute call on a visitor within . . .

  • 36 hours, 85% of visitors will return.
  • 72 hours, 60% of visitors will return.
  • a week, 15% of visitors will return.

If the pastor makes these calls instead of a layperson, it cuts the return rate in half! It’s still worth doing, of course, but much less effective.

Welcome First-Timers, but Focus on “Repeat Attenders”

You want first-timers to feel welcome. But you will multiply the results of your efforts if you focus most on people who have already attended two, three, or four times. These people are looking for something more than a mug with the church logo or a plate of cookies on their doorstep. They are likely looking for answers, relationships, or both.

Congregational leaders (staff, elders, deacons, outreach team) need to find ways to build on this. Brainstorm ideas for bonding with these individuals, given your unique setting, your unique membership, your unique ways of serving Christ and your community. How will you make meaningful human contact?

The more connections newcomers make at your church, the stronger their connection will be to the congregation. The more connections, the harder it is to pull them away. Connections create “repeat attenders.”

So, how many connections can you create today? 

You are welcome to copy this article for one-time use when you include this credit line and receive no monetary benefit from it: © 2016 CTA, Inc. Used with permission.

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