By Mark Kitts
Engaging first-time visitors is crucial to church growth. Most church growth studies find that:
• Out of 100 visitors, typically 10 to 25 will return for a second visit
• About 50 percent of those second-timers will return for a third service
• Of those, 75 percent will make a fourth visit
• After going four times, churches can generally begin to call those people regular attenders.
But, how can churches ensure they’re connecting with visitors so they’ll want to return for that next visit?
In conjunction with a church management system (ChMS), churches can engage first-time visitors by following five steps:
#1: Create a great first impression. Regardless of the follow-up processes in place, first-time visitors won’t go back to a church if their whole experience is terrible. An effective integrated church management system can indirectly help churches make the important first impression a positive one.
Visitors will evaluate the experience of checking in their children — is it fast, easy and secure? Does the church have an intuitive check-in system? They’ll notice the church’s use of technology to collect information or contributions using touchscreen kiosks and a mobile app. Even promoting the interactive tools available to the church community will tell first-time visitors that the church is relevant and embraces technology.
#2: Capture visitor information. Churches can’t follow up if they don’t have an effective system for capturing visitors’ contact information first. They might gather this through a connection card, interactive kiosk, sign-up sheet at the welcome center or even a browser-based form on their smart phones. Once they’ve collected these details, staff or volunteers should enter them into the church database within an hour of the service so the follow-up process can begin immediately.
#3: Communicate, communicate, communicate! Most church management software provides a variety of tools for follow-up communication, and churches should be using more than one —and get started right away.
If churches quickly key information into their databases following the Sunday morning service, they can send a mass text message to all first-time visitors within that first hour. This should be just a brief thank you and include a link to the church website. (While not all people will provide mobile phone numbers, most guardians will provide this information when checking in their children.)
On Monday, churches can send those visitors an email that includes a word from the lead pastor detailing his or her vision, as well as links to more resources or information on the church website.
That same day, the church should mail a letter that will arrive within the next two days. This might include specifics about what the church has to offer their families, or an upcoming event. With the details they’ve collected, churches can customize these letters to each individual.
Through a simple text message, email and letter, churches will have already connected visitors three times within the first few days of their visit. Simplified through ChMS tools, these mass communications will show that the church cares about forming a relationship with visitors.
Churches can also run reports that make it easy for volunteers to make phone calls or deliver cookies to visitors. The best way to follow up is very specific to each church’s community, context and culture.
All this follow-up communication can be pretty basic, but people typically need several touch points before what churches are telling them sticks.
#4: Designate tasks. Some churches overthink the follow-up process and ask first-time visitors to come to an event, join a small group and get involved with a ministry right away. But initially, the goal should simply be for that visitor to come back.
Beyond mass communication tools, churches can use a task management feature within their ChMS to log phone calls, set a date for a future follow-up and assign it to someone — for example, to a small group leader or connection pastor. They can capture notes about visitors within the database so there’s one central repository for staff and volunteers to access. Using these tools will make ministries more efficient and ensure people aren’t slipping through the cracks.
#5: Launch the assimilation process. As visitors return week after week — and eventually become regular attenders — churches can use integrated ChMS tools to aide in the assimilation process. If people have access to an online portal and mobile app, they’ll have simple ways to connect with a small group, register for an event, make contributions or sign up for volunteer opportunities.
But those visitors who are getting started with the steps toward assimilation need to know these tools are available. Some churches fail to connect the dots for people; most newcomers won’t know what’s expected of them. So, churches should clearly communicate what they can do to get ingrained with the church community and get the ball rolling from being a spectator to becoming an active participant.
Mark Kitts is Lead Software Architect at Elexio Church Software and lives in North Carolina.