Okay, over the years I’ve visited a LOT of churches. Lots of them. And I can’t help it, but when I visit, my consultant hat is always part of my couture. Normally this doesn’t cause me a lot of consternation … sadly, my expectations for most churches is pretty low. My hopes are high, but I’ve been in way too many churches that are more like the Rotary than the body of Jesus Christ in motion.

So I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised that the last four churches I’ve visited seemed apathetic about growing. Oh, they all made some noise about welcoming visitors – “Especially first time visitors” – but their actions, or inactions spoke way more loudly than their words.

I’m just going to mention my last two church visits as examples. Last week I attended a new church start. It was my first visit to the congregation. They’ve been doing public worship for about a year and last week they “relocated” to a theater where they could seat almost 1200 people. There were less than 200 there for the opening worship service, which was a significant increase for them according to the pastor. So far so good.

The worship was fine. They didn’t make the guests stand up or in any way identify themselves. They did the innocuous “Shake hands with those near you” moment and I got to meet another first time guest. The music was authentic and the worship leaders worshipped first and led second. All good stuff.

But when it came to getting guest and member information … well, that was pretty ineffective. There were guest registration cards and pens on every third theater seat. They invited any first-time guests to fill it out and “give it to the pastor or his assistant [hand waved to identify the assistant] when you leave.” The church didn’t “pass” the offering plates so I could drop the completed card into it. Instead, they used an offering basket up front where you could drop your offerings in when you took communion. But we were specifically instructed to give the cards to the pastor or the assistant.

Not the best way to get contact information, but not the worst by any means. But, like the compliant kind of guy I am, I saw the assistant on my way out and gave him the card. It’s now one week later … I didn’t return this week … and as far as I can tell the ONLY thing they’ve done with the card is sent me one email newsletter and a card with the pastor’s signature and note about being glad I was there.

No contact with the pastor or anyone else. No phone call. In other words, no meaningful follow-up.

This is not new information … Church growth gurus have been saying it for almost two decades … if you want visitors to become returning guests, there needs to be an in-person visit by the church within twenty-four hours. And currently, the up front pastor needs to be the one doing the visit. The odds of a visitor returning if your pastor isn’t doing this within twenty-four hours drops significantly. And this is a church plant where the pastor has to be the number one net-caster.

The church I visited today made a mistake that is even worse that the one above. Way worse.

They didn’t get my contact information at all. In this case, the church is well established. In fact, they hope to go multi-site within the next year. The worship was fine. They didn’t identify me as visitor in front of everyone. The music was quite good, but the worship leaders were leading first and worshipping second. I didn’t leave marvelling at the incredible spiritual level of the congregation. Common mistake – not a good one, but pretty common. Did I mention I don’t really have high expectations when I visit churches?

Anyway, back to their big mistake. During the shake hands with your neighbor time, the pastor said … he actually said this … “If you’re a first time visitor, if you’ll look around you’ll see some black registration books and pads in the pews. If you’d go get one and fill it out ….”

You’ve got to be kidding me! First, we’ve been preaching that pew registration pads are the very worst for gathering contact information from guests … and frankly, from everyone else. But if you’re going to waste your time using them, at least use them. Don’t ask the visitor go hunt one down. In fact, there wasn’t a registration pad in my pew and frankly, I don’t really want the whole world to know “Hey, there’s a first time visitor – let’s go mob him and tell him how friendly we are,” so I wasn’t going to crawl over my row of chairs to get the one that I could see.

So they can’t even blow it when it comes to follow-up because they have no way of following up. In other words, they’re not interested in growing.

Well, that’s not true. I suppose both churches want to grow, but like the duck, the dog, the cow, and all the rest in the Henny Penny story, no one wants to do any of the hard work it takes to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

So, just for the record … how is your church effectively getting the names and contact information of your visitors, guests, and members? And once you have that information, what are you doing with it? If you have great ideas, we’d love to know.