In most churches, Easter is their High Attendance Sunday – and, in spite of the March Madness games that will be played that weekend, there will still be plenty of Christian Alumnus showing up for services. 

A church full of visitors should be a premonition for every church’s future growth, but sadly, most churches will experience a colossal failure when it comes to getting contact information and following up with their visitors. It’s not too late for your church to turn a sure-to-fail visitor Sunday into a win-win for both you and your guests. But you’ll need to get your full court press game-day face on to make it happen.

Top Shelf Hospitality

We’ve written so many blogs and produced so many resources for hospitality that I don’t want to say much here. But here’s a reminder: This isn’t the week for rotating greeters and ushers. Better to short the choir a couple of gregarious never-met-a-stranger baritones and altos than to depend on Mr. and Mrs. Eeyore to be your greeters. And this is the week to deploy parking lot greeters, even if you never do it any other time. Expecting young families? Give your nursery and children’s worship a thorough going-over to make sure you’re completely ready. Don’t give your guests a reason to not come back because you weren’t prepared.

Guest Contact Information

Follow-up is pretty much impossible if you don’t get contact information – and most churches have a spotty record on contact collecting. This year, make it easy for your visitors to give you their information. Here are some tips:

1. Get rid of your pew pads/friendship pads. Frankly, they do a terrible job of getting anyone’s information. Indeed, the only less effective method for collecting contact info is doing nothing at all. 

2. Use a Prayer/Registration or Prayer/Contact card. The best way to get your guest’s contact information is to make sure you get everyone’s contact information. Stress to your leaders and your members how important it is that when you ask folks to complete the contact card that everyone completes the contact card. And if you’re using a prayer/contact or prayer/registration card, you should be able to get nearly everyone writing something on the card – because everyone has something that needs a bit of prayer.

3. Start Early. As soon as it’s appropriate, let the congregation know about the prayer/contact cards and what you’ll be doing with the information. For instance, after the first hymn or song set, welcome the congregation, introduce yourself (that’s just plain good hospitality), and then call attention to the card. Make a big hairy deal about filling them out. Let your guests know that you’ll be sending them an email or two to better introduce yourself, the church, and what the church offers. Remind everyone to update any information that’s changed since the last time they attended (for many, since last year!) and to share any prayer needs they have for your prayer team.

4. Collect the Cards. Most churches opt to collect the prayer/contact cards during the offering, even though it’s more effective to collect them earlier and separately. Either way, though, before you collect them, give the congregation one more opportunity to fill them out by reminding them two to three minutes prior to collecting them. For instance, if your offering will be collected just after the choir’s anthem (a good time to do this), then remind the congregation: “After the choir sings, we’ll be collecting the prayer/contact cards. Remember to fill them out with your prayer needs and your contact information.”

5. Sort the Cards. This is a critical step for effective and efficient follow-up. Designate someone to sort through the cards prior to the close of the service in order to expedite your first-time visitor follow-up. The first-time visitor cards should be handed over to the follow-up team immediately following worship.

Follow-Up: Sunday Afternoon

  1. Adopt the 4-Hour Rule. The old rule was make an in-person follow-up visit within 24 hours for maximum return. However, if the goal is to make a lasting, positive first-impression, then we strongly recommend adopting the 4-Hour Rule – make an in person, door-step visit within 4 hours following the last morning worship service. Indeed, we’ve found that those churches that couple good hospitality with the 4-Hour Rule see a first-time guest return rate as high as 85 percent. That’s pretty good, given that the average mainline church has an 11 percent return rate (and non-mainliners only see 15 percent).
  2. The Doorstep Visit. A doorstep visit is a two-minute stop that minimizes inconvenience and maximizes a lasting, positive first impression. For best results, the lead pastor should make these visits. Indeed, the return rate is exponentially higher when the pastor makes the call. However, in churches with an average worship attendance of 350 (and thus as many as 10 households visiting per week) it may become difficult for the pastor to make all the calls. In those cases, the pastor should make as many calls as possible and another up-fronter (such as the music leader) should pick up the slack.The door step visit should last literally no longer than two minutes. Once the door is opened the patter should be to reintroduce yourself, thank them for attending worship, hand them a worthy gift of value, give them your business card, invite them to return, and to call if they should have any questions. Then leave. Don’t go in, even if invited.”But it’s Easter Sunday! No one wants to see me then. I’ll be intruding.” Yes it’s Easter. No one is expecting you, that’s true. And yes, you’ll be intruding. But you’re going to be intruding if you go on Monday or Tuesday or next Saturday. The question is, do you want to make a positive, lasting impression or not? If so, then make the visit within 4 hours. Drop and go. Showing up on Easter Sunday to give to your visitors a meaningful thank you gift will not go unnoticed by those you see.
  3. Take a Gift of Value. We’ve written about this several times, but let me ask you a question: do you really need another coffee mug? Do you want to see what happens to those mugs that churches so generously hand out? Go visit your local Goodwill or thrift store. Indeed, you may find some of your church mugs there.That being said, I do have two church mugs that I have kept and use regularly. But both are unique mugs. One is a larger capacity mug and the other is tall, narrow, and thick enough to keep my coffee hot for a long time. I expect both of these mugs were costly – but they’ve made a lasting impression.However, in general the best gifts are those that are unique enough to be remembered, are functional enough to be kept out of the cupboard (and out of the take-to-the-thrift-store box), and are branded with the church’s name and website address (URL). Here are four we’ve seen that we recommend:
    • Filled Branded Gift Bag that doubles as a grocery bag. I got this at Garfield Memorial UMC in Cleveland. In it was a customized collection of goodies that were based on a visitor’s survey we were invited to take prior to the worship service. The swag included ear buds (I like music), a dog treat (I’m a dog owner), chocolate (I prefer chocolate to nuts), a coffee mug with a sampler bag of coffee from their church’s custom roaster (coffee over tea), and a Cleveland Browns key chain (football, not baseball).
    • Honey Pot. This is my personal favorite because it’s not only functional, it’s cute enough to sit on the kitchen table year round. Brand it with a clear, dishwasher-proof label. Include a small jar of local honey to take the gift from wow to unforgettable. You can get honey pots in bulk here.
    • Ice Cream Bowl. A pair of branded ice cream bowls branded with “It Was Sweet to Meet You” and the name of the church with its URL makes a positive impression. Include small ice cream topping jars to sweeten the impression.
    • Popcorn Tub. A branded popcorn tub (or a set of reusable boxes) that reads “Thanks for Popping In” with the church’s name and URL make a great impression. Include a bag of microwave popcorn to make the gift complete.No matter what gift you choose, be sure to include your church’s information, including a brochure and the pastor’s business card. If you have a sermon or sermon series you can burn to a DVD or USB thumb drive, that’s all the better.

Follow-Up: Tuesday Morning

  1. The pastor writes and mails a handwritten note that: (1) Thanks the guest for coming; (2) Invites them to return the following week to hear the message (give the title of both the series and the sermon); and (3) Invites them to participate in an upcoming missions project. The last point is particularly important if you’re trying to reach younger generations.

Follow-Up: Wednesday

  1. Send the church’s most recent newsletter. Make sure it’s guest-friendly, not insider-focused.

Follow-Up: Saturday

  1. Send an email or a text with a reminder of the sermon title and an invitation to return.

And finally, these practices aren’t just for Easter… they’re good practices every week.

For those who are skeptical, those who say, “That seems like we’re stalking them,” we have one response: try it. Do this for six months and track your responses. Those churches we work with who have adopted these practices are still doing them because, frankly, they work. The number of first-time visitors who return simply skyrockets.

Question: What have you put into practice that raises your first-time visitor return rate? Share with us in the Comments section below


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