This post started off as a response to a comment left by Frank in the Churches That Don’t Want To Grow post. He attends a fifty year old church in a fifty year old neighborhood that’s suffering from decline. He wanted to know a bit more about visitor follow up and so on.

So, let me offer a couple of observations. Churches that find themselves in this kind of dither would generally benefit from either an on site consultation or a one day training event. It’s really very difficult to offer specifics about what a church needs to do without knowing the church fairly intimately. If you’re interested in something like that, let me invite you first to visit the Church Consultations site and get some information … or contact me directly.

With that said,I’ll make some general observations.

First, before you do anything, you have to check your hospitality level. Are you really as friendly as you think you are? Few churches are. The easiest way to discern your hospitality level is to get an unchurched person to visit the congregation (you might have to pay them), don’t tell anyone in advance that they’re coming, and then have them check out the congregation’s worship. Have them keep their eyes open for relevance, friendliness, cleanliness – in short, all the things they’d most likely be looking for anyway. Then meet them for lunch about a half hour after they’ve left and record the conversation. You’ll need to record it because nobody else will believe you when you tell them what they report. Second, you have to determine whether what your worship is experiential for those who might visit. Imagine going to a worship service where the style of music was totally foreign, the words spoken were difficult to follow, and the customs were unfamiliar – for most people, even well churched people, the opportunity to experience a touch from the Holy would be slight. Same goes for an unchurched person. Our songs are often from two, three, or four hundred years ago, played on instruments that were last popular with the Doors (a mighty long time ago for many of us), and the style of communication and the traditions we practice can be difficult to follow (ask a thoroughly unchurched person to define “invocation” or “doxology” or if you really want to get an odd look, ask whether they can quote the Lord’s Prayer and whether they say sins, debts, or trespasses.

If your worship is meaningful to your community; if your hospitality is excellent, then follow-up is critical. There are a number of ways to get contact information in worship, but in my experience, the most effective is a three-pronged approach.

(1) Have a prominent, well staffed, attractive, relevant, up-to-date, Information Kiosk. There should always be two people at the kiosk who are more interested in being available to visitors than they are in each other. They should be so well briefed, that if a guest asks “What’s important to the members of this church” that they could recite from their heart the core values of the congregation. Those staffing this kiosk need to be the sharp pencils in the box and they should be trained not only to be founts of information, but have the wherewithal to get visitor’s contact information.

(2) Get rid of your pew pads … they’re only more effective than doing nothing, and that only just – UNLESS everyone in the congregation fills them out completely every single week. And I don’t mean they just put their name in the book and check the “I’m a member” box. Completely. And since that’s not going to happen, find a nice dark file box for them and tuck them away in the attic. The most effective way to get guest information is to have a registration and prayer request card (one card, two sides) that is included as a tear off in the weekly program. Then, during the service, a moment is taken for EVERYONE to fill out the registration cards (it won’t matter how much info the members put, so long as they are writing on the cards when everyone else is) and to add any prayer requests to the card. After a few moments, the cards are collected … preferably separately from the offering plates, but you can combine the registration with offering if needed.

(3) The third part of the trifecta is to raise up and train floaters. Your congregation will need a couple of these gregarious, charismatic folks (if they’re currently singing in the choir, kick them out – gently – so they can do what they really do best … connect with people) to float around the worship space to connect specifically and foremostly with visitors and guests. When they spot on of us, they go and introduce themselves and strike up a conversation. By the time they’re through, if they’re good (good does not include pushy), they’ll know which small group or ministry the visitor might enjoy or benefit from, has their contact information (which is collected at the Information Kiosk), and maybe even has a coffee date for later in the week.

One last thing about the floaters. If you do the standard “Greeting Time” where the majority of people somehow think there’s a contest on how many hands they shake during the two-minute period, then it’s critically important for the floaters to keep their eyes open for guests who came late and to get into their space to welcome them, find out if there are any questions they may have, and in general to be friendly.

Put the three of these together, you’ll find you get more contact information than perhaps you’re ready for. As for what to do with that information … if your church has less than 400 in attendance, the pastor visits first time guests within 24 hours (24 hours is a nice way of saying, “Sunday afternoon”). If there are more than 500, a visiting team will need to be developed, though if you can get a team of up-fronters to do the deed, all the better. But always within 24 hours.

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