I had a GREAT conversation with the pastor of one of the churches I mentioned in my post Churches That Don’t Want to Grow. It probably won’t take you long to guess which of the pastors contacted me, since only one even had any way to know that I was there! So, this pastor emails me and invites me to lunch (he hadn’t read the blog entry yet) and we had an excellent conversation. There’s a lot to admire in this young pastor who has planted this church. He’s young (did I say that already?), he’s clearly an entrepreneur, and he’s already wise before his years.
Our conversation came around to the church’s follow up practices and I shared my experience and what we’ve learned over the years with both research and consultations with over 1000 churches (and yes, some of those were even with young congregations). I wasn’t surprised at his response. It’s not verbatim, but here’s the gist.
“We don’t do the visitation follow-up to their homes. We have a younger crowd (they do … mostly twenty and thirty somethings) and we don’t want them to get the impression that we’re a boomer mega church.”
The rest of the conversation was excellent, lively, and I’m impressed overall with this pastor. On my way home – I actually walked because the pre-autumn day here is beautiful today – and I mulled over his words. I was weighing them up thinking, “Well, maybe he’s right” when a couple of things struck me like the proverbial ton of bricks.
First, I’ve been to a LOT of mega churches and have discovered that, in general, their follow-up is just about as bad as most smaller churches. They don’t seem to want return visitors coming to their churches either. They may have been good at it once upon a time (that may be one of the ways they grew to be a mega church), but somewhere along the line, they either got cocky and let their follow up system lapse because they were getting plenty of return visitors (that’s what happens when you have the best show in town … even if the best show is also the most faithful presentation of the Gospel), or they got so big that they didn’t invest in or design a continuing follow up system. Certainly, of the mega churches in Columbia, Missouri that I’ve been to, and there are a couple and I’ve been to all of them I believe, none appear to be doing effective follow up, so in that regard it’s not likely any of this young pastor’s visitors will be confusing his church with a mega church.
But for me, here’s the clincher. Twenty and Thirty somethings are, in general, two generations from the church. They have little, if any, church background. Sure, there are always a few, but most … nope. And even for those that have, they almost certainly have no idea about mega church (or any other church) follow up practices and programs.
It’s only us clergy and church leaders who have been a part of the church for awhile who even know that churches are supposed to be following up. And it’s only us who are steeped in church research who know that the boomer churches practiced front-door follow-up once upon a time.
So, it’s a bit of a distraction to say, “Well, our congregation is so young, we don’t want them to think we’re ____.” These visitors have no church experience … so let’s get real and at least go through the motions that perhaps we’re interested that they visited us. And who knows, when the pastor is standing at the front door of a first-time visitor’s home on Sunday afternoon, ready to hand them a church-branded coffee mug filled with goodies and church literature, s/he might have an opportunity to do more than just say “Glad you were with us.” Someone out there might actually have a question about the service or about a small group or about the children’s programming or ??? that the pastor could answer.
And if the pastor’s taking follow up to the next level, and if the first-time visitor shows a modicum of interest, the pastor can always whip out their Blackberry right there on the spot and schedule a lunch or coffee appointment for later on in the week.