It’s a known fact that it’s easier to keep a new visitor than it is to get a new visitor. So why is it that most churches get only a 15% return rate? The answer is simple – most pastors don’t make an effort to do so. I’ve never understood how a pastor, especially of a small church, would not go out of the way to give personal attention to every new visitor. But the truth is that most pastors don’t even send thank-you notes to new visitors.
So, here’s a dirty little secret from Jesus – you get what you ask for. I read somewhere, “Ask and you shall receive.” Seriously, I want you to start taking that promise at face value. Ask yourself, “What can I personally do to raise our visitor retention rate to 75 percent?” This article is going to answer that question for you step by step.
- Retaining visitors begins in the worship service with your treatment of the connection card. Instead of just mentioning it in passing, after the opening worship when you welcome the guests, call attention to the card and tell the people that you will come back to it at the end of the service. Then at the end of the service hold up the connection card and walk them through it line by line, especially any next steps you would like them to take. Then, when the offering plate is passed, ask them to put the connection card in the plate instead of money. After worship there should be a team of people to go through the cards and separate out the visitors from the members. If you really value getting new visitors to fill out the connection card, tell them that, for every new visitors who signs into the church, you will send a donation to a local charity.
- Sunday afternoon either the pastor (in a small church) or the staff member responsible for retention of visitors (in a large church) personally responds to every visitor by sending them a handwritten note, welcoming them and inviting them back to hear next week’s message and including the title of the message. In a small church it is very important for the pastor to call the family if they have given their phone number. The purpose of this call is to welcome them and try to get a time to visit with them in their home or place of business. This call does not take the place of the handwritten note.
- Monday morning the office sends out a FedEx package containing a short CD introducing the pastor and his or her spouse, a gas coupon, a short brochure on the ministries offered, etc. I know what you’re thinking – it’s a lot of money. But it’s not if you consider the FedEx package as an investment rather than a cost. I guarantee you no one fails to open a FedEx package- no one. A package will cost under $10.00 a family. How long does it take one family to pay back ten FedEx packages? Not long.
- Then either the pastor or staff person responsible for retention should track the response of the new visitor for three months and share what they are learning with the staff. Let’s say in the phone call or conversations with the family on Sunday you learn that they have a teenager or elementary child. That information is passed on to the person responsible for the age group and they make some form of personal contact either with the teenager or with a parent of the child. The purpose of the contact is to invite the youngster to participate in what the church offers that age group.
- If the family is responding by showing up in worship or other functions, either the second or third month they should be invited to attend a small group meeting in their area. If you don’t have small groups meeting in homes it’s time to start them. We have a great manual called Missional Small Groups that will help you set up the system.
As you can see, it takes a lot of time and effort to retain new visitors, but it costs much less money than getting new visitors.
Easter is coming up, and with it is one of the three major times new visitors will show up at your church. Will you be ready for them? We have three great Easter resources that will give you everything you need to move the needle from retaining 15 percent to 75 percent.
Retaining new visitors doesn’t just happen; it takes commitment.
Question: What other effective visitor retention methods have you seen put into practice? Share the best ones in the Comments section below.
This article is so off base! I question the retaining 15 percent to 75 percent. It is a proven fact people decide within the first 6 minutes if they return or not. Where and who do they meet in the first 6 minutes?
Although the first six minutes are important (and the figures vary wildly from 2 minutes to 12 minutes depending on the study you choose to cite), other studies have shown that effective follow-up increases the rate of return significantly. In addition, those churches that engage in a hospitality audit, such as using a Mystery Guest, and then make the necessary adjustments can see return rates as high as 85% of those they get contact information from (Our Saviors Lutheran Church in Jefferson City is an example of the higher return rate). In our studies (over 1000 churches), we’ve noted that those churches that focus on hospitality practices focused on unchurched visitors (the highest level of hospitality) regularly see a return rate of over 50%.
Regardless of statistics, idea of extending effort and paying attention are good practices providing positive results..