The pastor was on vacation and I was invited to be the guest preacher. Before the service, while I was being briefed by the worship leader, I noticed a significant hubbub at the back of the church. A young couple had come in and they were very nearly mobbed by one well-wisher after another. The music minister glanced over and observed, “Visitors. We don’t get them very often.”

That’s the fate of the vast majority of churches in the US – they don’t get many first-timers showing up in worship. But some churches see first-time visitors almost every week. Ever wonder what their secret is?

There’s no reason your church can’t see first-time visitors regularly if you’re willing to learn from the churches that are growing. Here are four reasons some churches see first-time visitors almost every week.

  • Lives are changed – and people know it. The church exists to make disciples of Jesus Christ and when someone opts in as a Christ-follower, their life changes radically. Behaviors change. Addictions are overcome. Relationships are healed. In fact, there’s almost nothing left untouched. When lives change, word gets out. And when word gets out, visitors show up. Churches where lives are changed see new visitors. Regularly. 
  • Members are excited. Of course life change excites the membership, but that’s not the only thing members might get excited about. When a church gets a new pastor or launches a building program or gets a new staff member, there’s often an attendance surge as excited members invite their friends, relatives, acquaintances, neighbors, coworkers, and pretty much everyone else they meet. A particular event or sermon series may stir the congregation’s excitement level as well. Churches that create and nurture excitement have members that get excited. And excited members invite.
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  • The church has something worth inviting people to. Churches with targeted worship services  that are designed and executed with excellence see first-time visitors regularly. When a church member – or a returning guest for that matter – attends a worship service that resonates with and is relevant to them, they’ll invite others because they know the service will connect with them too. The same is true for anything the church does. A church will benefit from a regular stream of first-time visitors when it puts together well-targeted events that members are certain their friends will appreciate.
  • The church has visitor momentum. It’s said that a one inch block strategically placed in front of a locomotive’s drive wheel can keep a train from moving forward. However, once a locomotive gets started and reaches full speed, a six-foot-thick wall of concrete won’t stop it. Many churches find it difficult to get the first stream of visitors coming. However, once visitors begin showing up and discovering they’ve found something worth returning to, they naturally start inviting pretty much everyone they know… and they do so with gusto. Returning guests are a church’s most efficient and effective means for seeing an exponential rise in first-time visitors. Churches with first-time visitor and returning-guest momentum experience exponential and sustainable growth.

There are reasons some churches enjoy welcoming first-time visitors every week. And it’s not just the big-box churches that enjoy that kind of visitor influx. However, no matter what size a church is, when first-timers start showing up and returning, the church won’t remain at its current size for long.

Question: When it comes to getting first-time visitors, where do you need the most help? Facilitating life change? Building member excitement? Creating invite-able worship or events? Tell us in the Comments section below.