Following up with First-time Guests

Today’s blog posts starts with an excerpt from the book The How-To Sunday School Manual, compiledHow To SS Manual Cover by friend and senior Sunday School Specialist at LifeWay, Wayne Poling. Churches have first-time guests each week. The question is, what’s your plan for assimilating them? Here are some thoughts from Wayne’s book:

Developing a strategy for contacting a first time guest is critical to your church’s future. This type of outreach organization must be clearly defined…Because the pastor and staff will most likely make some type of contact with each guest, a major key to your outreach organization will be to create a system where you can assist members in taking the next steps…Because your church members live in various subdivisions and local communities around your church, utilize their geographic proximity to the prospects who visit your church. Enlist individuals from various geographic locations around your church who would be willing to make a simple follow-up contact with people from their neighborhood.

Wayne offers some good advice in this paragraph: have a strategy, enlist others to help you, and consider enlisting church members who live in different locations to do the bulk of the follow-up with first-time guests.

I lead a seminar on following up with first-time guests, and in a nutshell, here are a few other things to think about (and d0) as you develop your plan for assimilating people into your church family:

  1. Your follow-up is more effective when group members do it – Guests expect a call or a visit from the pastor and/or the church staff. The real bonus comes when group members call a guest, thank them for the visit, and invite them to come back. Guests expect staff to reach out – it’s a part of their job. Guests don’t expect church members to do that.
  2. The faster you follow up, the better – In the book 5 Handles for Getting a Grip on your Sunday School, the author cites a survey in which the amount of time it took to contact a guest was compared to their likelihood of returning a second time. The conclusion? If contact was made within 72 hours, there was an overwhelming chance the guest would return. If the contact was delayed 4 or more days, it dropped dramatically.
  3. You can be too aggressive in your follow-up – Guests are on a blind date with your church. If you’ve ever been on a blind date, you get the analogy. Blind dates are uncomfortable, awkward, yet both people are hoping for a connection. The one thing that can ruin the potential for connection is when one person is very aggressive in wanting the relationship to work out! It always drives the other person away. It works the same way in the church world – if you are too aggressive in asking a guest to “marry” your church, you’ll scare them away. Realize that the average family is taking up to 18 months to join a church. Play it cool. Do regular follow-up, but don’t try to put a ring on the finger of every guest the first day they come to your church.

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