5 principles for welcoming and following up with first-time guests

My family and I spent the better part of a year searching for a new church home after moving to the Nashville area.  I was dismayed by the lack of follow-up when we visited churches and Bible study groups.  Only a few churches bothered to contact us – and even fewer Bible study groups did.  We filled out visitor cards in every worship service and group we attended, but follow-up with our family was almost non-existent. I’ve spoken to others who have experienced the same thing in their search for a church home and a Bible study group.

Here are a few principles for following up on first-time guests. I do my best to practice these with every guest who comes to the Bible study group I lead:

Principle #1 – You can be too aggressive in your follow-up

  • Guests are on a “blind date” with your church and your group – they don’t know what to expect and are often very anxious (if you’ve ever been on a blind date, you know what I’m talking about).
  • Don’t ask them to “marry” your group too fast – that will ruin the “courtship”

Principle #2 – Contact by group members is better than contact by church staff

  • A survey indicates that the impact of a home visit is reduced by approximately 50% when made by a church staff member rather than people from a Bible study group!
  • Guests will assume that contact from staff is a part of their job description, but they really appreciate a call, e-mail, or home visit by one of their peers who is excited about their Bible study group (5 Handles for Getting A Grip on Your Sunday School, p. 10)

Principle #3 – The faster you contact a guest, the more likely it is for them to connect with your group

  • A survey in the book 5 Handles for Getting a Grip on your Sunday School  demonstrated that:
    • If visited in the home within 36 hours, first-time guests return 85% of the time
    • If visited in the home within 72 hours, first-time guests return 60% of the time
    • If visited in the home 7 days after the initial visit, only 15% of first-time guests return the next week
  • Making a home visit may seem like a lot of trouble, a time-waster, and something from a by-gone era, but it can still be an effective way to reach people for Sunday School and church membership.
  • The principle remains, though – faster follow-up leads to a higher percentage of people returning to your group as guests.

Principle #4 – Follow-up is more like a marathon than a sprint.

  • The average family is now visiting a church (or churches) for 18 months before committing to join (Membership Matters, p.95)
  • Patience and follow-up are the keys to moving people from being guests to becoming members.  Pace yourself, and the efforts of your group to reach out to guests.

Principle #5 – Consecutive visits means a higher possibility of reaching guests*

  • 10% of all first-time guests will become members
  • 25% of all second-time guests will become members
  • 45% of all third-time guests will become members

You get the idea…a guest who returns to your church and Bible study group on consecutive Sundays begins to develop a routine, relationships, and a familiarity with your church’s schedule, layout, and ministries.  It makes it more difficult to leave and go to another place where they have to start all over from scratch.

*This applies if the visits are on consecutive Sunday mornings.  This was reported to participants at the Outreach Marketing Road Show in Dallas, TX.


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