If you’ve seen the movie Airplane!, you will probably remember the scene where the hero is walking through the airport. Every few feet, someone of a different faith attempts to hand him a tract or get a donation. At first, he simply pushes past on his way to save the day, but by the end of the scene he’s fighting them Bruce Lee style. While the scene is funny, the stereotype of churches that it stems from is one that often cripples us in our dealings with visitors. If we’re honest, I’m sure we can all think of a few people in our churches who deserve a good karate chop from a visitor. I’m also sure we know some people who are so afraid of appearing pushy that, if they call a recent visitor and get a busy signal, they never call again.
So, how does a church keep members of its follow up team from going to either of these extremes? Perhaps the best way is to define a set process for your church to use to welcome new visitors. Obviously, your process must be able to adapt to the individual situations. Non-Christians visiting for the first time have different needs than established Christians. But, a common process will provide your greeters with a good starting point. Overeager members of your team will have set boundaries to restrain them. Timid team members will feel more comfortable when they know there are boundaries in place to prevent them from appearing pushy. A set process also lets you easily share knowledge and experience within your team.
Your process should fit your church’s personality, but I would like to share a sample process that will help you start brainstorming what is right for you.
After the 1st visit
- The pastor should send a brief letter. It does not have to be long or complicated, just a simple note thanking the guest for their visit and inviting them back.
- Within 24-48 hours, a member of your church should also call the visitor to thank them for coming. You want this to be very low pressure and informal. If possible, assign this task to a member who might naturally become friends with the visitor were they to meet in some other context. This makes it more likely that the visitor will feel comfortable and will have someone to talk to if they return. Since you don’t have much information about the visitor at this stage, try matching based on general criteria such as age and gender.
- Excellerate helps you with follow-up by providing the ability to assign connectors online and email the visitor’s information to them. Results can also be entered online.
During the 2nd and 3rd visits
- The member who followed up with the guest should greet them by name. Now that they know the visitor better, they should be prepared to introduce them to some other members of the church who have some of the same interests. The key to visitor retention is building friendships. It’s that simple. Something as easy as finding a member whose children go to the same school as the visitors’ will do wonders for making your guest feel they belong.
- Excellerate helps you connect visitors to members with the same interests by allowing you to quickly search your entire database for certain criteria. Few if any of your members will know everything that everyone else likes to do. With Excellerate, you can store all that information in one place and quickly search for whatever you need. If the visitor attends a local university, you can find everyone in your church currently enrolled there. If the visitors are newlyweds, you can pull up a list of all your newlyweds.
After the 4th or 5th visit
- At this point, the term “visitor” is beginning to be inaccurate. Now it’s time to invite the visitor to explore the church further. You can help them do this by inviting them to a class where you share your church’s vision and values, or one of their new friends can invite them to a small group meeting, or you might want to have a pastor contact the guest to see if they have any questions or any needs you can help with.
How ever you decide to invite the visitor to become more involved, Excellerate can help. If you decide to connect people by means of an orientation class, Excellerate helps you track class participation. If you connect them through small groups, Excellerate offers you countless small group tools. And, when it’s time to move the former visitor to the member module, all it takes is the click of a button and it’s done.