Easter: The Most Important Sunday?

Many Christians will argue that Easter is the like the Super Bowl of services for their church. It’s one of the biggest celebrations on the Christian calendar, and rightfully so. Your worship pastor will step up the music, your pastor’s sermon will be on point, and your fellow church members will hopefully be a little friendlier than normal.

If your church is like mine, then you’ve seen it before. Attendance will skyrocket on Easter Sunday (and might be a little higher than normal the week or two after Easter), but then it’s back to business as usual. Why is this happening?


I hate to break it to you, but it’s the church’s fault.

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If you’re still with me after reading that last sentence, thanks for hearing me out. I love the church and I’m so thankful that we have a reason to celebrate Easter, but I think the church could be doing a lot better about its post-Easter outreach.

Churches tend to put a lot of emphasis on getting people to their Easter events. Postcards with the Easter service times are mailed, egg hunts are advertised, yard signs are strategically placed, and the list goes on. I’m not saying that these outreach ideas aren’t effective or that getting people in the church building on Easter isn’t important. In fact, if you haven’t done some of those things to make your community aware, then get started! But I do wonder why we focus so much on one Sunday?


Why are we only making a big deal out of one Sunday a year if we’re trying to reach people every Sunday of the year?

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With more guests coming to your church on Easter Sunday than usual, you need to be prepared. You also need to plan for every Sunday after that.

Follow-Up. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: if a guest leaves you their contact information, they want you to contact them. Don’t wait. Let them know you’re glad they came and that you hope they will come back. This is also a perfect opportunity to introduce what’s coming next. Whether it’s a new message series or an upcoming event at the church, be sure to tell them about it. People are more likely to come to something they’ve been invited to.

Host a Spring Festival. Post Easter events are a great way to keep people engaged and get to know them. Think about hosting an event with free food, games, and fellowship. Events like these can be foundational in building relationships with the unchurched.

Summer is Coming. Summer will be here before you know it, which means your church is probably starting to look forward to summer camps and Vacation Bible School. Pick dates for those as soon as possible and start getting the word out now so families can plan for them.

Clean Up Your Website. Once Easter is over, it’s imperative to update your website and let potential first-time guests (and those guests that visited your church on Easter) know what is happening next. Are you hosting that spring festival in a couple of weeks? Are you having a Mother’s Day celebration? Let your website do some of the outreach work for you by keeping it current.

Document. While Easter is still fresh on your mind, document your successes and things that you would like to do differently for next years’ service. What worked and what didn’t? How many first-time guests did you have? Were there any professions of faith you can celebrate? What can you do to reach more people next year? Make note of these things now to have on hand for planning next Easter.

I don’t write this to say that Easter shouldn’t be celebrated in a big way at your church. Easter is the ultimate holy day and one of the highlights of the Christian journey. I’m just saying that your outreach ministry shouldn’t begin and end with your Easter Sunday celebration. Be intentional about what you are going to do to reach people once Easter is over.

 

About Faith Perceptions

Faith Perceptions is a market research firm that provides churches and faith-based organizations with research about their target market. We send mystery guests into churches across the country each week to report back to us on what their experiences are like. We use this information to help churches improve the way they welcome and connect with guests. Faith Perceptions has been evaluating the first-time guest experience since 2008.

7 Ways to Make Your Church Signage Guest Friendly

My husband was leading worship at a church I had never been to before. I planned to join him and attend the later service. When I arrived, I had no idea what door to enter and I ended up walking in a side door that opened right up into the sanctuary while the early service was still happening. That was pretty embarrassing and something I’ve never forgotten.


No one likes to feel lost. Churches often forget what it’s like to be new.

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No one likes to feel lost. Churches often forget what it’s like to be new and over time assume that everyone knows where to go. The truth is that’s often not the case at all.

“I saw no signs directing us to the service. If we had not encountered a gentleman going the same direction, I would have gone in circles and surely gotten lost.” – Faith Perceptions Mystery Guest

Whether you’re an established church, in the process of building, or adding on to your existing building, you need to look at your church layout and signage through the lens of a guest.

  1. On the Outside. Exterior signs should be welcoming and provide clarity around what and where. Your main sign should have pertinent information, such as the name of the church, service times, and web address and, if there is room, an invitation such as “Join Us for Worship”.
  1. Lose the Don’ts. Things like: “No skateboarding” or “Church parking for members only” doesn’t send a message of welcome to outsiders. One church we worked with sat in the backyard of a large college campus. They had a perfect opportunity to reach students except their parking lot had signs that said “No Student Parking.” Ironically, those lots sat mostly empty all week long and they had very few college students attending their church. If you must post signs like that, find a way to turn a negative message into a positive one.
  1. Parking Signs. For churches in larger cities, parking can be a challenge. If your church provides a free parking lot or will validate parking for a nearby garage, make sure that is communicated to guests on your website and in signage at the church. If you can’t have permanent signage, put up temporary signs that you can take down after the service.

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“Parking was difficult as there was no signage or directions or guidance, so I had to park on the street and pay the meter. Turns out, this particular church offered a free lot, but only people who were regular attendees knew about it.” – Faith Perceptions Mystery Guest

  1. Which Door? We read so often about the struggle a guest has trying to figure out which is the right door to go through to get to the main part of the church.

“I wasn’t sure which door was the main door since none of them were marked. I ended up coming in a door that led me all around the church before I found where the service was.“ – Faith Perceptions Mystery Guest

Things like that can be avoided by having signs that clearly mark your main entrance into the church. Weather permitting, open your doors, and have greeters stand outside to welcome people (more on greeters in our next blog).

  1. On the Inside. We’re all humans and admittedly, I’ve missed seeing a sign that was right in front of my face. Make sure that you have adequate signs inside the church at every entrance that will help a guest navigate to where they need to be. Interior signs should provide direction to all essential areas (sanctuary, restrooms, offices, nursery/child care area, etc.) of the church. All of your signs, whether interior or exterior, should be clear and readable from a distance and up close.
  1. Language Matters. Churches are known for naming ministries things a guest wouldn’t understand. While the names are certainly catchy, guests are often left clueless about what it is. If you want to increase participation in these ministries, then ensure that the content on your signs actually communicates to a guest what they mean.

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  1. Outreach. If nothing else, your signs can work as a form of indirect outreach. There’s a high probability that unchurched people in your community drive by your church and see your sign every single day. People respond to invitations. It wouldn’t be unheard of for someone to accept your sign’s invitation and come for a visit next Sunday.

Unchurched people in your community drive by your church and see your sign every single day.

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If you’ve been attending your church for a while, you may not feel that more signs are necessary, but the truth is those signs aren’t for you. They’re for the people you are trying to reach. Before we can address someone being lost in the spiritual sense, we should first get them to the right place in the physical sense.

 

About Faith Perceptions
Faith Perceptions is a market research firm that provides churches and faith-based organizations with research about their target market. We send mystery guests into churches across the country each week to report back to us on what their experiences are like. We use this information to help churches improve the way they welcome and connect with guests. Faith Perceptions has been evaluating the first-time guest experience since 2008.

 

3 Ways ‘Mystery Guests’ Can Improve Your Church

This article first appeared in a guest blog for The Exchange at Christianity Today. You can go here or just stay put and keep on reading.

I get that some people reject faith in God and therefore will never darken the door of another church, but what I can’t accept is that some people don’t come back because they felt rejected by the church.

Question: How many people have visited your church in the past year?
Tougher question: How many never came back?

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Deep, soul searching question: Why?

Unchurched people are more skeptical than ever about attending church. Yet there are scores of people that visit churches every weekend, searching for something. So why aren’t they returning, and does it have anything to do with what they experience when they get there?

“I didn’t feel the church was at all very welcoming. In the 25 minutes I spent there outside of the actual service, nobody spoke with me. Although everyone seemed to be talking with each other, no one found the time to talk with me.” – Excerpt from a Mystery Guest Report.

Unfortunately, I read comments like that all the time in our research. And, the truth is, unless you’re new yourself, it’s hard to really know what a person encounters when they visit your church for the first time.  The only real way to know what guests are experiencing in your church is to get unbiased feedback by someone outside of your own system.  What you learn may be tough to hear, but not hearing it is even more difficult in the end.

Before we go any further, let’s unpack what “unbiased” is (and is not):

Unbiased means someone who is neutral or impartial. It doesn’t mean you go ask your Aunt Betty to visit your church and tell you what she thinks.  And no, you can’t use a member from your clergy friend’s church across town. Why? For the same reason I don’t ask my husband if the dress I’m wearing makes me look fat. I already know what his answer will be and he’s not about to stick his hand in a bear trap. People you know aren’t as willing to give you honest feedback because they’re afraid of hurting your feelings.

Since mystery guests attend the church anonymously and submit their thoughts to us – not you – they’re not afraid to tell the truth because they have no affiliation with your church (or any other church for that matter). These are the kind of people that represent who you are trying to reach, so their thoughts and opinions are going to be the most valuable in helping your church improve the way you welcome guests into your church.

Three things you’ll get by bringing mystery guests into your church:

  1. Gain perspective. You are about to see your church through a lens that you’ve never seen it through before: The guest lens. Prepare yourself. You’re going to see what it’s like to visit your own website and try and find worship times or information on children’s ministries. You’ll learn what it’s like to find a place to park, and walk through doors (assuming you can find the right door), and face a crowd of people you’ve never met before. You’ll know if people are friendly, what it’s like to maneuver your way to the restroom using only signs, or how comfortable parents feel checking their kids into your Sunday school or kid’s ministry. You’ll see how easy it is to follow along with the elements of the service, and you’ll know when someone fills out the information card if they were actually contacted.

“I let my kids go up for the children’s time with the pastor, and when it was over they left with the rest of the kids. I had no idea where they were going, who the leader was, or how I would get them back!” – Excerpt from a Mystery Guest Report.

  1. See your blind spots.

The problem with having blind spots is that you don’t know you have them therefore you don’t ever do anything about them.

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What if you knew that guests didn’t have a clue about your Sunday school or that you have a welcome center? What if you learned that a new family tried to visit last Sunday, but found themselves alone because service times had changed and nobody updated the website? (Write that one down – we see it a lot).  Imagine what you could do if you knew the reasons people aren’t becoming part of your church.

  1. Know where you have opportunities to improve. If you’re like a lot of churches, you may have ideas about what the problems are and how to fix them. To quote a good friend of mine, “I’m probably not going to tell you anything you don’t already know, but you may be walking past things you can no longer see.” Mystery Guests help you see what you can’t see on your own, but they also tell you how to make it better.

Wanting things to be better means we have to be willing to get feedback. Honest feedback.  Having mystery guests visit your church gives you the ability to walk a mile in your visitor’s shoes. Then it’s up to you to take action and make future Sundays the most welcoming they can be.

About Faith Perceptions
Faith Perceptions is a market research firm that provides churches and faith-based organizations with research about their target market. We send mystery guests into churches across the country each week to report back to us on what their experiences are like. We use this information to help churches improve the way they welcome and connect with guests. Faith Perceptions has been evaluating the first-time guest experience since 2008.

 

The One Thing to Get Right This Weekend

I don’t usually listen in on other people’s phone conversations, but today I couldn’t help but overhear my coworker laughing, and chatting up the person on the other end of the line who had just called into our office. She’s like that. One of those people that treats you like you matter regardless of how busy she is. She remembers details and things like a person’s birthday or when their kids are sick. And, as I’m listening, I’m thinking that person on the other end is grateful because who doesn’t like to be valued like that?

I remembered one of my favorite moments this year at the Global Leadership Summit happened in session #5 with John Maxwell. He just up and said:

“Are you adding value to people or are you wanting people to add value to you?”

The room was quiet because he had obviously struck a nerve with several people. When we look at that through the lens of how we go about making guests feel welcome in our church, we have to ask ourselves, “Is our primary motive in creating a welcoming process to add value to our church or to add value to the other person?” Wanting to help someone who doesn’t have a church home find one isn’t a bad thing and wanting our church to grow in the process isn’t a bad thing either. The problem lies in that being our primary motivation.

We may put a lot of effort into welcoming someone into our church this Christmas and they may never come back.

What we hope though is that they leave feeling better than when they came and that because of that experience it stirs in them a desire to explore a relationship with Christ.

As Christmas weekend approaches and your church prepares to have more services, more people, more kids, more everything, there are plenty of things you can do to make people feel welcome. For some of those practical ideas you can go here.

But if you’re going to get one thing right this weekend, let it be how you add value to the people that walk through your doors. Take time to talk with people even when you’re busy. Train your volunteers to go above and beyond. In fact, if your welcome process doesn’t include margin for connecting with people then it’s not really a welcoming process; it’s just a process.

At the end of the day…when the lights go down and the doors close…ask yourself,

“Did I add value to someone’s life today?”

Maxwell goes on to say,

“Everything worthwhile is uphill. Everything.”

This weekend, wherever you are, ask God to reveal to you where he wants you to do this. It could be the person sitting in your pew by themselves or the person you’re thinking about inviting to church this weekend.

Make someone feel significant this Christmas, because as Maxwell says,

“Significance is not about me, it’s about others. Significance is all uphill, but there is a downhill habit that fights against significance and that is selfishness.”

If you’re still looking for a way to add value during this season, start with adding it to someone else’s life first. Because adding value to a person is an uphill habit, but the side effects are worth it.

5 Ways Your Church Can Stay Connected to Guests After They Visit

Last week, we revealed data on the research we’ve been doing over the past year concerning how churches are following-up with their visitors.  Here’s what we found:

“More than 75% of the time churches aren’t following up
with visitors that leave their contact information.”

Churches are missing out on following up with first-time (or second, or third-time) guests in a big way and the message being sent is that people who want to get plugged into a church aren’t important. In business (yes, I know churches aren’t businesses, but hear me out) they understand that if a customer expresses interest in something and doesn’t get a response, they likely aren’t going to do business with that company. The same is true for our churches. If a guest hears your call from the pulpit encouraging them to leave their contact information and then you don’t contact them, they take that to mean you aren’t interested, and they likely won’t come back again.

We are approaching one of the highest attended services of the year (Christmas) and this year, Christmas day happens to fall on a Sunday. Many churches will be holding services on those days and seeing a lot of first-time guests. Now is the right time to prepare for that so you aren’t wasting your opportunity. Things you need to remember:

  1. Don’t Wait. Remember that if someone leaves you their information that means they WANT to hear from you. Follow up quickly (within 24-36 hours).
  1. Make contact in a unique and personal way. People are desensitized to emails and form letters. They are impersonal and don’t leave a lasting impression. Consider a brief front-porch visit with a small gift in tow, such as fresh baked bread. If a visit isn’t something you want to do, consider a hand-written note. Either of those set you apart from the barrage of communication they receive each week.
  1. Don’t quit. Invite them back the following Sunday. Another contact on Thursday or Friday is a great way to remind them about the church and that you are hoping to see them again. Too often, churches send out a one-time letter thanking a guest for coming and then the outreach ends. While we certainly don’t want to bombard people with communications, we also don’t want to stop after one try. You never know when that one touch is going to be what drives a person to consider coming back to the church.
  1. Stay connected. Add guests to your monthly e-note or newsletter, invite them to upcoming events, seeker-friendly message series, and special services such as Easter and Christmas. You never know which time could make the difference in getting them to return.
  1. Do it. Make guest follow-up part of your weekly tasks. The only bad follow-up is not following up at all.

Remember the part in the book of Matthew where Jesus tells His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations? That’s exactly what this is. Following up with guests is a ministry outreach arm of the church. You’ve succeeded in getting them to come and to leave their contact information. Here is where ministry can start to happen, but it won’t happen if you aren’t intentional about doing it.

About Faith Perceptions
Faith Perceptions is a market research firm that provides churches and faith-based organizations with research about their target market. We send mystery guests into churches across the country each week to report back to us on what their experiences are like. We use this information to help churches improve the way they welcome and connect with guests. Faith Perceptions has been evaluating the first-time guest experience since 2008.

Guest Follow-Up: Why It Matters and Why It’s Not Happening

I went for a job interview. I remembered to smile, sit up straight, and not give canned answers. After the interview they said I’d definitely hear from them soon. They never contacted me.

I had a nice evening out with a friend of a friend. I gave my phone number, but never received a call.

My family attended a new church and loved it! The church asked us to fill out a connect card so that we could stay in touch with what was happening at the church and hopefully get connected. It’s been months…and still no contact.

What do these three scenarios have in common? Rejection.

Over the years, we’ve noticed in our research that churches weren’t being diligent in following up with guests. This past year, we decided to see if our anecdotal fears of the church not following up with people were factually based. In our study of the first-time guest experience, we concentrated specifically on guests that left their contact information with the church and tracked whether they received follow up.

About the Research
This research was conducted by Faith Perceptions using an online survey with a sample size of 1,341 adults who attended worship services at churches throughout the United States. The surveys were completed from October 2015 to September 2016.  First-time guests visited different churches of different sizes and denominations and, after being asked by the church to leave their contact information, 504 voluntarily chose to do so. After a period of 30 days following their visit to the church, Faith Perceptions followed up with each respondent to learn if the church had contacted them in any way. We found that only 119 (24%) of 504 respondents received follow up from the church.  Of the 504 adults that took part in this research, 359 were unchurched or dechurched.

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What’s the takeaway?
A meager 24% follow-up rate tells us that churches are neglecting the opportunity they have in connecting with guests. The message it sends to a guest is that the church doesn’t care and that they don’t matter.

Why aren’t churches following up?
In many of our conversations with church leaders, we learned that most do want to follow up, but don’t have a well-thought out process for doing so. There is often confusion on who should follow up and when. For those that have established a process, there is little to no accountability to ensure follow up is happening. Many pastors would like to do the follow up themselves, but lack the time and instead hope those appointed to do so are doing it.

Why it matters.
First things first, if someone gives you their contact information that means they WANT to hear from you. A set plan needs to be in place for following up quickly and consistently. Guest follow-up is a ministry, and just like any other ministry in your church, it needs attention. If you don’t have relevant programming and volunteers to staff your children’s ministry, do you think it will grow? Probably not. If you don’t put forth that same effort in reaching out to guests, your church probably isn’t going to grow, either.

What you can do.
Don’t wait. This is something your church can start doing today and it costs very little, if anything at all. Whether it’s making a phone call, sending an email, or dropping a postcard in the mail – contact should be made. Contacting a guest after they visit shows them they are a priority…that they matter. Regardless of how you do it…do it. The worst kind of church follow-up is no follow-up at all.

For some practical ways to start effectively following up with guests at your church, check out part two of this blog here.

About Faith Perceptions
Faith Perceptions is a market research firm that provides churches and faith-based organizations with research about their target market. We send mystery guests into churches across the country each week to report back to us what their experiences are like. We use this information to help churches improve the way they welcome and connect with guests. Faith Perceptions has been evaluating the first-time guest experience since 2008.

How to Lose a Guest in One Sunday

Have you ever tried so hard to accomplish something (like seeding the lawn…or putting together that chair from IKEA with a million little pieces), but you end up with a bigger mess than when you started? Sometimes getting guests to return to your church is like that. You did all the right things (you think) to make a first-time guest feel welcome. So, why didn’t they come back? Sometimes it has nothing to do with the church itself. Some people just aren’t ready to come back to church. Sometimes though, they are ready, but what they experience when they get there isn’t what they hoped for.

Each week, we read through feedback from first-time guests on their church experiences. Here are some common themes as to why a guest doesn’t return.

Unwelcoming Congregation
Picture walking into a church you have never visited before. There are groups of people gathered talking and visiting with one another….and no one (outside of the greeter who handed you your bulletin) speaks to you.  While that may not be intentional on the church’s part, it’s happening…a lot.

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Being Too Friendly
This might strike some as odd, but it’s true. There’s a fine line in being welcoming and being too friendly. While your first-time guests don’t want to be ignored, they most likely won’t be up for playing a game of 20 questions either. One church guest had this to say about their visit:

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I’m sure this church had the best intentions in making this guest feel welcome, but in the end it was too much and drove the guest away.

Nothing for Kids
This seems pretty obvious, but there are still many churches out there that do not offer any form of ministry for kids. If a family visits your church only to find out that there is nothing offered in the way of discipleship for their kids, they most likely won’t be back. If your kids’ ministry is non-existent or exists, but could use some work, check out our blog from last week.

No Information
Your church may offer a lot of ministry opportunities, but how are you relaying that information to someone new? We routinely visit church websites and find little to no information on what the church offers outside of Sunday morning. And, when the website does mention these things, it often includes “internal speak” that a guest is not going to understand. Your website IS the front door for your church and should be geared towards the people you are trying to reach, not the people who are already there.

An Aging Congregation

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We see this most often with young adults. The church can be really welcoming, but at the end of the day if there aren’t people attending they can identify and do life with they will most likely move on. You may not be able to change the age diversity in your church overnight, but intentional outreach and ministries geared towards a younger generation will help, and demonstrates your church’s openness to connecting with that demographic.

Mediocre Church
This one is probably going to bother some people, but it has to be said. Whether we are talking about outreach, the teaching, worship music, hospitality, cleanliness, punctuality, etc., we should be doing it in truth and with excellence.

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We write this not to condemn, but to challenge your church to be better. Every church has something they can improve on….even the really great ones.

Are Kids’ Impressions Affecting Church Attendance?

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend about the challenges of getting her kids to church. This friend is the mom of two young kids and one on the way. She makes the parenting thing look pretty simple most of the time, but her kids get bored at church and sometimes put up enough of a struggle on Sunday mornings that the whole family skips church altogether because it’s just easier. Continue reading

5 Ways to Prepare for and Follow Up with Guests this Easter

Easter is the highest attended service of the year which means more people are likely to visit your church on this day than any other. 

So, what are you doing to prepare? Here are some quick ideas that you can implement in the short time we have left:

  1. The Front Door– The website is usually a person’s first point of contact. Scan your site and make sure worship times are easy to find. Directions and what to expect (especially for families) should be clear. Have an “I’m New” or “First-Time at [church name]” page where guests can get the basics about their first visit.
  2. Parking Ministry – With more guests, there’s more traffic, and a need for more places to park.  Hospitality begins in the parking lot and our mystery guests rate their overall experience higher in churches with parking ministries.
  3. More Hands on Deck – Increase your capacity for hospitality by adding more volunteers. If you average 5-10 guests a month, plan on seeing at least triple that at your Easter services, many of which will be families with kids.

Greeting – Add more greeters and a ‘friendly patrol’ to welcome new faces and start conversations before and AFTER the service.

Seating – Plan for overflow. In the weeks leading up to Easter, ask members to prepare by leaving the back and end seats open for guests. Encourage them to attend earlier services since guests are more likely to attend a later service on their first visit. Add more seating and plan to add even more should it become necessary.

Kids Ministry – Many of those new faces you see will be families who won’t know what you offer for kids or where they should take them. That means Kids Ministry needs to ramp up as well to help check kids in, answer questions, and guide families to their destinations.

4. Information – When a guest has the information they need to take next steps, they’re more likely to take them.

Guest Card – Upon arrival, give them the basics. In the back of every seat or inside every bulletin have a guest card that explains where the restrooms, welcome desk, and kid’s ministry are located.

Connect card – Give them a way to leave their contact information and how to leave it. Calling it a “connect card” best communicates why you are asking for this information – to connect with them! Some churches will ask guests to turn it in at the welcome center and receive a gift. Other churches donate to a local charity for each one they receive.

Gift and Ministry Information – Hospitality is a ministry and needs to be treated as such. A gift thanking guests for coming and a well-designed brochure that tells more about the church’s ministries and how to get plugged in leaves a guest feeling important and informed.

Tell them what’s coming next week – A church I attended always followed Easter up with the series “I have a friend who struggles with….[divorce, pornography, etc.]” Attendance always spiked because of the interest these relevant topics would generate.

5. Plan your follow up and see it through –  Too many guests in our research report leaving their contact information and never receiving follow up. I cringe every time I read about it. Nothing says that you’re not actually interested the guest coming back than neglecting to follow up with them. The key to follow up is to be intentional about it and don’t wait.

Following up is one of the most important things you can do.

  • 24 hours: Send an email, text, or make a phone call thanking them for coming.
  • 96 hours: Mail a note inviting them back and a reminder about the upcoming message series.

Easter is important, but you can use these ideas for every service. Be intentional about planning: from the initial welcome through the follow up.

What are some other ideas that you’ve seen implemented before?