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?