For most church leaders, one of the goals of Sunday morning (or whenever your church meets during the week) is that guests pay a first-time visit to your church. You may even program your worship services with guests in mind, especially those who don’t yet know Jesus. In many churches, a lot of effort and energy is spent on getting a first-time visitor to walk through the front door on a Sunday morning. But how is your church helping guests make a return visit after you’ve met them for the first time?
1) Expect guests
My wife and I have two girls in elementary school, and at times one or two foster children as well. It’s very rare that the floor is devoid of toy land mines in our house (think Lego pieces, matchbox cars, and beads; lots of beads). But when it is, you can bet there’s one reason: someone’s coming over. When you’re expecting guests in your home, you see your home differently. The same is true of your church. If you expect guests each week, you’ll see your building, your guest services team, your signage, and your nursery (why is the floor so sticky?) a bit differently. If you aren’t expecting guests, they probably won’t come back after a first visit.
2) Do something for guests instead of asking something from them
When a guest first visits your home, you don’t generally put them to work; your focus is on helping them enjoy their time with you. If your attitude toward guests at your church is one of “How quickly can we get them to volunteer and give?” you aren’t treating them like guests. Build a culture at your church and one your teams that people should actually enjoy their first Sunday morning with you (including at the very least free coffee). It doesn’t have to be over-the-top, just good, old fashioned we’re-glad-you’re-here hospitality. Treating guests isn’t pandering; it’s loving them for who they are (people created in God’s image) rather than for what they can do for you.
3) Surprise them
Guests who visit your church—especially those who may be skeptical of this whole church thing in the first place—may not have very high expectations of attending a church on a Sunday. Give them a pleasant surprise. It might be that their kids loved church, or that the free coffee was amazing (and did I mention free?), or that people were genuinely glad to meet them. The surprise might be will depend on your context, so carve out some time with your team and ask them to fill in the blank: We want a first-time guest to walk away saying, “Wow! I was surprised at .”
4) Assume every guest does not yet know Jesus
Your approach to welcoming guests on Sunday mornings should be this: If guests who don’t know Jesus (and don’t like church) have a great experience, everyone else will, too. Look around your church and your Sunday morning environment and ask yourself: If the first time you set foot in any church was your church, would you enjoy it? Would you feel welcome? Would you be confused? If you aren’t expecting guests (see #1), guests won’t come back to your church. And if you aren’t expecting guests who know Jesus, those won’t come back, either.
5) Give them a next step
Most likely, it isn’t readily obvious to a visitor how to get more information about your church or how to get connected in some way. Not every visitor will jump right into a small group or a volunteer position at their first visit, so make sure the next step is easy to find and easy to navigate. Keep in mind this isn’t a time-share presentation where you unload information about every single program and serving opportunity in your church. Instead, look at your church through the eyes of your guests and identify (and create in many cases) the easiest way for them to get plugged in.
6) Follow up with your guests
This is the easiest one on the list, but one that most churches do a poor job at. When a guest visits your church and trusts you with their contact information, they are allowing—perhaps expecting—you to follow up with them. So do it well. There is no one way to do this, but our church has found that cards (not form letters) and personal phone calls help us connect with first-time guests the week after their visit better than anything we’ve ever done. Whatever you do, don’t just send an email or a letter and call it good.
What did I miss? How else can you help guests make a return visit?