Last year I was a ‘mystery shopper’ in a church in our city. It felt quite daunting.
A feeling which many church visitors feel.
Only one person knew me in the crowd of 500+ people and that was the pastor. However, he wasn’t even aware that I was in church until well after the service.
I was a complete stranger to everyone else.
As I drove home I reflected on my experience.
I realised that the church didn’t have my contact details so they had zero impact on my decision about a second visit.
I was in the driver’s seat.
While that’s great for me it’s terrible for any leaders wanting to grow a healthy church.
11 Reasons Church Visitors Don’t Return
Ignore these reasons at your peril.
1. You Didn’t Get Their Contact Details
Some churches are afraid to ask for contact information from visitors.
They are terrified of being intrusive especially with Millennials.
However, Barna Group’s research shows that only 15% of Millenials don’t want to share any information when visiting a church.
I think it’s all in the ask.
The pastor and volunteers involved with visitors should carry a pen and connect card.
After you connect with the visitor and the conversation comes to a natural end, take out the church visitor card and begin to write their name and then ask for their contact details.
99% of people will give their name, address, email and best contact number.
Always use a card or church iPad and never put those details into your phone.
2. You Didn’t Text Your Church Visitors
A text is an unobtrusive way to make a connection.
If you obtained the visitor’s contact details you can send a ‘thank you for visiting us’ text with 24 hours.
At the end of the week, you can send a follow-up, invitational text telling them what’s happening this Sunday.
You can also send them an invitation to a 30 day devotional about Jesus.
Don’t forget to add a short unsubscribe message in the texts e.g. ‘Reply STOP if you do not want to receive our messages’.
3. You Didn’t Call Them
A courtesy call thanking the visitor for coming to the service is a winsome way to connect with your church visitors.
While most people may not pick up you can leave a message letting them know you’re there to help.
4. You Didn’t Send a Postcard
A postcard is a ‘purple cow’ moment for your visitors.
Seth Godin writes of driving through France and initially being enamoured with the picturesque, rolling hills and black and white cows
However, after a while, he longed to see something different, a purple cow if you like.
Your handwritten postcard is your ‘purple cow’ opportunity. It will make your church stand out.
Some churches send out a welcome letter but I think you can do better than a letter.
Don’t forget to put a small magnet on the back and your Sunday service tie on the front. Hopefully, the postcard will spend some time on your visitor’s fridge.
4. Your Church is Dirty and Cluttered
Take a fresh look at your car park, foyer, and children’s area through the eyes of a visitor.
Drive into your car park as if you were a first time visitor.
Then walk into the foyer and ask yourself, how clean are our entrance and foyer?
How much clutter is lying around?
5. Your People Aren’t Trained to Connect with New People
The 15 minutes after the service is the time of church growth.
What you do with your visitors after the service will impact the growth of your church.
If you don’t connect with your visitors you won’t be able to follow them up.
Think of the range of church visitors you attract to your services.
They range from people who don’t want any connection to those who are longing to be part of your church.
Train your people to cater for everyone in this wide spectrum.
7. You Don’t have a Guest Lounge
There’s a number of reasons churches don’t set up a guest lounge area for their visitors.
Some are afraid of overwhelming visitors so they tend to leave them to their own devices. Others just lack basic hospitality and forget to cater for their visitors.
While it’s true that some visitors won’t go near a lounge there are others who will seek it out.
I recommend that you don’t take people into a separate room but rather set up some chairs in your foyer or café area. Place some friendly hosts there and make sure the pastor connects with everyone in the lounge.
8. You don’t have a New People’s Director
The first thing with your visitor’s program is not to create a system or structure but to find a person. God uses people before he uses systems.
Create a position in your structure for a New People’s Director. Consider this position to be as important as your Children’s Director and your Worship Director.
Then begin to pray for the best person to fill that role.
If your church is under 120 people I recommend that the pastor become the first New People’s Director. Then as your church grows or when another appropriate person is trained the role can be filled by someone else.
The primary requisites for a New People’s Director are the
- Ability to be organised
- Aptitude to be friendly
9. You Made Them Feel Awkward
Visitors are genuinely nervous on their first visit and can remain so for a number of visits. Therefore, it’s imperative that you avoid embarrassing them in any way.
Some visitors find the meet and greet time difficult and contrived. They don’t enjoy small talk with strangers and feel awkward engaging with strangers.
Others feel like outsiders due to inside language and stories.
Poor or missing signage can make people feel awkward as they are forced to ask, “Where are the toilets?”
One solution is to ask a key leader to pretend they are a visitor and get them to filter all elements of your gathering through the lens of a new person. You can then debrief and reassess every aspect of your meetings.
Alternatively, sit down with new members and ask them for a specific and candid analysis of your meetings and find out their awkward moments.
10. Your Church Just Doesn’t Care
It’s possible that you have no vision for growth and you don’t really care about visitors.
You’re in maintenance mode and fatalistic about any attempts to engage with your community.
I think this is the case in too many churches and is reflected in this infographic
If that’s the case then it’s time to have a change of heart and prioritise the stranger in your midst.
11. They Didn’t Want to and Weren’t Meant to Come Back
It’s impossible for all your visitors to return for their second visit.
Some visitors are from out of town and were, well, just visiting.
Others would never fit into your style of church and leadership ways and would actually be bothersome if they stayed in your church.
They and you are better off finding a church family that fits them.
These are my 11 reasons why church visitors don’t return.