3 Ways to Improve a Visitor’s First Sunday
There’s a reason first impressions are so important.
And your church is no exception. There are a number of factors that can influence a newcomer—and it’s your job to make their experience welcoming and memorable.
In my experience as a former pastor, I learned that the process of attracting new churchgoers isn’t—and shouldn’t be—cut and dry. It’s a cyclical journey that involves nurturing and outreach.
The New Member Journey
Just as people in any new relationship get to know each other better over time, newcomers to your church undergo a journey to move from low to high engagement with your congregation. In my experience, here’s the path that most newcomers take to becoming part of your church.
- A friend tells them about your church.
- They visit your church website.
- They show up for service.
- They download your app or fill out a connection card.
- You have a great connection card follow-up strategy.
- You use their physical presence at church or an app to continue building discipleship and focus on long-term member engagement.
So how can you maximize effectiveness of your efforts and drive them to long-term membership? There are three simple ways to improve the visitor experience that include a combination of helpfulness and convenience that have proven successful.
Help Them Prepare
People rarely head into an interview, a house showing, a school tour, or other exploratory experience without doing some research. So you can expect the same from new church attendees. The first place they’ll look? Your website.
New visitors make up nearly half of all church website visitors. Most come to the site for five pieces of information:
- Church mission. What causes and priorities is your church most passionate about? What kinds of congregants do you primarily serve?
- Church values and vision. What moral values guide your church? What is your long-term vision for achieving your mission?
- Location/directions. Where is the church? Are your church address and contact information easy to read and mobile-friendly?
- Service times. When can people come meet you? Do you have multiple campuses?
- What to expect when you attend a service. What’s the dress code? What’s the church environment like? What can kids do? Who attends your church?
Where should all this great content go on your website? Consider adding a tab or page specifically for welcoming new visitors. Another great way to capture their attention is to record a video of your pastor and/or director of outreach with a welcoming message, which also provides them with a resource they can then share with friends on social media if they like your church environment.
Get That Connection Card Filled Out
Your new goal once you’ve gotten them in the door? Nurturing them with opportunities for growth and involvement. The key here is getting a connection card filled out so you get their information for repeat engagement.
But instead of the same ‘ole “fill out this paper and turn it in” routine, try this:
Step 1: Set aside money for a mission or ministry you’re passionate about.
Step 2: Announce the mission every week and ask first-time visitors to fill out a connection card.
Step 3: If they fill out a card, donate $5 to that mission.
By tying their registration to giving, newcomers will walk away feeling satisfied that they made a positive impact on a mission instead of focusing on how you’ll use their personal information.
Better yet, try accomplishing the connection card step with a mobile app. Not only will you save on paper waste and costs, but also the new visitor information will be instantly available to you in your form analytics, allowing you to immediately follow up with them. Plus, by bringing them into your app during the first service they attend, you can open their eyes to all that your church offers—a calendar of events, bible readings, podcasts, video library, sign-ups, and more.
Socialize After Worship
They’ve checked out your website. They’ve heard what you’ve said in service. Now it’s time to meet. The number one way to keep them coming back? Help them feel a part of your church family as quickly as possible.
The trick here is removing barriers to participation and limiting extra steps to attending a social event. In order to increase your chances of keeping newcomers around for a social event is to host it in the lobby—not in the classroom at the other end of the hall or off site somewhere. It must be immediately as they walk out, before they get to the exit door.
Coffee and donuts? Lunch? It’s up to you. The main point is creating a welcoming body to congregate around them and learn more about who they are. By capturing their attention immediately after worship and engaging them through fellowship, you’ll increase their chances of making a return visit.
The Key: Make it Easy to Acclimate
“Church shopping” can be hard enough on a new visitor—making long-term decisions on where to get involved and grow their family. That’s why it’s imperative that you as the existing church body make it easy on newcomers to get to know you (and vice versa). By relying on the convenience of technology and the friendliness of your current members, you can make a first-timers’ experience memorable and lasting.
Of course, don’t forget to extend the attention beyond that first Sunday! A good follow up plan can make all the difference.