As part of my coaching services I decided to be a ‘mystery shopper’ in a church in our city and it felt quite daunting. A feeling that 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 when we chatted.
I was a complete stranger to everyone else.
As I drove home I reflected on my experience.
I realised 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.
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12 Reasons Church Visitors Don’t Return
Ignore these reasons at your peril.
1. You Don’t Have a Pathway Mapped Out For Church Visitors
Whenever I head out on my exercise walk I target a footpath or as my American friends like to say, a sidewalk.
People love pathways.
We are designed to walk along familiar pathways especially when they are well it and maintained.
Intentional leaders map out a pathway for visitors and line their pathway with key people who act on the trigger points along the journey.
A pathway gives clarity and, more importantly, positions you to get results.
This simple pathway creates a visual map for your church and leaders and helps them grasp the vital importance of hospitality for visitors.
2. 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.
Churches have a variety of reasons why they don’t use visitor cards.
This is a significant mistake and churches miss abundant opportunities to engage with their visitors.
It all starts with the pastor and volunteers involved with visitors carrying a pen and visitor cards.
When 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.
Download our free and simple
Visitor Connect Card
You can use this card this Sunday
3. You Didn’t Text Your Church Visitors
A text is an unobtrusive way to make a connection. Text messages are rarely unopened and remain one of the powerful ways to connect with people.
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.
One church lifted their evangelistic potency by promoting a 30 day devotional via text. Visitors and members alike could easily and privately sign up at the end of a service for the devotional.
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’.
4. 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.
Most people will not pick up when the number is not recognised however you can leave a personal message.
In this impersonal age, a simple and helpful message builds connection and can lead to further engagement with a visitor.
5. You Didn’t Send a Postcard
A postcard is a ‘purple cow’ moment for your church 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.
Your handwritten postcard is your ‘purple cow’ opportunity. It will make your church stand out.
A welcome letter is a good idea, however, 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.
6. 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.
Next, walk into the foyer and ask yourself, how clean are our entrance and foyer?
How much clutter is lying around?
7. Your People Aren’t Trained to Connect with Church Visitors
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.
8. You Don’t have a Guest Lounge
There are a number of reasons churches don’t set up a guest lounge area for their visitors.
Church leaders tend to leave visitors to their own devices because they re afraid they will overwhelm them. Others just lack basic hospitality and forget to cater to their visitors.
Some visitors won’t go near a guest lounge, however, there are others who will seek it out.
I recommend that you don’t take people into a separate room. It is far better to 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.
9. 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. Find a person because God uses people and builds systems around them.
Create a position in your structure for a New People’s Director and watch your visitor retention rates soar.
Consider this position to be as important as your Children’s Director and your Worship Director.
Next, 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. As your church grows the role can be filled by a volunteer or alternatively whenever another person is trained.
The primary requisites for a New People’s Director are the
- Ability to be organised
- Aptitude to be friendly
One of the key roles a Visitor’s Director fulfils is the management of visitor’s data. Unhealthy churches never measure the right things and tend to rely on guessing their stats or just ignoring them.
Accurate data is s maintained by the visitor’s director and utilised to direct your ministry to church visitors.
10. You Made Church Visitors 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 the inside language and stories which only members understand.
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 debrief and then 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.
11. 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. It 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.
12. Your Church Visitors 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 12 reasons why church visitors don’t return.
And without returning visitors you won’t grow a healthy church.