There is a baseline that we all feel we don’t need to communicate: The obvious. The perception is that we need to communicate just what isn’t in the ‘obvious box’, because the rest is, well, obvious.
I was at a friend’s house once where they were pouring drinks for dinner. I was offered the milk and poured my drink first; A full glass. My friends’ brother looked at me like something was REALLY wrong. In their house, they only ever poured half a glass of milk, that way, if they spilled, they only lost half of a glass. To them, this was obvious (and it’s pretty decent logic) but for me, not obvious.
The challenge comes when we convince ourselves about what is within the obvious box, and the danger with the ‘obvious box’ is that over time, it keeps growing. As we get used to the systems and processes at our church, they become more ‘obvious’ to us, but that doesn’t make them more obvious to our guests.
Consider these ideas about church. As someone who grew up in church, they seem obvious to me, but take a moment and view them from the eyes of someone who has never been to church in their life, and walks through your front doors this weekend.
We offer childcare during service.
Children have a check-in process.
We stand up when the music starts playing.
We sing out loud as a group in public.
We talk (or shout) back when a presentation is being made.
There is a time during the week that our teenagers get together.
We do this every Sunday, with the intention that everyone returns every Sunday.
I need to fill out a ‘connect card’, and stop by a booth to pick up a gift
I didn’t realize that I needed to fill out a card when it was my first time last week. Now it’s my second time, so I missed my chance to get that gift?
When they’re talking about money and passing around a bucket.
Is that coffee free?
Which way do I go when I walk in?
I want to learn more about Jesus, so I have to go buy a bible?
Recently, we visited Bay Area Community Church in Annapolis, and they gave us a magnet to take home after we checked our kids in (5 x 7 in size). Here’s a picture of the magnet:
This magnet gives us a clear understanding of our family’s faith journey could look like from now until the time our kids graduate college – It may seem obvious that at a certain age, we have a “Parent Dedication” or “Baby Dedication”, or that our kids will participate in a 4th and 5th grade retreat at that age, but this ‘map’ makes it that obvious that there is a clear plan and path for my kids to move from their current stages with intentional transitions to the next stages.
A few things I love about this idea that drives home Bay Area’s commitment to help my family’s faith journey:
There are clear stages that both parents and kids can understand and follow along with
There are resources provided along the way for parents to learn and grow
There are tokens that the kids can have a hands-on experience as part of their journey
There is a high frequency of “next steps”, not large gaps where families could fall through the cracks
It’s clear when the transition happens from “kids” to “youth” (that arrow that says BASM – Bay Area Student Ministries)
What may seem obvious to you, is an important starting point for communicating to your first-time guests. Don’t take anything for granted or make any assumptions about what they know and how they’re expected to respond.
My wife and I (with our 3 boys) left our hometown in Canada in August 2018 to travel North America and visit churches along the way. So far, as of the end of October 2018, we’ve visited 8 churches, and less than half have utilized this simple follow up strategy.
I think you’d agree that following up with your guests after they’ve visited your church for the first time is a helpful way to increase the likelihood that they’ll visit a second time.
After all, there’s only so much information you can expect them to retain from their time at your service, and we can’t expect everyone to read all of the “more about us” paperwork we send home with them after church, so providing guests with bite-sized, relevant information is a helpful way to increase their awareness of what your church offers and how they can get connected.
While this is the case, the flip side is “How can we get more first-time guests to complete the connection card?” and the question is relevant, but maybe there’s a way they’re already giving you contact information that you’re not yet utilizing.
At 8 out of 8 churches, we’ve checked our kids in to their classes, meaning that 100% of the time, we’ve given our personal contact information (at least phone, email, name, and address) so that if we were to lose our kid’s pickup tag, there would be a way to verify we are who we say we are BUT in only 2 cases (25%) was this information used for follow up purposes.
How do we know that the check-in information wasn’t being used, even if the connection card information is?
Simple: My wife’s information goes into Kids check-in, and my information goes on the connection card – that way we can see who follows up in which way.
What do we know about someone who checks in their kids for the first time?
With a fair amount of certainty, we know that:
They are new, or relatively new to the church (even if they kept their kids in service with them the first few times they visited).
They have one or more kids (and we know the kids’ ages)
If the kid is a newborn (maybe the family has been coming for a while and just had their first child)
We know the age of the person checking them in (most times, our birthday information is collected to cross-reference against a drivers license if we lose our pickup tags and need to provide photo id.)
The parent’s first name, email address and phone number
The area where they live (if an address is collected)
Which service they attended (if you have multiple services)
What can we do with this information?
Put their information into your automated follow-up email and text service (Text In Church for instance) in the same way as you would treat someone who completed a connection card.
Provide information to that family about small groups, midweek activities, and events coming up that are relevant to the kids and parents ages.
Congratulate the parents on the birth of their first child, and provide information about baby dedications.
Create a reminder system for when that child reaches the right age to attend Youth Group.
Welcome them as a guest and offer to answer their questions. (for bonus points, send the email from the person who leads your kids’ department)
Introduce them to someone in the church of a similar age who lives in their area
Would it be best if everyone always completed the new visitor connection card? Sure, but if they’re providing their information another way, don’t miss the opportunity to follow up.
I like browsing the grocery store to try things I’ve never tried before. I found this fruit called a kiwi berry. It tastes like a kiwi and has the inside texture of a kiwi, but is the size of a grape with slightly tougher skin, but soft enough you can bite though – not as tough as a banana skin.
I’ve described to you a brand new experience that I had – eating a kiwi berry – but described it in the context of patterns I recognize; the taste of a kiwi, the size of a grape, the skin was softer than a banana.
As designers and project managers, we are not just creating designs but creating an experience. With that in mind, remember that our human psychology is built to recognize patterns and make correlations. By the time you reach your adult life, almost everything you experience is filtered through a previous experience.
What does this mean in a design context:
If someone sends you a text message in all caps, it’s a safe assumption that they’re trying to communicate that they’re yelling. (there are exceptions when you mother-in-law has turned on caps and can’t get them the off again – hypothetically speaking…) Bonus points for extra volume if you tag on an exclamation mark also.
I took a picture of a sign that greeted me when I walked in to visit a church. There’s no value to naming the church, but an opportunity for all of us to learn. (for the record, I asked their permission to post this picture)
For context, there is no other signage in the building. This is the only sign I see when walking in, and there are 4 of these lined up between the entrance to the building and the sanctuary.
They are in a metal frame, 3 feet tall x 2 feet wide.
What could this sign choice communicate?
Our priority is avoiding coffee stains on our seats. Kids check-in, guest services, and restroom locations didn’t make the cut when we decided what to communicate with signs, but not spilling coffee did.
WE’RE YELLING: Not only is it important, it also needs to be emphasized. It’s all capitals and ends with an exclamation mark. In most contexts, this is yelling. But Adam, it’s a design style… I get it. Leave out the exclamation mark then and use a softer font than a serif.
We have this rule. For someone who is apprehensive about coming to church because ‘it’s all rules about what you can’t do,’ you’ve started their experience by reinforcing their apprehension – Not “welcome home” or “we’re glad you’re here” or “here’s what we’re about” but just yelling and emphasizing our rule.
As an alternative to this sign, my recommendation to this church is to have a sign in the cafe area that says “Please finish your beverage before going into the sanctuary.” and have an usher or greeter at the door who can ask anyone walking in with food or beverage to finish it before going into service.
This church is also going to replace these signs with wayfinding signage, pointing guests to restrooms, kids check-in, guest services, and their coffee shop.
Ok, I can hear you from the other side of my keyboard. Adam, you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.
Remember: You only have one opportunity to make a first impression, and if anything that I’ve said resonates true with a visitor, it’s worth considering.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment so we can all learn together:
One of the reasons (if not THE reason) that Social Media is so popular and engrained in our culture is that humans have a need for interaction, engagement and relationship, and too often I hear of social media managers at churches saying “I just want to use my page / account / channel to let people know what’s going on” – basically, they’re saying “I want to broadcast”.
Here’s a timeline I see over and over:
Broadcast information about an event > Pay to Boost the broadcast post > No guests show up, just our members > Paying was a waste of money > Broadcast information about next event
But what if we created a social media model centered around relationships. There are 2 types of relationships that we can leverage: Existing and potential.
Outside of Social Media, there are these real life people (I know, sometimes hard to wrap your mind around) who have real-life friendships. I’m not knocking friends who have met on Facebook, but there are relationships and connections that you have with people all around you that happened outside of social media and are strengthened through that connection.
Give you current people the tools to invite their friends, family, co-workers or neighbors on Social Media. Here are some ideas:
For Easter or Christmas, usually 3 weeks ahead, we send out an email blast to all of our members with 5 or 6 images that act as invites to our Easter weekend or Christmas Eve services. They are worded to be coming from the person that posts them, not our church, like ‘Would you join me at Easter?’ or ‘My family would love to celebrate Easter with you!’ or ‘Send me a private message, and I’ll save a seat for you.’ This gives our people an easy image to share that has all of the elevate details. Some people will post to Facebook, twitter or instagram and others will send them as a text message or in an email.
We create images that say something about being welcome at Life Church. Often “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, you’re welcome at Life Church.” When people share them to their personal profiles for their friends, it’s so open ended that it often start discussions for them, either publicly or privately and sometime IRL (…in real life…).
Create ads or event-based posts to be focussed on the opportunity to build relationships. Even in our connected, digital culture, there are lots of people who are lonely, and looking for people to build friendships with. When creating content for the purpose of promoting the opportunity to build relationships, give clear details and a simple way to respond.
Love riding your motorcycle? We’re riding on Saturday morning at 8am leaving from Life Church.
Moms: If your infant was choking would you know what to do? Learn with other moms at our CPR class Thursday, 10am at Life Church.
COFFEE SHOP GRAND OPENING: Bring this coupon for a free coffee! (have people from your church hanging out at your new coffee shop to talk with people in line or sitting in the seats and introduce themselves, etc.)
Using Facebook targeting, you can target people in certain geographic areas, with certain interests, age groups and relationship statuses (ie. married, single engaged) and this is the best way to narrow down your audience to someone who may connect with what you’re offering. (Click here for more about that…)
Outside of ads, use Social to connect with other organizations and businesses to spread your awareness:
Thanks to XYZ restaurant for catering staff lunch today!
These guys are fast! Our Air Conditioning wasn’t working this morning at Church and they had to fixed before service started. THANK YOU!
Share or RT or Like posts about other events in your community – maybe from other non-profits or worthy causes promoted by businesses – to get exposure for your church.
There are 4 reasons why someone comes to your church – not just the first time, but every time. This person may change their reason over time, but how you communicate with them will help determine why they come back.
First, I’ll outline the 4 reasons, then how to connect with those people based on their reason.
With Compulsion (or conviction) these people come because they believe it’s the right thing to do – not necessarily because they want to, but because of an obligation or guilt if they don’t. This could be coming to Mothers’ Day service to make Mom happy, coming to their niece or nephew’s Christmas concert, or showing up because they’re scheduled for nursery and don’t want to let someone down.
Maybe church is part of their tradition at Easter or Christmas, even though they aren’t really sure (or not interested in) where they stand with God, or they feel obligated to be in church our of guilt to make amends with God.
This is when someone sees a friend who shares a Facebook post, or find your video on youtube or drives by and sees your sign, or gets invited by a friend. Hopefully they have an idea of what to expect from your church, but until they experience it, they’re curious as to what that experience is like. It could be hesitancy, or excitement. They’ve come through the door not entirely sure what to expect.
This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s their first visit – maybe they’re curious about your new series, or new pastor or haven’t been in a while or just moved back to the area and want to know what church is like now. It’s even possible that this person comes every week, and their curious about your bumper video or to find out what songs your worship team will pick.
Unfortunately, once the novelty wears off, so will this person’s curiosity, so you have to move them to another reason to come back.
This person likes to be part of something. They love to see the same faces at the same time, shake hands, invite in new people and build friendships. For these people, serving is a privilege: a chance to be part of the ‘family’, and the chance to get together for coffee or a meal after church. This could also reflect that they like your style of worship or the way people respond to the speaker or a monthly social event your church hosts.
Sometimes a person who is focussed primarily on community will come weeks or months before getting saved or committing their life to Jesus, since it’s possible that’s secondary in their mind to the community. They could eventually stop coming to your church and get involved in a weekly soup kitchen or other community organization or even take a job that requires them to work every weekend where they feel a stronger attachment to community.
This is the bullseye on the target where you point people to. If they’re coming to your church because of their commitment, this is vision and values centered, and starts to become part of who they are. You’ll hear them say “I’m part of XYZ church” rather than “I go to XYZ church.”
Very little (if anything) could dissuade them from being part of your church, serving the assignment God has given you and connecting others to the vision. When a new initiative is released, they figure out how to get behind it.
How to move people toward Commitment
Knowing that commitment is the bullseye, how do we communicate in a way that draws people there?
Generally (and loosely) speaking, if someone starts with Conviction / Compulsion, then the next step is curiosity moving to community, then commitment. Some people skip the “Compulsion” stage and start with Curiosity > Community > Commitment.
Compulsion to Curiosity
Capitalize on the opportunities you know are going to be well-attended by the compulsion people. When your kids sing at the Christmas Concert, invite those visitors back for Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve, promote your January series. Host a Valentines dinner and send out an email to everyone who has visited your church only once in the past 12 months. On Easter, talk about your Summer events. At your summer event, talk about your back to school service… try and create ways to spark some curiosity.
Curiosity to Community
Talk often about the community you’re creating. This is a shotgun approach helping everyone who came because of any reason to find a way to get connected. As people move through the different reasons, there will always be a need for community, even if it’s not the driving force.
Play on people’s curiosity to attract new people to your church – don’t try and attract them using compulsion. Get them through the door based on their curiosity, then talk about your community as a way for them to come back.
First, let me remind you that even though you’re moving this person to come back because of commitment, never give up on piquing their curiosity or talking about community.
Move people from coming for community to coming because of commitment by modelling it for them – give them hope, give them a family to be part of, give them a goal and a vision and help them find their place there.
Show videos of families who are in the commitment realm and talk about that journey. Model commitment in those who are put in leadership and help leaders who slip into compulsion to restore their excitement for the vision.
Thank your committed people often, and let those in the compulsion, curiosity or community category see the fulfilment of bringing people to know Jesus by living out your church’s values and vision.
I would love to hear how you’ve seen these steps working for you. What are some of the ways you’ve found to move people toward commitment? Leave a comment below!
The question still remains, how do you follow up with someone after they’ve visited for the first time?
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen with a follow-up process in churches is it expires too soon… it’s too quick or too short. If someone has never been to church before and comes this Sunday, then they changed the schedule that they’ve adopted for their whole life by coming to church this Sunday.
If you send one piece of correspondence (even if it’s really good and they come back next Sunday) then stop corresponding, you’re hoping that someone who has spent decades of their life not going to church is going to change that pattern in 2 weeks.
What we like to do is roll out some invites to come back to Sunday service, but also opportunities to connect in other ways like small groups, special events or an invitation to have coffee with a pastor. We’re trying to reach a variety of different people in a variety of different ways.
I’ll also say that this process is not been perfected. We implemented it using TextInChurch.com within the last year (as of when this blog post is being written) and it has undergone 1 re-evaluation. I expect it will take many more evaluations to get us where we want to be.
There are 2 ways to implement TextInChurch.com – one way is to invite first-time guests to text a keyword like “New” or “Guest” to your text number to begin the automated process. Another way is to collect those guests names, emails and phone numbers on paper (like a connection card) and then enter them into the system to follow up. We offer our guests both options.
(Text in church also offers a pre-made follow-up setup – you can adjust it as you needed. We decided to use portions of their template and customize other aspects)
In a snapshot, here was our process when I was working at Life Church. Envelope on the left is email, phone on the left is a text message:
What this process above doesn’t show you is that the system automatically kicks back a reply that says “Thank you for joining us this weekend. Please click here to complete your information.” It asks for name, email and cell phone if that wasn’t manually put into the system)
• 1st Email – Immediately – this email comes from ou Care Pastor’s email address, and if someone hits reply, it goes straight to him.
Thanks for joining us this weekend at Life Church. I hope that you had the opportunity to Encounter God and Experience Life. If you have any questions, please just hit reply to this email and I’d be happy to answer them for you. You can find out what’s coming up by visiting our website: lifechurch.net
See you next Sunday, 9am or 11:15am!
Team Pastor, Life Church
• Text that goes out Sunday – same day they visited:
Thanks for joining us this weekend at Life Church. Connect with us online: Like us on Facebook: http://on.fb.me/1I4IM8k or on twitter: http://bit.ly/1T54b82
• Text 5 days on Friday:
Our team is looking forward to Encountering God and Experiencing Life with you this Sunday at Life Church: 9am or 11:15am!
• Email in 4 days (Thursday) first week:
I’m really excited for this weekend coming up at Life Church and I’m looking forward to having you join us again as we Encounter God and Experience Life.
We have 2 Sunday services: 9am or 11:15am. If you’re not available to join us on campus, you can also watch online: LifeChurch.net
If you have any questions, feel free to let me know. Looking forward to seeing you again!
Team Pastor, Life Church
• Email 8 days later (hopefully after they visited the 2nd time, but worded like they can catch up with us if they missed it).
God is speaking to us in incredible ways at Life Church as we partner together to Advance The Kingdom.
If you’d like to listen again to previous messages from Pastor Ryan and guest speakers, there are 2 ways:
If you have any questions, I’d love to go for coffee and meet with you. Let me know when would be the best time to connect.
Team Pastor, Life Church
• 12 days text on Saturday:
Looking forward to Encountering God and Experiencing Life with you tomorrow at Life Church: 9 or 11:15, or if you’re not available, watch live at lifechurch.net
• 19 days text on Saturday:
Is there something you’d like us to pray for? Just reply and let us know. See you tomorrow 9 or 11:15 at Life Church.
• 20 days Email:
This is Jason from Life Church. I oversee our Life Groups.
Life Groups are small groups that meet at various locations throughout Lee County. Every group provides an environment for people to connect relationally, care for one another and grow together in their relationship with Christ, and I’d like to help you find a group that works for you.
Each group meets on a different frequency (some weekly, bi-weekly or monthly) and range from Bible study groups to groups that connect based on common interests.
You can see our full list of groups and sign up online here: http://www.lifechurch.net/lifegroups/ and after participating in a group to see what it’s like, let me know if you’re interested in hosting or leading a group yourself.
Also, for 6th-12th Graders, we have Elevate Youth every Wednesday (Free Dinner at 6pm, Service at 7pm) and Gen Y 18-29 year old singles Tuesdays at 7pm.
If you have any questions, just reply to this email and I’ll be happy to answer them for you.
• 30 days text on a Wednesday:
Most people make their weekend plans by Wednesday or Thursday. Today is a perfect day to invite someone to join you at Life Church this weekend! 9 or 11:15
Apart from these follow-up texts and emails, when they visit the first time, their email address is put on our weekly email newsletter list (using mailchimp.com) so they receive a weekly email showing a few upcoming events and a list of everything happening in the next 7 days.
About twice a month, an email is sent out where we video our Lead Pastor talking for 3-4 minutes about what’s happening or coming up at church (we call it “Coffee With Pastor Ryan”)
We also include key events as text messages to everyone in our database – we haven’t utilized this to the fullest yet, but things like Christmas Eve Service reminders, Easter Service times, daylight savings or community events will have text reminders sent out to everyone in the database with a link to more information.
We also are able to send a message to only those in the “new’ category – not our regular attendees – so we will send out a link to the first new members class that is on the calendar since they visited.
So depending on the season, within the first 30 days, a new visitor will probably get around 15 messages from us, then continue to receive the weekly email newsletter/updates after that initial 30 days.
Text in church is currently offering a 30-day trial, and 25% off of your subscription once you discover how simple and effective their process is for getting your guests to return. Learn more here:
Have a question about our process? Ask it here! Have something that’s been working for you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below:
I had the chance to connect with Jason Young (@JasonYoungLive) who oversees Guest Services for Northpoint Ministries. I toured the church as an extension of That Church Conference in Atlanta, and then Jason spoke with our whole group about how they approach guest services across multiple campuses.
Jason gave us 7 concepts to take away about how one of the fastest growing churches (and one of the largest) focusses on an experience that makes people want to come back. With his permission, I’m sharing these 7 come back ideas with you. I’m going to paraphrase the summary of the ideas in my own words.
When we create an experience, we’re actually creating 2 experiences
We’re creating an experience for the guest (That’s the obvious one) but we’re also creating an experience for the volunteers. Of those 2 experiences, focus most on the volunteer experience. If your volunteers feel welcome and part of what’s going on at your church, they’ll create an environment that welcomes guests to make them feel a part of what’s going on at your church.
Choose Hospitality over Service
Service is the act of what we’re doing (ie. opening a door for someone) but Hospitality is focussed around who we are – we welcome people when we open the door, ask how their week was when we hand them the pen, smile and thank them for coming as we show them the closest parking spot. Your guests won’t walk away saying “Wow, the way the door got opened was exactly the right speed.” or “Did you see how they handed me the pen with their left hand so they could shake my right hand?”
Hopefully they’ll walk away saying “I felt welcome,” or “They were really helpful.”
Elevate the Dignity of each guest
We don’t know what someone has been through in the last month, week, day or even few minutes. Whether someone is having a bad day, or even if they’re having a good day, find a way to make it a great day.
It’s a WIN when guest services becomes a culture, not a department
If you hear someone saying “I don’t open doors, that’s a guest services thing.” or they walk past a piece of trash and leave it for the custodian to pick up, then those are indications that guest services is a department. If you sound guy walks into the lobby and sees someone looking lost and points them in the right direction, or a parking lot attendant helps a mom with her bags so she can bring her child to class – that’s a win. When everyone realizes that guest services is part of who you are, you’re on your way to creating that culture.
How we feel about a guest walking in will be directly reflected in how they feel walking out.
See a person, not a crowd. Hear a story, not noise.
Each person matters and has a story. If you choose to connect with that one person in that one moment and give them your full attention and be fully present, you’ll create a rare connection that is difficult to find in our busy world, and that rare connection with you will be connected to your church.
Small wins feel good and create momentum
Celebrate wins within your guest services team. Someone asks for a pen and the conversation leads to the accepting Jesus – that’s a win. Someone found your church on google and came for the first time – that’s a win. A new family says their kids loved your church and want to come back – that’s a win! Each time you celebrate a win, you are helping your team realize and recognize that they are making an impact on the come back decision.
What are the major touch points (At the Bulkhead campus, those are Parking lot, entrance, finding your way in the lobby, information and auditorium.) How will visitors experience these touch points, and how do they transition between them. Analyze each “Scene” as a piece of the puzzle, but view each scene in the context of the full experience – not isolated from each other.
If you’re visiting the Atlanta area, check out Buckhead church. Check out how they live out each of these steps, and in the mean time follow Jason on twitter: @JasonYoungLive