Over the last seven years, one of the most important responsibilities I have had is helping people move from attending our service to becoming faithful members of our church. As I have developed a Guest Follow Up system for our church, I have tried a lot of different approaches. Many of these approaches have not been my best ideas, but thankfully, a midst many underwhelming solutions, there have been three principles that I have discovered along the way that have greatly improved how we follow up with guests.
Design A Map, Not A Menu
I recently went to a Mexican restaurant with a friend. We picked up the menu and we were completely overwhelmed by all the options (It rivaled Cheesecake Factory’s 250+ item menu). Between burritos, tamales, tacos, chimichangas, and more, we felt disoriented from all the options. As the waiter took our order, I didn’t even choose an option on the menu, I just described something I had had before and my friend just said, “I will have what he is having.”
Many church’s bulletins and websites look like an overcrowded menu and their guests often are as often overwhelmed by the options. Studies have shown that the more choices that people have, the less likely they are to choose something (Think about how many more hours you spend on Netflix trying to pick out a movie). One of the biggest mistakes that churches make is that they send people a menu of options, when instead they should be laying out a map of suggested next steps.
The most important part of designing a Guest Follow-Up is to create a map, not a menu. Create a system that has remarkable depth, not breadth. You are not asking your guests to build their own adventure, but asking them to follow you as guide them through the best experience available. You want to provide obvious, easy, and strategic steps that move your guest from attending their first Sunday to becoming fully engaged in your church.
Answer The Right Question
Over the years, one of the biggest mistakes that I made was that I created our assimilation process with an insider’s mentality. When I thought through a guest’s next step, I looked at our church’s pathway and reasonably concluded that getting involved in a group was the next step after you gather with us on Sunday morning. The problem was that this was our next step for a guest, but not the guest’s next step for themselves. As you drive off the church property from your first visit, the question you are considering is not “Should I get in a Small Group?,” but instead, “Should I come back next week?” For a long time, I asked a good question, but at the wrong time.
One of the most important aspects of creating an effective Guest Follow Up system is to answer the question that the guest is having at that exact moment. Far too often, we answer questions that guests are either not interested in or are not asking yet. Nelson Searcy gives a simple, but helpful framework: Return-Relationship-Responsibility. Guests go through three progressive stages in their involvement with the church. At first guests are deciding if they want to return to your church. Once they have decided this, they want to build relationships with other members. And lastly, they want to take on responsibility of helping lead the church. For years, I was asking guests to build relationships before they knew if they wanted to return. I was answering a question they weren’t asking. Thinking through where a guest is along this framework will greatly increase your strategy.
Create A Continual On-Ramp
One of the most effective strategies that we have implemented at The Chapel has been creating an assimilation event for guests. Our event is a class called First Step. Another popular assimilation event is Lunch with the Pastor. To have some type of assimilation event is a no-brainer. The better question is how often should you have it?
For years, our church offered an assimilation event three to four times a year. This frequency was dictated by how many guests attended First Step. We never had an overflowing room, so we never started another class. The problem was that we didn’t have an overflowing room because we didn’t start a new event. With our previous quarterly rhythm, we had guests who attended our church the week after First Step and when they asked, “What do we do next?” We would have to say, “Sit tight. Our next First Step is in three months.” In my experience, I rarely saw those people at the next First Step, in fact, most of them, I didn’t see again.
Our team looks to create a continual on-ramp for our guests. From the moment he or she walks in to our church service, we want to invite them to an event specifically designed for them in the next month. As we have done this, we have seen our guest attendance at First Step nearly triple.