ATTRACTING FIRST TIME VISITORS
People join a church only after first visiting. Thus, an effective growth strategy must include 1) attracting, and 2) retaining visitors. Much of this issue is taken from the new book–Attracting New Members– by Robert Bast. The book is a helpful resource in developing an effective visitor strategy.
Here are three suggestions for seeing your first-time visitor rate increase, presented in the way they might be experienced by a non-churched person, but in the reverse order of importance and effectiveness.
STEP ONE: ADVERTISING
A congregation serious about growth will spend a minimum of five percent of its budget on advertising. Here are areas that might be included:
1. Yellow Pages
This will be effective in reaching new residents looking for a church. Market research indicates people under age 40 use the Yellow Pages frequently. Take as large an ad as possible, and include both your advertising theme and a brief reference to several specific ministries in your congregation.
Mailing effectiveness grows with a) the frequency of your mailings (plan a minimum of six); b) the focus of your mailings (the
more specific your target group, the better the results). Try this:
* January-An introductory letter of greeting with a well-designed brochure introducing the church.
* March – Send your schedule of Lenten observances extending an invitation to the Easter service.
* April – A letter of invitation to a “Inquirer’s Class” mailed the week before, Easter, for a class beginning the Sunday after Easter.
* July – An invitation to a church social event. Perhaps ice cream sundaes on the church lawn. Information about Bible Study groups is included.
* Early September – An invitation to church following summer vacation, with a brochure on educational opportunities, classes, and other events in the fall.
* November or December – A mailing inviting people to the Christmas service, plus a new brochure on the church.
3. Newspaper Advertising
Advertising designed to reach the unchurched should run in the section of the paper most likely to be read by the people to whom the message is addressed.
4. Radio Advertising
Churches should be particularly conscious of the opportunity to communicate their message during the Christmas and Easter seasons, and should develop a planned advertising program to take advantage of the openness of people to a spiritual message in these times.
If the question is, What do we advertise?” the answer is, “our church’s program.” A church program is most attractive when:
a) it provides for all age groups: b) it is broadly based; c) it is of high quality; d) it is specifically and intentionally designed to reach the unchurched; e) it is specifically directed to your target audience.Programs are developed as people-needs are identified. In a church I formerly served, we became aware that four members of the congregation were all battling cancer. Out of the experience of those cancer patients and their families came a decision to form a cancer support group as a ministry to the community.
By far the most important aspect of a congregation’s ability to attract new members is the degree to which members invite others.
Between 75-90% of all adults who join a congregation are first brought by a friend or relative. There is no more effective method of church growth than the personal invitations extended by church members.Lyle Schaller notes : “The congregations in which members invite others to come to church with them usually display these characteristics: a) the members are enthusiastic about their faith as Christians, b) the members are enthusiastic about this congregation, c) the members are enthusiastic about the current pastor, d) the congregation as a whole conveys the expectation that members will invite others to come to church with them, e) most of the members actively and enthusiastically greet and welcome visitors, and f) that particular program or, if it is on Sunday morning, that worship experience is planned on the assumption that first-time visitors will be present. This means minimizing references to `last week,’ to congregational problems, to administrative concerns or to `in house’ jokes that leave the stranger mystified.”
Does the relevance of faith in a church member’s daily life have an affect on that church’s growth? A Gallup Poll asked, “How important is your faith in your daily life?” to over 8,000 church members. A close relationship was found between the growth rate of the denomination and the responses by members in that denomination. Highest response was among Southern Baptists (74% said “very important”). Among Lutherans 55% responded “very important;” United Methodists 53%; Presbyterians 46%; Episcopalians 42%. Other research confirms the importance of spiritual dynamic in a growing church. Providing spiritual “relevance” should be part of a church’s growth strategy. The new planning kit-In His Steps-is an excellent way to help members ask, “what would Jesus do?” in their daily life. An excellent preEaster week emphasis. See enclosed “Resource Bulletin” for more information.
After the first visit, a decision to return is a result of six factors, in this order:
1. The Friendliness and Warmth of the Church
A study by the United Methodist Church found: “When both unchurched and churched people are asked what they look for in a
church, all agree on one factor – the climate of the congregation. They are looking for a church in which they feel at home, where the people are friendly, and where there is a warm and comfortable atmosphere.” This attitude is primarily conveyed 1) when visitors first enter the building, and 2) when the formal service is over and people begin to leave. Help your members understand the need to approach and welcome anyone they do not recognize, or who appears to be alone.
2. The Character of the Worship Service
The issues reflecting on the character of the worship are:
Is it authentic? People want to experience the presence of God. They are looking for clarity and guidance to know what is right, and power to do it.
Does it echo with the notes of grace? People already know they are sinners. They don’t need to be convinced of that. What they need is affirmation of the reality and depth of God’s love for them.
Is the worship celebrative? Worship is meant to be an uplifting experience that enables people to leave the service strengthened and equipped for life.
3. A Place for Children
Recent studies show that visitors perceive the needs of their children as a major factor in a decision to find a church. Baby-boomers (born between 1946-1964) include one-third of all Americans. Churches that provide opportunities for children will be effective in attracting these people.
4. The Adult Program
One way to involve unchurched adults is to offer involvement opportunities in which they can participate. Athletic events, classes,
musical or fitness groups, social gatherings can be designed to include unchurched people.
5. The Church Building
Your location and structure are fixed and, thus, not a factor you can change in your visitor attraction strategy. True? Only partially. It’s important to know what it is about your facility that attracts or deters visitors. Four key questions are: Is your church accessible? What is the condition of your property? Do you have adequate space?
Growing churches have a common characteristic – lay leaders and professional staff intuitively make growth-oriented responses to issues facing the church. This “growth conscience” comes over time and exposure to church growth thinking. Some authorities suggest around 200 hours of reading, observing, learning about church growth is necessary before it becomes intuitive. For laity, an excellent way to build this “growth conscience” is through visualizing models of growth (over 75% of Americans are visually, rather than verbally, oriented). The enclosed flyer on church growth films/videos describes excellent visual resources. For pastors/staff, “How To Diagnose & Renew Your Church” Conference is one of the most helpful learning experiences available. See the “Growth Resource Bulletin” for seminar dates this spring.
Churches that do well in seeing newcomers return have certain common qualities:
1. A Positive Identity and Self Image
A positive self-image means that members have good feelings about their congregation. A positive identity means that members believe their church is special and they has something unique to offer. These characteristics have much to do with desire and ability to reach out.
2. Congregational Harmony
Churches equipped for growth are unified. There are no major conflicts in the church, there is an essential agreement about the
style and ministry of the congregation, and the people love and care for one another.
3. Pastoral Enthusiasm
Congregations equipped for growth have enthusiastic pastors who believe in the potential of the church. These pastors are full of hope and inspire confidence in the members. A key part of this is energetic and enthusiastic worship leadership.
4. Ministry in the Community
Congregations attracting visitors nearly always have specific ministry in the community. This community ministry authenticates and affirms the church’s message of love. The ministry helps people believe the word proclaimed and makes invitations from the congregation more readily accepted.
5. Small Group Opportunities
Congregations keeping visitors have various small group opportunities which serve as entry points. These small groups allow people to become friends, and to deepen relationships. They represent a variety of interests and activities to which people can be invited.