By Tim Massengale
The story is told of a pastor and his wife who were on their way home from a Bible conference. It was their normal Bible study night and they were still several days’ drive from home so they decided to attend church that evening in an upcoming town.
They arrived in town around dinner time and stopped to eat at a local restaurant before going on to church. As they drove into the restaurant parking lot a lot-attendant directed them to an open parking space. As they approach the door, a door-keeper greeted them and opened the door. After stepping inside the maitre’d greeted them with a smile and said, “Table for two? It will only be a minute. Can I get you something to drink while you wait?”
They were soon seated and the maitre’d introduced them to their waiter, who recommended the evening specials and soon took their order. After a delicious meal they paid the casher who smiled sweetly and encouraged their soon return. The last thing they saw was the lot attendant waving good-by.
Then they drove on down the street to the church.
No one met them in the parking lot. No one greeted them at the door. No one greeted them in the vestibule. No one showed them to a seat. No one came by to welcome them. They sat through a rather dry Bible study and afterwards only the pastor stopped to speak and upon finding out he was a visiting pastor expressed regret he had not known so he could have had him testify. After a brief chat the visiting preacher and his wife went out to their car and drove off.
Turning to his wife, the pastor remarked, “You know, my dear, if they had both given an invitation, I believe I would have joined the restaurant.”
Effective Visitor Follow-up
An effective visitor reception and visitor follow-up program should be a high priority in every church. Why? Well, first, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. And secondly, your visitors are, without a doubt, your very best prospects for salvation. Consider the following reasons:
1) Ninety percent of the visitors that come to your church know someone within your church. Most of our churches have few “walk-ins.”
2) They are often searching for something spiritual or they would not have come.
3) They (hopefully) felt the power of God in your service.
4) Most important, the Word of God was planted in their heart by the power of preaching.
5) And finally, most all that receive the Holy Ghost in our services have come more than one time. Having now come the first time, we can begin working to get them back again. Each visit increases their chances of going to the altar.
For a church to neglect so great an opportunity as their visitors and spend money, time and effort on a less likely prospect, is poor judgment. Every effort should be given to make each visitor feel welcome, wanted, and involved in the service. We should ‘roll out the red carpet,’ so to speak.
What makes a visitor feel comfortable and their visit a spiritual experience? Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, that ye have love one to another (John 13:35).” When love is honestly being expressed, visitors will sense a genuine welcome and concern. People do not necessarily feel welcome by the mechanical things we often do to welcome them (i.e., greeters at the door, filling out cards, or pulpit welcome). Instead, visitors sense welcome when saints go out of their way to speak to them and be friendly. Assigned greeters are good. Everyone being a greeter is better. To this end the church must be taught and continually encouraged.
Then, after the guest leaves, every effort should be made to encourage them to return a second and third time. Few people receive the Holy Ghost or request to be baptized the first time they come. Most observers know that a person will not normally make a move toward God until they have come three to five times. So an important key to active altars and steady church growth is to get the first-time visitor back.
There are four basic steps to good visitor follow-up which even the smallest church will be able to perform (even if the pastor must do most of it himself).
A Personal Phone Call
Every visitor should be telephoned the day after their visit. The conversation should be very short and simple. Perhaps something like:
Hi, this is Debbie from First Pentecostal Church. Pastor Collins asked me to call and let you know how much he appreciated you visiting with us in service this past Sunday, and if there is anything else we can do, please let us know!”
The intent of the call is to simply leave a warm feeling in the heart of the visitor. It should be low key and not pushy. Rather, the visitor should put the phone down thinking, “My, that was mighty considerate of them!” The call simply says “we care.”
A Personal Letter
The pastor’s personal letter should arrive a few days latter. It should also be warm, caring, and not give the impression of being a “form letter.” In this letter the pastor should offer his services as a pastor and encourage them to contact them if they have any questions or special needs.
A Personal Visit
The visit is the most important part of the follow-up process. A growing church of one-hundred that is regularly encouraging members to bring visitors should be giving out an average of four to six visitor follow-up assignments each week. The visits can be made by the pastor, his full-time staff, and / or selected saints within the church.
Those doing the visiting must be properly trained. They must not be pushy or offensive in any way. Your follow-up team is usually not made up of volunteers. Instead they are drafted. In other words, they should be the very best we have to offer. We can’t allow just anyone to visit our best prospects. They should know how to present themselves properly and be kind and polite.
There are three areas that we try to address each time we visit. First, we invite them to whatever is the next ‘big event’ that our church is going to have: revival, song-fest, drama, seminar, etc. Offer free tickets, a nice flyer, transportation — whatever will encourage them to attend.
Second, we offer them a home Bible study. Train your workers to simply say, “Have you heard about our free home Bible study program? No? Let me tell you about it!” The worker then ‘sells’ it a bit (learn the Bible, taught in your own home, trained teacher, totally free, Genesis to Revelation, Bible the only curriculum, full color charts, etc.). They are then asked, “Would you be interested?” Don’t be discouraged if they say ‘no.’ Most people do not accept a Bible study until they have been asked three or four times.
Finally, we ask them if there is anything important that they would like us to pray about. We stress that we have prayer teams that will take their requests before God and that we regularly see miracles happen. They will often open up and share the latest crisis they are going through and how badly they need God to move in their behalf. When possible we offer to pray with them right on the door step. Often the Spirit will move and they will begin to weep, which will lead them to open up more about their need for God, further discussion about the plan of salvation, and a willingness to accept a Bible study and attend church that Sunday.
Each visitor should be visited at least four times (we visit as long as they are receptive) putting three to four months between each visit. The same worker should be assigned each time as long as the last visit was productive. Only now they ask, “Have you thought any more about that home Bible study I was telling you about?” And follow-up questions about special needs such as, “How is your mom doing since her heart attack?” or “Has your husband found a job yet?” It is also recommended that a small gift is given with each visit: an attractive tin of chocolate kisses, chocolate chip cookies, or pumpkin rolls are always well received.
Church Mailing List
All visitors should be placed on your church mailing list. If your church has a nice bulletin or newsletter, this should be mailed each month. Otherwise, regularly send them flyers and announcements. What this does is keep some kind of contact with them for an extended time. It reminds them that we are here and that we care. It also informs them of any special services or programs that we have coming up. And most important, it says to them, “you are no longer a stranger here, you are welcome, you belong.”
Research has shown that most people come to God as a result of a crisis: A death in the family, marital problem, sickness, financial difficulties, and others. It is at these times that a person cries out for help, realizing their need for God. You cannot force a person to live for God, they must want to. For this reason, the visitor follow- up ministry must not try to push a person or pressure them into a decision or Bible study. Rather, it should simply express our sincere love and interest in them as people. Then, when they go through a crisis, and suddenly they see their need of God, they will ask themselves, “Where can I find Him? I know! That church I visited! They have been so kind. They made be feel so welcome. They have visited written letters, telephoned, mailed their bulletin . . . and I felt God there! That’s where I’m going to go!” That is exactly what we want them to think.
So, in light of the above, what kind of visitor follow-up program do you have – weekly or weakly? Surely, if a person cared enough to take time out of their busy schedule, get cleaned and dressed up, then drive several miles to visit our services – we should be willing to get cleaned up and dressed up to do the same for them. We should show Christian love and concern for their soul. Visitor follow-up is an excellent way of doing exactly that!