FOLLOWING UP ON WORSHIP SERVICE VISITORS
Probably the people most receptive to the gospel are those who have a good experience on their first visit to the church’s worship service and who are visited shortly afterwards.
Reasons for worship attendance may vary considerably. People may be “church shopping” because of dissatisfaction with their home church; they may be new residents who are looking for a church home; they may have dropped out of church some years ago and are now looking for a new relationship with Christ and the church; they may have received an invitation to worship from friends or neighbors; they may be a divorced woman and her children who are looking for a church home; they may be searching for meaning or ending a period of rebellion; they may come because of the witness of a co-worker who attends a
different church altogether; they may be attracted by the reputation of a pastor; they may be a couple who belong to different denominations and are looking for yet another denomination as a solution to their differences. The reasons are as varied as the people who come.
If, on the visit, people find a warm and accepting atmosphere, a cordial greeting, and a life-related message that is positive, challenging, and uplifting, they may return. Or they may not!
There is no substitute for home visits, especially on first-time worship attenders. Research in the United Methodist Church indicates that 85 percent of laypersons visited in their homes within the first thirty-six hours after worship attendance will return; 60 percent of those visited within seventy-two hours will return, and 15 percent of those visited within one week will return. Each of these percentages is cut in half if the pastor, rather than a layperson, does the visiting. (Net Results, January 1986).
Some churches have many worship visitors each week. Others have only one or two. In each case, follow-up is essential if the church has a harvest mentality. Churches that have only occasional visitors sometimes assume that follow-up on church attenders is for the fast-growing churches with a reputation for exciting worship services. Fast-growing churches, however, often start by concentrating on winning every
possible person in every possible way. Though today they may have dozens of first-time visitors every Sunday, at first they had only a few. However, they visited these potential new members, and when these first-time visitors became members, they were enthusiastic about the church. They in turn brought in more
first-time visitors, and the pattern of growth continued.
The church can only follow up on visitors if it learns their names and addresses. The entire congregation’s cooperation is needed, since this often requires changes in the worship service. How can a church learn visitor’s names and addresses!
Here are some suggestions:
* Instead of appointing worship greeters in alphabetical rotation, train a few greeters with the gift of hospitality or encouragement to be permanent greeters. These greeters should know all or most of the
members of the congregation. Before each service they should concentrate on greeting visitors and making them feel at home while obtaining their names and addresses. After the service, the greeters should make an effort to introduce visitors to the pastor.
* Set up a clearly identified visitor center in the church narthex. Members and greeters can bring visitors to the visitor center to sign the guest register and receive a packet of information about the church. Appoint one or more members to staff the visitor center.
* Incorporate a “friendship ritual” in each worship service, where the pastor welcomes both the congregation and visitors and where all worshipers-members and visitors alike-register their names on a
pad passed down each pew. When the pad is passed back to where it started, people can learn the names of visitors in the same pew and greet them after the service. The registration sheet on the pad may be called by a name such as “Faces in the Pew” or “Let’s Get Acquainted” or “There’s a Place for You at Fellowship Church.”
* In the hymnal rack, provide cards that register people and record needs or prayer requests. During the worship service ask both members and visitors to fill in a card-usually just before the offering, so that the card can be dropped in the offering plate. Again, both members and regular visitors should participate, since few first-time visitors will sign a pad or fill in a card unless the members also do so.
* Some churches welcome first-time visitors and then ask them to stand briefly while the ushers distribute visitor packets to each one. In the visitor packet is a card, which visitors are asked to fill out and either mail or drop into the offering plate. The congregation may then applaud the new visitors as a way of saying, “Great! We’re glad you are here.” Make the visitor packet too large to put in a purse or pocket, so that
members can easily identify visitors after the service and engage them in conversation.
* Some churches have a special tear-off section on the bulletin that visitors are urged to fill out and place in the offering plate.
* Some larger churches with many first-time visitors welcome them to a brief visitors’ reception following the service. At the reception, visitors are served simple refreshments and offered an information packet. The pastor tries to personally meet as many of the visitors as possible.
* Other large churches have a Sunday school class that has the same lesson and procedure each Sunday, in which visitors are introduced and information packets are distributed. The teacher presents the gospel
and explains how to become a member of church. This method works best when Sunday school comes after the morning worship service.
Churches can develop their own methods and take a good look at how to make visitors feel at home by using the EVANGELISM AND WORSHIP workshop available from Church Development Resources. They can also order a separate section of the workshop material, “Guidelines for Ushers and Greeters.”
Do We Call on All First-Time Visitors?
Every church that does this kind of calling learns to exclude some people from its list. Obviously, out-of-town visitors are not called on. Members of other congregations may be excluded (you will have to learn this by trial and error). If visitors are relatives of members, it may be best to call the members and ask if their relatives would appreciate a visit. Those visitors whose names are not given to follow up callers
should nonetheless be sent a letter or postcard thanking them for their visit and cordially inviting them to come again. A postcard with a picture of the church is ideal for this purpose. The pastor’s personal signature adds to this gesture of hospitality.
Is an Immediate Visit Best?
The research done by the United Methodist Church indicates that visits made on Monday and Tuesday are most effective. (Some churches even visit that Sunday.) Some congregations with a large volume of visitors use a different procedure: First-time visitors receive a phone call and/or a letter from the church. Second-time visitors receive a visit from a calling team.
Is It Best to Phone Ahead?
An article on this subject in Net Results (January 1985) indicates that most churches have found it best not to call ahead. The article reports that experienced visitors find it more effective to stop by without an appointment. The article suggests calling on ten first-time attenders without an appointment and trying to make an appointment with another ten. Churches that engage regularly in this kind of calling soon find
that answers to practical questions are answered by experience.
As in all calling programs, the church should be ready to adjust its strategy to fit local circumstances.
Who Should Do This Calling?
In small and beginning congregations, the pastor usually takes the leadership in this. If at all possible, he takes at least one other person along. In this way the work of visitation is accomplished and another person is equipped for this task. As the church grows, the pastor and the trainee do their calling separately, each taking along another person. After some time the pastor can drop out of the calling, except for daytime calls or those in which the first-time attender specifically requests a call from the pastor. When teams of members undertake the calling the pastor may decide to accompany them from time to time; and calling teams should ask each home they visit, “Would you like a call from our pastor?” Some research indicates that calls from member teams are more effective than calls from the pastor. Some churches, however, experience the exact opposite. It is important to discover the most effective approach for your community. If calls by the pastor are most effective, he ought to be relieved of other tasks if he is expected to make many follow-up calls of this kind.
The Call Itself
The primary aim of the first visit to first-time attenders is to listen, to assess needs, and to establish
relationship. Thank the people for coming to church and ask if they were made to feel at home. Did they enjoy the service? Are there any questions about the church or the worship service? What is their religious background? If they received an information packet about the church on Sunday, ask if you can explain or elaborate on some items. Review congregational activities or groups the people might be interested in, and be sure to issue an invitation for next Sunday.
Above all, however, listen. Try to stand in the shoes of the people you are visiting; be as helpful as you can.
If it becomes apparent that the host is a searching person who has never had an adult relationship with the church or is a church dropout on the way back, determine whether this first visit is the time to share the gospel or at least your personal testimony.
Evangelism Explosion, Congregational Evangelism Training, and Night of Caring have been especially successful where most of the calls are made on first-time church attenders. Other gospel explanations such as the Bridge to New Life may also be used. Callers, however, should make sure that they have built sufficient bridges to make a gospel presentation. The visit will be successful if the door is open to a second visit and the host returns to church the next Sunday.
As always, keep good records.
After the First Visit
Determine when the next visit should be scheduled and whether that visit should be by appointment (if one has not already been made) or unexpected in the regular routine of calling. It can also be very helpful if in the week following the visit someone will call to say, “We were delighted to have you at church this past Sunday. Would it be convenient for you to have lunch with us following this Sunday’s service?” The person who makes this call should be one of the follow-up callers or a church member who has several things in common with the prospective member.
Place the names of everyone visited on the church’s mailing list and issue a written invitation for the next
pastor’s class (known in some congregation as Discovery Class, Belonging Class, or Inquirers’ Class). The written invitation may be followed by a personal invitation, either in person or by telephone.
The Crestview Church in Boulder, Colorado, has developed the following form for visitor follow up. Note that the church has organized a Body Life Committee to make calls on worship visitors.
NEWCOMER’S INFORMATION SHEET BODY LIFE MINISTRY COMMITTEE CRESTVIEW CHURCH
Date of Visit____________
NAME(S) _____________________________ ________________________________
ADDRESS _____________________________ City________________ Zip________
Children Living at Home:
_____________________________ Birthdate __________ Grade _____
_____________________________ __________ _____
_____________________________ __________ _____
Prior Place of residence:
Prior Church Affiliation:
Current Occupation/Place of Employment:
Interests and Hobbies:
Involvement in Prior Church:
Situation of married or single children not at Home:
Additional special interest items and/or concerns:
What questions did the newcomer ask about Crestview?
What intent was expressed with regard to future participation in Crestview’s ministry?
____Strongly interested ____Mildly interested ____Not interested
I left the following information with this individual/family?
_____Church Directory _____Heidelberg Catechism
_____Belonging Booklet _____Time/Talent Survey Sheet
I contacted the following persons regarding this individual/family’s interest and talents:
_____Pastor ______Chairperson of Deacons
_____Education Director ______Campus Pastor
_____Choir Director ______Body Life Ministry Leader
I explained the following ministry opportunities to this individual/family:
_____Worship Services (A.M. & P.M.) _____Women’s Bible Study
_____House Church _____Moms & Tots
_____Adult Education _____Men’s Study Group
_____Church School _____Men’s Fellowship Breakfast
_____Children’s Worship _____Summer Program
_____Choir _____Crestview Camp
_____Calvinettes _____Graduate Bible Study
_____Cadets _____Community Service Programs
_____Pastor’s Class (Household Connections, Emergency Shelter, St. Tom’s Food Bank, Echo House)
I called to personally invite this individual/family to a particular program on the following date(s):
Date of Call: _______________________ Program: _______________________
Date of Call: _______________________ Program: _______________________
Date of Call: _______________________ Program: _______________________
The following person has agreed to serve as a “Partner” for this individual/family for the next 6 months:______________________________
Report submitted by:
Body Life Ministry Member
Churches should consider at least one annual program or activity especially designed to attract unchurched and unbelieving people in the community. Consider the following possibilities:
* annual vacation Bible school
* summertime backyard Bible Clubs
* a film series such as the Dobson series on the family
* musical programs such as a Christian band to attract youth, an organ concert, organ and choir concert, a concert featuring a well-known soloist, and so on
* an accredited speaker or workshop leader on a topic that meets a known community need such as marriage and family concerns, budgeting and other financial concerns, aging, nutrition, and so on
* a three-, six-, or twelve-week seminar such as the Family Life Series published by Church Development Resources.
* three or four days of crusade-type meetings culminating on a Sunday
In addition, a church may have ongoing activities that are
geared to the community or to both the community and the church:
* Sunday school
* boys’ and girls’ clubs
* small-group Bible study such as Coffee Break and Men’s Life
* week-day program for preschool children such as Story Hour
* support groups for single parents, divorced people, the widowed, parents experiencing tough problems with teenagers, Alcoholics Anonymous or Al Anon, and so on
* Parents’ Night Out-offering babysitting one night a week to enable parents to go shopping, see a movie, and so on
* Family Night-a light supper, followed by activities and classes appropriate to various age groups
Some forms of visitation require little or no record keeping. Distributing flyers to invite people to church, for example, requires merely that caller keep a record of significant conversations or a promise of a return visit.
Most forms of visitation, however, require excellent record keeping so that the church can effectively follow up on those who are receptive to the gospel and to further visits.
In an excellent chapter on visitation in Twelve Keys to an Effective Church (Harper & Row), Kennon L. Callahan observes that people are more likely to drive to a church that lies in the same direction as their work and major shopping centers. He also notes, “It will take possibly five visits to reach a household where the traffic direction pattern and the location of the church are compatible. It may take nine or more visits to reach a household if you are inviting them to go to church in a direction different from their normal traffic pattern” (p. 17). Herb Miller, editor of the evangelism newsletter New Results, writes that
“repetitive personal contact between nonmembers and members is the most important single factor in church growth” (Tools for Active Christians, Bethany Press). Miller suggests that a first-time worship visitor or other prospect should receive “a total of four calls during four consecutive weeks,” with the
pastor making a fifth “decision” call. In addition, Miller suggests that after new people have joined the church, they be contacted in three consecutive weekly visits by people involved in programs in which the new members or their children could be interested (pp. 83-84).
All of this suggests that careful records are very important for any organized visitation strategy. If the church adopts a plan in which different people visit the same home for a number of weeks or even if the same members return to the same home, callers should keep a record of the dates of those visits and some indication of what happened in the visit. In some instances the person visited will indicate that he or she is
definitely not interested in further contact. Continued contact would mean a serious intrusion in their lives. In other instances there may be unresolved questions that should be taken up in the next visit. A written record will note these things.
The church should have a card for each home or person it has contacted. “The holiest object in my church was a battered wooden box,” writes George Sweazey. “The congregation would not have been pleased to have it on the Communion table. It was not displayed among the symbols of our faith, but nothing in the
church was more symbolic, for in that box was our file of prospective members. This exaltation of a prospect list does not confuse the church with a sales agency. That list was our mission field” (The Church as Evangelist, p. 91).
One person should be in charge of the record box and make assignments from it. Never take cards from the church; instead, issue duplicates to callers, who should enter their comments and return the duplicate to the person in charge, who can transfer the remarks to the original. The evangelism committee should regularly review the cards and decide on the next steps.
Sweazey reports that his congregation placed the cards in the following categories:
to See seem interested
not much chance
“Moving cards around in the file . . . was a drama,” he writes. “A drama with vaulting hopes and crushing disappointment.”
Soon after Meadowvale Community Church was founded in Mississauga, Ontario, the church set up an ambitious visitation program and trained callers in Congregational Evangelism Training. A key to the program’s success was the carefully administered “result cards.” The chairman of the evangelism
committee kept and organized these cards and color-coded them in categories such as
pastoral call requested
continue to call as there is opportunity
call again in three months
call again in one year
Beginning an effective record system is easy. Start the record by listing all those with whom the church is currently in touch. Consider the following:
community children in youth programs
Sunday school contacts
vacation Bible school contacts
unchurched friends and associates of members
unchurched relatives of members
people on the church’s mailing list
recent worship visitors
new residents in the church’s parish area
people who have used the church’s food pantry
crusade follow-up requests
The church should regularly encourage members to add the list. In addition, the church may develop programs and activities that meet its neighbors’ needs and put it in contact with more people. Door-to-door calling may also generate new contacts. Such calling should be seen, however, as an exercise in sorting resistant people from receptive people.
A church may design its own cards or purchase cards from suppliers.