Getting Visitor Information
Getting the names and addresses of first-time worship visitors is crucial. Without names and addresses, it becomes impossible to respond to their visit with a phone call, a letter from the pastor, and a home visit by laypersons. Without these responses, return rates of first-time visitors the following Sunday decrease significantly.
The average worship attendance at Colonial Hills United Methodist Church in San Antonio, Texas, grew from 431 — in 1980 to 846 in 1989. Yet, the congregation obtains the names of worship visitors with a procedure that seems to violate standard rules for success in this matter. In the typical congregation, registration pads are passed along the pews. This is ordinarily an excellent procedure, whereas the registration card system (with cards in the pew racks) rarely gets more than 60 percent of visitor names. But Colonial Hills places in the pew racks a yellow “Visitor Registration” slip and a blue “Member Registration” slip and gets almost 100 percent of visitor names and addresses.
How can this system possibly work, when what looks like the same procedure fails else where? Three factors make the Colonial Hills procedure quite different:
1) When the pastor calls for everyone to fill out the slips, nothing else happens in the service for several minutes. The positive peer pressure in a situation where everyone is asked to do this together significantly increases the likelihood that everyone will participate–provided that singing a hymn or something else is not going on at the same time.
(2) When the pastor announces this registration-slip procedure in the service, he indicates that “When we are finished filling out the forms, we will pass them down to the end of each pew and the ushers will come forward to pick them up.” This process, in contrast to those where the cards are placed in the offering plates, makes it likely that everyone will feel the need to participate.
(3) Both the members and the visitors fill out a slip. This “everyone is doing it” process increases the likelihood that everyone will fill out a slip. If only the visitors are asked to fill out something, many of them will disregard the procedure. Other advantages:
• Immediately after the sermon, volunteers in the church office enter the data from the yellow visitor cards into computers and make assignments for friendly contacts with these visitors, expressing appreciation for their presence in the worship service.
• With this system, members and visitors can write personal notes to the staff, make prayer requests, or send other signals of concern. This kind of communication could not happen on registration pads that pass along the pews, because of the lack of privacy inherent in that system.
What looks like a violation of successful principles is actually an application of those principles in a new way. As — is so often the case in the science of evangelism, what works does not always look like it will work–especially by leaders who have never practiced and perfected that particular procedure.