Newcomer Welcome and Follow-up
By Joel Batchelor
In an article entitled, Get Ready For Company McIntosh projects that a church needs 4-5% of its worship attendance to be first-time visitors before significant growth will take place. The importance of getting ready for guests is illustrated by the fact that they form an opinion of the church within minutes or even seconds of entering the front door. In How to be a Friendly Church, McIntosh suggests that seven key areas be prepared for company:
1. Beautify your property.
2. Upgrade your childcare.
3. Provide clear directions throughout your facility.
4. Welcome guests graciously.
5. Enhance your worship service.
6. Preach relational messages that uplift.
7. Follow-up appropriately (1-2).
McIntosh also suggests recruiting friendly ushers, greeters, and parking attendants who will project enthusiasm, courtesy, and pride to your guests. He also suggests teaching members to follow the 10 Foot Rule and the Just Say Hi Policy. Instruct them that whenever they come within 10 feet of a person they don’t know to just say hi (1).
Calvin Ratz suggests that an atmosphere of warmth and acceptance is expressed most effectively by people who hold no official position. This is because a guest is receiving a welcome from someone they didn’t expect in a place where they didn’t expect it. Welcome shouldn’t just happen at the door; it’s something everyone should be doing throughout the building (43).
In his book How to Build a Magnetic Church, Miller offers several suggestions for creating a friendly climate that will attract and welcome newcomers to the church:
1. The senior pastor must be a constant model of warmth.
2. Organize an effective team of greeters.
3. Encourage extroversion in the pews. Instruct lay leaders to assume responsibility for those seated around them. Have them welcome and get acquainted with any visitors. They can serve as secret hosts who befriend newcomers and accompany them to a visitor welcome center or fellowship area.
4. Allow time within the worship service for the congregation to mix and meet.
5. Let people visit freely before the worship service.
6. Provide a large foyer for fellowship following the worship service.
7. Supply coffee and refreshments that will invite people to remain longer and get acquainted.
8. Provide name tags, especially for the members so that visitors will know their names.
9. Invite guests to a social event in their honor. Listen to the interests and ideas of these prospective members.
10. Provide a high quality nursery (63-69).
In the audiocassette lecture, Assimilating Visitors into the Life of Your Church, Logan offers 12 suggestions to make a church more attractive to visitors:
1. Provide adequate parking.
2. Station attendants in the parking lot to assist visitors.
3. Clearly identify the main entrances.
4. Appoint greeters who are gifted for the task.
5. Station greeters strategically.
6. Assign welcomers to search out the visitors immediately after the service. Provide welcomers reserve seats in the back so that visitors cannot miss receiving a warm welcome. First-time visitors typically sit near the back and can easily be missed by the members who often sit closer to the front of the church.
7. Train ushers to do their job well.
8. Post signs, pointing to entrances, nursery, restrooms, etc.
9. Ask for families to invite visitors into their homes. Many unchurched people are resistant to receiving a visit in their home but are much more open to being invited to the home of a church member.
10. Ask everyone to fill out a registration card each week.
11. Assign someone to call first-time visitors.
12. Be sure that the bulletin contains enough information that a total stranger can participate in the service without embarrassment, or have the worship leader facilitate this.
Make sure that guests feel welcomed, not embarrassed; included, not singled out; and comfortable, not out of place (Smith 47). As Barna states, Successful churches did not humiliate visitors (177). Research indicates that new believers will drop out of the church if they don’t connect with a group within two weeks. Therefore, Towns emphasizes what he calls the Law of Seven Touches.
When a church makes seven immediate and meaningful contacts with guests they tend to return to the church and associate with it. This law corresponds to another, The Law of Three Hearings, which states that guests are more likely to bond with a local church if they have attended three or four times. Both laws are based on someone in the church establishing a relationship with the newcomer (235-236).
The following to do list will help make these unchurched visitors feel comfortable: reserve the best parking for them; station greeters outside your building; set up information tables at your entrances; place directional signs everywhere, have music playing when people enter your building; allow visitors to remain anonymous; have everyone fill out a registration card; offer a relaxed public welcome to visitors; begin and end each service with people greeting each other; and offer refreshments to guests (Warren Purpose 257-263).
What kind of follow-up should a local congregation use to insure the greatest possibility for a return visit? A welcome letter from the pastor is good and a phone call helps. But Miller states that neither can substitute for an immediate, personal visit.
When laypersons make fifteen-minute visits to the homes of first-time worship visitors within thirty-six hours, 85 percent of them return the following week. The number drops to 60 percent when visited within seventy-two hours and 15 percent when visited a week later. If a pastor makes the visit, rather than a layperson, each percentage is cut in half. Different visitors are looking for slightly different qualities in a church home. However, every visitor seeks active acceptance. Everyone wants to attend a church in which people care about them personally (Magnetic 72-73). Effective visitor follow-up focuses on building relationships (McIntosh Exodus 165).
Congregations using personal follow-up visits prefer not to call for an appointment, instead, they just drop by. The visits last no longer than fifteen minutes. Their purpose is to 1) get acquainted, 2) answer any questions that they have about the church, 3) learn about their religious needs, 4) leave information describing the church, and 5) invite them back (Miller Magnetic 75-76).
Pastor Merle Mees uses a Rapid Response Team which delivers to the visitors door a personal note and some cookies immediately following the morning worship even before they arrive home. Included is a personal letter from the pastor along with information on the church, plus any specific information they requested and a First Impression Survey on a postage-paid, self-addressed card which states, Westerns Hills wants to serve you better, so would you please give us your opinion? What did you notice first? What did you like best? What did you like least? Thanks for your input! About 50 percent of the cards are returned (Appel 55).
Pastor Jim Tomberlin offers several creative ideas for high quality welcoming and follow-up of guests. Visitors entering the church find a Welcome Center staffed by friendly, helpful volunteers who answer questions and give directions. The Welcome Center also has plenty of literature explaining each of the church’s ministries. As a special gift, the church provides complimentary cappuccino, latte, and donuts for guests. For visitor follow-up, the church delivers love loaves (freshly baked bread) to the home of those who filled out a guest card.
Welcome Callers also phone guests following their visit, thanking them for attending and offering to answer any of their questions. In the follow-up welcome letter, guests are invited to a Newcomers Dessert where they can meet the pastoral staff and spouses. The church also offers a class for newcomers called Discovery Class (Appel 56).
Ernest Thomas proposes that, Sponsors, or Shepherds, are the best single assurance of good assimilation for those received into the Christian fellowship (19). A sponsorship program involves assigning a member family with a new member family for three months to a year. During that time the long-term member family will pray for the new family, personally get acquainted and seek to involve them in congregational activities (Heck 42; Thomas Ways 19).
On the audiocassette, Assimilating Visitors into the Life of Your Church, Logan explains that sponsors need to be positive people who can help newcomers develop relationships, provide information, and make introductions. They don’t have to personally provide the long-term relationships; rather they connect members and newcomers.
Church Size and Tracking
In creating an assimilation plan experts remind pastors to tailor their approach to their specific church based on two major factors, the cultural context and the size of the congregation. Many larger churches are adding assimilation pastors as part of their staff (Oswald 5-17; Martin Issachar 124, 133; Miller Friendliness 1-2). For any size church, however, an important part of a successful assimilation plan is to establish a system to track the participation and follow-up of newcomers during their first six months to one year (Logan Beyond 116; Martin Issachar 133; Wilkinson 54).
Again, Wesley demonstrated his genius for organization by creating a simple but thorough record-keeping process that monitored the multitude of groups and the tens of thousands of individuals who had joined his Methodist societies. The record-keeping process was an essential ingredient to the proper functioning of the group system (Henderson 144).
From: www.crosswalk.com web site. January 2010
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.