REACHING THE CHURCH SHOPPER
EDGAR M. DAVIS
Your have a wonderful worship service. The choir is excellent. Scripture reading is appropriate. The musicians are enthusiastic. Preaching is under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Why isn’t your church keeping the visitors and church shoppers?
I have seen many such churches. They had a fine spirit. I could sense God’s presence in their midst, and yet statistics revealed no numerical increase in perhaps three or four years. In some instances there was a decrease in numbers. It was not because they didn’t have good services, or because the minister wasn’t preaching the Word. Nor was it because the people were unfriendly. What was the problem?
In observing and talking with church leaders who are seeing visitors and church shoppers return to their church, I would like to suggest some guidelines which may be helpful.
VISITORS AND CHURCH SHOPPERS
The first suggestion is something most churches, to some degree, are already doing. When visitors attend your church for the fist time, ushers or designated greeters should welcome them to the service. In addition to the bulletin, specially prepared visitor information material should be provided to introduce the church and its various ministries. Seek to be especially helpful. If the visitors are a family, help direct individual members to the classrooms for their age levels or special interest. Point out your facilities, such as the nursery, appropriate Sunday School rooms, the restrooms. Include an easy-to-read floor plan of the church facilities, and post signs around the church that help direct first-time visitors to appropriate places. Better yet, have enough greeters or other appointed members on hand to personally go with each member to their appropriate room and introduce them to others in the class. Some churches make sure there are members of each Sunday School class available near the greeters throughout the morning. When a visitor arrives the greeter can introduce the newcomer to that particular class member, who in turn stays with the visitor throughout the morning, introducing him to others in the class and building a relationship with the person. Demonstrate personal attention to your newcomers. Extend to them a warm welcome.
Welcoming visitors is already done, to a greater or lesser extent, in most churches. But there may be some important areas you are overlooking.
Most pastors have experienced the situation where a visitor comments about the nice service and how much he/she enjoyed it. Then you never see the person again. You wonder where they are next Sunday and why they didn’t return. Later you may be surprised to hear that they visited another church down the street. The church may not have as many activities as yours, or as nice of facilities. Yet, in spite of the person’s complimentary response to the service at your church they joined another church.
GOING THE SECOND MILE
Look closely at the vital area of visitor “follow-up.” A comprehensive, workable strategy in this area will produce startling results I seeing visitors and church shoppers remain to become part of the family of God, working faithfully and conscientiously in your church’s ministry.Here are some suggestions…
Week One: Every Monday morning instruct your secretary to send out a letter to each newcomer from the day before. Communicate your delight in having them worship at the church. In the letter mention that you and some of the church family would like to drop by for a visit that week, and that your secretary will be calling beforehand to set up a convenient time for the visit. (By Wednesday the letter will have been received.)
In this letter include a schedule of the regular worship services, plus other activities of the church. Let the visitor know that you think highly of this church and the value it brings to its members. Tell them that you would like for them to be an important part of this church. You may be surprised at how honored and impressed they will be that you noticed and cared enough about them to send a personal letter, that you wanted to visit with them personally.
On Wednesday and Thursday your secretary should phone the visiting families and individuals to set up an appointment for your visit. The secretary is an important public relations person and should, herself, extend a friendly welcome to the person if possible, she should set up an appointment with the person or family for a Friday or Saturday. You may want to take your Sunday School Superintendent, assistant pastor, youth leader, or another person from the church who would have something in common with the potential new member(s).
In your visit let the people know you are genuinely concerned about them-personally-not as statistics on a roll. Too often churches give the impression they are only interested in “numbers” and “dollars. ” Your motive in visiting is not to add figures to your attendance record. Communicate that you are paying a visit because you are concerned about them.
ROLE OF THE SUNDAY SCHOOL
If the visitors have children, teacher(s) for their age groups should also be part of your church’s follow-up strategy. Develop a plan for teachers to call the family (by phone or in person) during the week following their visit. I have found that calls by the Sunday School teachers take place best on Thursday night prior to the pastor’s Friday or Saturday visit. One of the important functions of the teachers is , with sincerity, to build up the pastor and the church to the visitor.
Teachers should represent their church in a positive and enthusiastic manner. Honest bragging on the church, the pastor. and the people is a good thing for visitors to hear and members to say. By the time you personally arrive a day or two later, the newcomer will be looking forward to your visit.
Visitor follow-up does not stop here. When a newcomer arrives in town he Will shop at no more than one to three churches before settling on one ; or none at all. So staying in close contact with the newcomer during the first month of their new residency is critical.
Week Two : The next week a second letter should be sent from you to the visitor. Refer to your previous visit and time of fellowship together. Mention any topic of special interest that was discussed during the visit, and refer to particular ministries or activities of the church which might be relevant.
Also in the letter, answer any questions that were raised during the visit. (Keep a notebook handy during your visiting to record important areas to which you should later respond. ) You may want to enclose a brochure. article, a book, or tract that pertains to a subject discussed.
During this second week other individuals from the church should visit the person/family. Those visiting from your church should have various areas in common with the visitor. They should be involved in activities of the church and be positive about the influence of Christ and the church on a person’s life. If, from your visit the previous week, you become aware of some particular need or concern in that home, ask a person to visit from the church who is gifted in dealing with such a situation, or has had a personal experience and victorious testimony.
Church leaders and active members should not be surprised if they are asked to pay a friendly follow-up visit to a newcomer. A church-wide system of involvement not only responds to the needs of the visitors , but includes more members in the ministry of the church.
NEED TO BE “NEEDED”
Most people who visit a church want to be wanted. Your church’s sincere interest in filling this need is evidenced by personal letters from the church and the pastor, by personal visits by members, by showing a special interest in them and their life. In the process you will discover their own special talents and interests, which can be an important contribution in your church as well. Let the newcomer know that not only do you want to help them, but there is a place for them in your church-where they can help you. Giving, as well as receiving, is an important part of belonging and feeling needed.
Those who actively seek out a church home when they move to a new community desire to be used of God and to get involved in the work of the Lord. They are not used to being “pew-sitters, ” and are apt to bypass a church which shows no need of their abilities. God is not a person of waste. He desires that we each “make full proof of our ministry. ” I believe that as people seek the leading of the Lord in their search for a new church home, He will direct them to a church that provides the opportunity to make use of the talents and gifts with which He has equipped them to serve in His Kingdom.
Weeks Three and Four: During the third and fourth weeks, personal visits by members of your church should be continued and/or repeated. People representing appropriate departments and small groups in your church should visit the home and share what is happening in and through the church, and how the visitor can get involved. Members should urge the new family to participate in special events planned by the church and personally offer transportation or to meet them at the event. Also during the third and fourth weeks, be sure Sunday School members/teachers keep in contact with the various family members by phone, mail, or in person. People new to church attendance, or new to the community, are often reluctant to participate in the Sunday School hour. It will help immensely for individual Sunday School teachers and members to make friends in the home with potential class members.
You, as the pastor, also have a continuing role in the third and fourth weeks of follow-up. I realize that by now you have already sent at least two letters and paid one or more visits to the home. But remember that you are, at least initially, the key person in the eyes of these newcomers. Not everyone gets special attention from the pastor! Make an effort to learn their name, to recognize them at worship and other church functions. It is important to keep in touch with them by phone and personal visits from time to time.
In a large church it may not be possible for the pastor to do as much personal visitation as he would like. But as long as it is at all possible, do as much visitation as you can. After all, what is really more important in the work of Christ than building up the Body of Christ? These people are first and foremost your responsibility. While others, to be sure, will be sharing in visitation and follow-up with you, it is imperative that you, as minister of the church, set the example and demonstrate an active, personal interest in every newcomer.
As you follow or adopt these suggestions, the newcomers will have been visited for four straight weeks by people from your church. They will have received letters and phone calls from the pastor. They will have seen and experienced, without a doubt, that your church is interested in them. And it is more than likely they will stop their shopping and return to your church for a long-term commitment to worship, work, and fellowship.
RESULTS OF FOLLOW-UP
Not only will newcomers become a part of your church and fellowship, but they will provide contacts to other new people among the ranks of their neighbors, friends, and relatives. When their own unchurched acquaintances express a hunger or interest to which the church can speak, you can be sure the now new members will direct them to your church-which is now their church. And the love and personal concern originally demonstrated to them will be passed on again.
1. THE CARING SYSTEM (developed by CHRISTIAN COMMUNICATION, 150 S. Los Robles, Suite 600, Pasadena, CA 91101) is an excellent such method for tracking visitors on a regular basis and building church contacts with prospects based on their unique needs and situations. Free descriptive brochure is available.