Welcome First Time Guests But Focus Follow Up On Second Time Guests
By Gary L. McIntosh
As church leaders, we understand that effective follow-up of guests is an important ingredient to our church’s growth. Traditionally, churches have followed up with guests when a pastor or calling team makes a personal visit to the new person’s home. Today many churches are finding that this method is not as effective as in past years. A new revolution of church ministry is taking place that is not likely to stop any time soon. We are in the midst of a transition and we are not quite sure where it is going to end. We need to rethink all aspects of church ministry, even what we call visitor (or rather guest) follow-up.
Suspects or Prospects
Church ministry is changing more today than it has in the last few hundred years. In our unusually faddish era, ministries come and go. Programs that worked a few years ago may not work well today. At best, a newly- designed ministry has an effective life span of about three to five years. After that it will need to be revamped or, in some cases, scrapped for a new approach. What remains constant during this period of rapid change is our relationship with people. Churches that hope to connect with guests beyond the first visit focus on serving people well. Such superior service begins with excellent follow-up with guests.
When we think about service to guests, we make a mistake if we consider them all the same. Minimally, guests may be divided into two types: suspects and prospects. Suspects are people who visit our church and we suspect that they might be interested in the things of the Lord, but they are actually just looking. Prospects are people who attend our church, and we can tell that they are interested in spiritual things. They are people who are sincerely seeking a relationship with Christ and the church.
This kind of differentiation first dawned on me when I was working as a salesman in a home furnishings store. Since I was working on commission, it did not make sense for me to spend time with people who were just window shopping (suspects). Thus, I became adept at picking out the shoppers who were going to buy. It really is quite simple. If a man walks into a store with a checkbook in his back pocket, he is likely to be a prospect. A woman who comes into a store carrying the store’s recent ad from the newspaper is certainly a prospect.
A salesman’s income depends on being able to spot and serve the prospects rather than the suspects. A church’s effective follow-up plan depends on being able to separate the suspects from the true prospects who visit the worship service. In general, first-time guests are suspects. They may be interested in the Lord. They may be interested in the church, but then again, maybe not. Guests who return for additional visits are the prospects. By attending your church again, they are in effect saying that they liked what they found the first time. They are back for a closer look.
An Effective Plan
The most effective retention of guests occurs when follow-up focuses on prospects rather than suspects. Church growth studies have found that the average growing church in the United States keeps 16 percent of all first-time guests. In contrast, the average church keeps 85 percent of its second-time guests! Thus an effective follow-up plan must focus on helping first-time guests return for a second visit.
Retention of guests also occurs when follow-up focuses on building relationships. Many churches use an institutional approach to follow-up. They focus on what the church needs rather than on caring for the visitor. It is important for guests to perceive that the church is interested in them and their needs.
Five Principles of Follow-up
Follow-up is most effective when guests receive …
1. A friendly contact–Offer your friendship. Take care not to offend new people.
2. A personal contact—Focus on the guest’s interests and needs. Nothing takes the place of personal touch in our lonely world.
3. A prompt contact—Contact guests within 24 hours. The longer the time between their visit and a contact, the less effective the results.
4. A non-threatening contact—Put the guest at ease. Guests have a natural uneasiness about new places and people.
5. A continual contact–Follow-up is a process, not an event. A onetime contact is not enough to be effective in our present environment.
This article “Welcome First Time Guests but Focus Follow Up On Second Time Guests” by Gary L. McIntosh is excerpted from Beyond The First Visit, 2003.