Interaction with an article on retaining first-time guests


The following is my interaction with the article Top 10 Ways Churches Retain First-Time Guests by Brad Bridges. While I’ll mention most of it below, I recommend going to the original source on your own rather than simply experiencing it through my filters.

Have a plan

You need to not only plan for guests, but also determine how you will retain those guests.

I could not agree more. Many churches do a great job of connecting with guests during their service times (or worship events, or whatever nomenclature they chose to employ) only to allow them to slip through their fingers through lack of follow-up and an intentional retention plan.

A new Christian or a non-Christian really shouldn’t be expected to “have their act together” and take lots of initiative to get involved. They may not have a relationship with God or potentially are a Christian and haven’t been connected to a church for a while.

When my grandfather planted a church in San Leandro, California after WWII all he had to do was walk around this brand new neighborhood and say, “We’re starting a church, would you like to join us?” Most people in that time and place had come from churched backgrounds. In the exploding population growth of post WWII California many didn’t go to church simply because there were no churches for them to attend in their neighborhoods. Often (as in my grandfather’s case) all one had to do was open the doors and invite them to come and they came pouring in. Alas, such is not the case today.

As Bridges points out, God sent Jesus to us. Jesus came into our context, calling and intentionally drawing people to him to be discipled. We also need to be intentional about drawing people to Him.

Bridges conveniently provides ten ways to facilitate this. 

Adjust the plan to your context

1) Follow-Up Immediately and Consistently (Help people get engaged in service and community)

Yep. Whole-heartedly agree. Mind how you follow-up though. Not all follow-up methods are created equal. What works for Church A may be detrimental to Church B. To use the marketing lingo of today, know your demographic. In other words, understand the people to whom God has called you to evangelize.

In one mission context, the best way for me to follow-up with people was to actually drop by their house that or the following evening. In a different area, that would have run people off. The best way was to call them. In yet another mission endeavor a personal email was the best way to make that connection. Learn was works best for the people you are called to reach.

2) Trade a “Church is for Me” Mentality for a “Let’s Be The Church to/for Our Guests” Mentality

If your church isn’t already here take the time to lay this foundation. One particularly painful ministry experience saw the collapse of an incredible period of growth (and an almost implosion of the church) because I had failed to help the existing membership make this transition. In my next calling I spent a year laying this foundation. The result was something amazing.

3) Invest in Worship Excellence

This tip is a tricky one. “Worship Excellence” means many different things to many people. Personally I think it’s a non-statement and one item where I would contend with Bridges. (I will readily admit that I have some personal baggage around the term “excellence” and its use in a church context automatically puts me on edge.) Rather, I think we should say, “Be authentic in your worship services.”

4) Start New Groups Frequently

This statement assumes a church is already has a small group ministry of some kind. If you do, then yes, you need to have intentional on-ramps and off-ramps for your groups and you also need to be starting new groups regularly. If you don’t then you might want to look into starting one.

5) Share Announcements with Sufficient Details Anyone Can Understand and Avoid Insider Language

Tricky one. Just make sure announcement times do not go on too long. My personal cap is no more than five minutes (three is better). Any longer and I found it disrupts the flow of the service. It may not be possible to provide sufficient detail in such a short time. It then becomes necessary to provide other avenues for the details to be communicated to members, regulars, and guests.

6) Prioritize Children’s Spiritual Growth and Safety

As a father, this is hugely important to me. While the spiritual component of the above statement is hugely important, the unchurched guest isn’t going to be evaluating your children’s ministry curriculum. They want to feel their kids are safe with you. I recently visited a church in a metropolitan suburb which had no visible child safety plan. There didn’t seem to be any clear nursery worker, just a couple of parents sitting with the little ones, and no check-in or check-out system. This may still work in very small churches in very small rural communities where everyone knows everyone (though I’d still advise against it), but as a guest to a suburban church with over a hundred adults in attendance it was unacceptable.

7) Clean Up The Facility and Eliminate Clutter

The other day my wife and several children were in a pool when the water heater stopped working. Because they were already in the water as it began to cool, the pool temperature got down to 60 degrees before they became aware that it was cold! There is a corollary in other areas of our life. We often are not aware of the degradation of our own environment until something happens to draw our attention to it. Take a look at your facilities and surroundings with fresh eyes. Bring in those fresh eyes from outside if need be (ask an unsaved friend to home and help you see where you need to clean up and fix stuff).

8) Do Everything with Intentionality (especially on Sundays)

My take away here is to not let yourself or your church go into autopilot. Many of our churches have been using the same order of service or liturgy for so long we no longer think about it. We don’t think about how it appears to guests nor do we give consideration as to whether it is challenging us to spiritual growth. It’s just comfortable. The message is not just the preaching during the service. The message is communicated in every interaction with your church. Website, email, phone calls, parking, church grounds, greeters, refreshments, bible study/sunday school, music, lighting, announcements, preaching, etc. ad nauseam all communicate your message. What are you communicating?

9) Use Technology to Address the Concerns of Guests and Help Facilitate Additional Connections

Okay, I’m a tech guy. I build my first computer from scrap parts in the late 90’s and my current day job is writing for a tech company. I have been the driving force behind technological advancement in every church I’ve served in. So please, if you’ve gotten this far in this treatise, hear this: Don’t just employ technology because some other church is using it or because a sales person promises to solve a problem you think you have. Refer back to the first point about follow up…know the people you are called to minister to. I would adjust Bridges’ statement to say, “Use appropriate technology to address the concerns of guests and help facilitate additional connections.”

10) Make It Clear Where To Get Information Before, During, and After Guests Visit

This ties back in to point 5 above. Websites, greeters, signage, follow up communication, etc. We’re often unaware of the information holes because we’re insiders. As Bridges mentions, the use of a “mystery guest” can really help you identify areas where communication needs to improve.

This is something I’ve done for a number of churches. My family and I attend services on Saturday evenings which frees me up for Sunday visits. If your church is in the Colorado Front Range area I’d be more than happy to be your mystery guest some Sunday and share my observations.

I do this for free. I love the Church and want to help individual churches better reach their communities with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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