3 Ways to Keep Your Church Visitors Coming Back

Posted by Aaron Buer on June 30, 2016

What makes visitors return to your church?

Why is it that some churches grow and are incredibly magnetic while others have had the same weekly attendance for 30 years?

Both types of churches get visitors, but only one keeps them.

We’re talking about retention. What makes visitors keep coming back to your church, returning week after week.  Earlier Jon posted on why he and his family picked the church he's at and I'd love to continue in this vein.

What is Your Visitor Retention Rate?

Consistently keeping people that visit your church can make a huge difference over time. Just like the law of compound interest, a consistently high visitor retention rate can have has an enormous impact.

attendance over time

Knowing your own visitor retention rate then is an important metric for the health of your church. Nelson Searcy, in his book Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church, says that:

  • Churches need a visitor retention rate of 3% to maintain their current size
  • Churches need a visitor retention rate of 5% to steadily grow
  • Churches need a visitor retention rate of 7% to rapidly grow

To calculate your own visitor retention rate, follow this formula:


As an example, let's take a church that has grown from 180 to 200 and has averaged around 6 or 7 visitors per weekend. The formula applied to this church would look something like this:


This data can be easily retrieved from church management software. For instance, using Breeze Church Management, users can quickly get the attendance for a given month:

attendance report

As well as the total number of visitors over the past year:

search new visitors

Increasing your Visitor Retention Rate

So how do you increase your visitor retention rate?

I believe that every church visitor is asking three questions. If we do a great job of answering these questions, chances are strong that they will stick.

What are the questions? Here you go…

1. Do I Belong?

We all have a fundamental desire and need to belong. We were designed for community. Because of this, the primary question every visitor is asking is this:

Could I see myself belonging to this community?

So, how do we help our guests experience a sense of belonging? We do it through two strategies:

  1. Friendly Environments
  2. Inclusive Language

Friendly Environments

First impressions are powerful. People make judgments about your church within the first two minutes of their experience. A guest will often make a decision on whether or not they will come back before they hear the worship team or the sermon. Their first impression is based on smiles, handshakes and eye contact.

Fair or not, a guest will make a determination on whether or not they could ever belong in your church based on the friendliness of greeters, ushers and average Joe attenders.

Because of this reality, our church has taken a page out of the Ritz-Carlton playbook.

ritz carlton

Photo courtesy of NoRud

We employ a strategy called the 5-15 rule. At fifteen feet, we smile. At 5 feet we verbalize a friendly greeting. It’s a very simple rule but it helps us build a culture of warmth.  We believe that warmth and friendliness go a long way in convincing a guest that our community is indeed a community to which they could belong.

Inclusive Language

Nothing makes you feel like an outsider more than not knowing the secret language. Not being “in the know” is the worst.

Churches are notorious for this sort of thing. We speak a language we most likely grew up with while guests have no idea what a “hedge of protection” an “unspoken” or a “quiet time” is.

hedge of protection

If you want a high retention rate for your visitors, then it might be time to adjust the language you use from the stage. Always assume that there is someone in the audience who is uninitiated and doesn’t know what an Ebenezer stone is.

If you want to get serious about addressing this issue, invite a friend who didn’t grow up in the church to one of your services and ask them to make a list of every phrase or word that didn’t make sense to them. This should give you a solid list to start working on.

2. Do My Kids Love It Here?

The 2nd question every visitor is asking only applies to individuals who have children but it is crucially important. The question is this: Will my kids love it here?

It’s no secret that kids are often the ones who bring parents back to church after years of absence.

This is a depressing reality but also an incredible opportunity. Parents who grew up in church often want their kids to grow up in a church. They want them to have a solid foundation of faith. Because of this, a strong children’s ministry is often a church’s most effective growth strategy.

If you want to improve visitor retention rates, aim to impress new parents during their first contact point with your children’s ministry. Parents are impressed by safety, professionalism, organization, and smiles on the faces of their kids.

If you’re interested in improving in this area, invite an area educator to visit your children’s ministry and offer their feedback on how the children’s ministry environments and programming measures up. Listen to their feedback and build an exceptional children’s ministry.

3. Now What?

The last question a visitor asks is “Now what?”

If you have impressed your guest, they will likely want to get connected. This question is about clear next steps. How difficult is it to get information or get involved in your church? How quickly can a new person join a small group, find a place to serve or get baptized?

In my experience, the longer or more complicated the process, the less likely a new person is to take the next step. Here are two options for next steps, which is more likely to be pursued?

If you’d like to get involved, stop by our information kiosk after the service and fill out a form.


If you’d like to get involved, text the number on the screen with the keyword “connect” and someone from our church will contact you early next week.

In the first option, the guest has to (1) remember, (2) go talk to someone they don’t know and (3) what if they are in a hurry to leave or have to pick up their kids from the children’s ministry?

Clear, simple and immediate next steps lead to higher rates of visitor retention.

(If interested in the texting option, you can get a free number for people to text to from Google Voice).

If you want to improve visitor retention in your church, you have to answer three questions that every visitor is asking:

  1. Do I belong here?
  2. Will my kids love it here?
  3. Now What?

Have you had success in keeping visitors through other strategies?  I'd love to hear about them in the comments below.

Topics: Advice

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