How could anyone have guessed what this year was going to look like?
I’ve made the joke several times that I must have missed the class in seminary called “World Pandemics” or “Ministry During a Deadly Virus.”
Still, in almost an instant, my church moved online for 23 straight weeks.
When we emerged from our quarantined homes and began to gather safely again, I was comforted by the small hint of normality.
Of course, not everything was the same.
For one, I noticed that attendance had declined. But here’s what surprised me: I saw some new faces too.
I can’t tell you where they all came from or how each of them found our church.
What I do know is that each of these first-time visitors arrived as weary as the rest of us, desperate for a community to welcome them.
Following up with visitors these days isn’t radically different than it was before the coronavirus arrived.
The biggest change for me has been in prioritizing real, genuine, human connection in a world starved for it.
The goal isn’t simply to grow membership at my church. Rather it’s to see more people find and follow Jesus.
One way we do that is by discipling guests and fringe attenders into the community of God’s people.
However you get there, Romans 15:7 is the intended destination: “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (ESV).
People feel welcomed by people. They don’t feel welcomed by programs, workflows, or spreadsheets. (Though I think those are really helpful too!)
Here are four steps that can help you connect new visitors into your church.
Step 1: Create a way to gather contact information.
Is there a place before or after the service where visitors can easily provide you their name, email address, and/or phone number?
We use a Connect Card at our First-Time Guest Tent, but there are many different ways to do this.
This is also a great time for your volunteers to welcome them warmly, tell them how glad they are for coming, and even introduce them to others.
If you need more of a touchless option, consider providing a QR code or short URL in your bulletin, which links to a digital form that they can fill out on their phone.
Step 2: Thank guests for coming to visit and ask them if they have any questions.
I’ve received emails, texts, calls, and even mail after visiting a church and filling out a card.
The main emphasis in this step is to say, “Hey, I noticed you were here, and I’m so glad you came.”
My personal preference is to reach out through a phone call or text message.
They can be a lot harder to ignore, and I’ve noticed people are usually surprised someone from the church took time out of their week to connect directly with them.
Step 3: Create an easy on-ramp for guests.
One of the phrases I dread the most is, “I want to get involved but I just don’t know how.”
In that moment, guests see themselves on the outside wanting in on the benefits and blessings of the family of God, and as far as they can tell the doors are locked from the inside with no clear way for them to enter.
Create a clear path by hosting a newcomer’s dessert or membership class.
Create a signup sheet for small groups or volunteer teams and make sure new attenders are aware of it.
The method isn’t necessarily critical. Invite them in and then show them how.
Step 4: Connect guests to a ministry leader.
Here is where the road starts to split and every guest’s journey looks a little different.
Some have joined your church and are ready to jump in and start serving right away.
Some may want to visit a small group before they feel comfortable investing more.
Is there someone who leads these ministries at your church?
Make an intentional effort at your weekend services to personally connect your guests with these leaders.
At the very minimum, make sure your leaders are connecting with them through email, a phone call, or a text message.
Then, ensure your guests have the tools necessary to jump in (a background check for children’s ministry, an address for a small group, etc.).
Soon these visitors will become regular attenders.
They’ll transition from calling it “your church” to “my church.”
Lord willing, they’ll grow as disciples under the care of your leaders and flourish in true, authentic, community. Then, they’ll turn around and welcome others too.
How to Keep it All Organized
You may be thinking, “I love these ideas, but how am I going to keep track of all those moving parts?”
Whether you use a church management system such as Breeze or something like Google Sheets, staying organized can go a long way in ensuring you successfully help your visitors become committed members.
One of the benefits of a church management system like Breeze is it allows you to keep everything together in one place.
You can use online forms for new visitors to fill out as a connect card, and the information can automatically import into your account and tag them as a visitor.
Then, from within Breeze, you can send them a “thank you for coming” text message, email them an invite to your visitors’ welcome event, and create follow-up reminders for you and your team to make sure they get connected to the right people in a timely fashion.
In short, it helps ensure your visitors don’t fall through the cracks.
No matter what tool you use for your church, don’t forget the goal: “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
Alex Hannis is an Advisor with Breeze Church Management. When he isn't serving as the Deacon of Connections for his church in central Virginia, he enjoys drinking coffee with his wife and praying the Dodgers will finally win the World Series.