The Most Overlooked People in Church

Lately I have been spending a lot of time looking at retention stats. Our church sees a lot of first time guests and returning guests, but I haven't been pleased with our retention when comparing apples to apples. While I know you can't retain every person who walks in the door (and some you wouldn't if you could), I want to make sure we are doing our part in reaching out to people who are searching for a place to worship. So, after hammering out a few thoughts with my coach, I began to put something together that I believe is pivotal in reaching and retaining, what may be, the most overlooked people in church on Sunday...returning guests.

Like most churches, we do a splendid job at touching first time guests; the free coffee mug, the warm greeting at guest services, the email and letter from me on the next day. First time guests know they are appreciated. Then it occurred to me, we put a lot of energy into first time guests, but returning guests (2nd time, 3rd time, or 15th time guests) never get a whole lot of attention. As I pondered this, here's some of the thoughts that drove me to add this very important piece to our assimilation process.

  • First time guest are important; we have one shot at making that first impression. However, we must remember that first time guests come (for the most part) because they are curious ABOUT your church. Returning guests come back because they are interested IN your church. HUGE difference.

  • On any given Sunday, a first time guest receives clear instructions and directions as to what their next steps are (take your connection card to guests services, get your gift, yada, yada, yada). Returning guests have no clear next steps, other than, "Ya'll come back next weekend!"

  • First time guests are asked to take baby steps as their next steps (fill out your connection card, take it to guest services, etc). In most churches, the next step for returning guests is to either go through a six week orientation or sign up to join the church, which means we want your time, talent, and treasure...neither of these are baby steps.

If this looks anything like your church, you're in desperate need of creating those next baby steps for returning guests. And much like first time guests steps, they need to be easy to understand and simple to do. Here's what we do at Caveland Church:

  • Returning guests are asked to pick up a second gift that includes a DVD about "who we are" and a short letter inviting them to join me and my staff after services on the couch in the Atrium. There, we'll hang out, drink coffee, talk about the kids, and I'll answer any questions they may have about the church. (We call this "CONNECT"). The DVD piece is important because it gives them enough information to create good questions.

  • During CONNECT, we ask our returning guests to fill out a brief survey, which gives us information about them, including some background info. This time is mainly used to disarm any "preacher-laity" awkwardness and I'll briefly share their next steps as returning guests.

  • After CONNECT, we take the survey cards and invite each family to join a small group or our Life Group model at the church (which has been HUGE for new people). While CONNECT allows my staff and I to meet returning guests, small groups are really the first relational piece. This is the place where returning guests makes friends and becomes a real part of the community of the church.

  • Next, we try to move returning guests to serving. We have "test drive" ministries in our church where new people can serve with no strings attached. We ask them to serve so they can get a good feel for the DNA of our church. They may spend a couple of weeks as an usher, help in the media dept. or serving on the parking team. So, they move from a group of 10-12 people (small groups), to a group of 2-3 people while serving. When people serve together, they share life together. This is the second relational piece; and note, the second piece is more intimate because the group becomes smaller, therefore, relationships become stronger.

  • Lastly, we invite returning guests who's been in small groups or Life Groups and have spent a little time serving, to join us for the "Becoming a Cavelander" orientation dinner. This is where we'll sit, eat, and chat. I will talk about vision, mission, grandkids, and you got it, the commitment of their time, talents, and treasure.

Yet here's the thing...by the time a returning guest has been through each of these little steps, there are two things that have occurred. 1) They have already built relationships in the church, which greatly increases the retention rate; and 2) they are normally already attending regularly, serving, and giving which increases their commitment to Christ and His church.

Returning guests need clear, simple steps to know what's next...and if it's going through a membership class, you'll probably end up with lots of names on the books, but few butts in the seats.

If you want to talk further about this, hit me up on twitter @chadhunt



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