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guests

Increasing Guest Attendance

Increasing Guest Attendance

In this day of struggling churches it makes sense to return to the basics regarding why people choose to attend a church. Along with this discussion it’s also important to consider why people stick after that first visit. Ultimately it does no good to attract 10 new guests each Sunday if 100% of those guests fail to return. Makes perfect sense doesn’t it?

A basic rule of church growth is “Increase the number of guests who show up on Sunday mornings”. Most churches have the capacity to increase their number of guests if they work at it. Obviously there are other entry points other than Sunday worship. Small groups, mission teams, special events are all examples. For the purposes of this article I want to concentrate on Sunday worship since the majority of people check out a church at prime time, namely Sunday morning.

It’s helpful to know what influences a person to attend church on a given Sunday. Gary McIntosh conducted a study using a survey administered to 1,100 church goers to gain helpful insights in this regard. In the study he distinguished guests by two categories: Christ-followers and Seekers. Christ-followers have crossed the line of faith and show up at church usually because they are looking for a new congregation. Seekers are people who have not yet given their allegiance to Jesus. They are at some point in a journey towards Him, from initial interest to seriously seeking Christ.

Surprisingly McIntosh discovered that by far the most influential people for encouraging Seekers to check out your church are “Merchants” (41%). Merchants are people who interact with the public: hairstylists, fast food workers, bank tellers, realtors, car salespeople, etc. These are people who know about your congregation and its good reputation in the community.  That is, if your church has some positive name recognition these merchants will drop its name when the subject comes up. These merchants may include your own church members. They have great connectional influence. They will take the initiative to point people to your church, especially if they are deeply involved and love your congregation and its ministries.

The second most influential person for encouraging a Seeker to attend is a “Family Member” (17%), the third most influential is “No One” (17%), in fourth place a “Friend” (11%), in fifth place a “Neighbor” (4%) and finally a “Coworker” (3%). Based on my experience these stats ring true. In my last church a hairstylist was a champion at inviting Seekers to our church. She interacted with all kinds of people all day long and held nothing back when encouraging people to visit our church.

Based on this insight I would recommend that you pull together from among the congregation your most extroverted, winsome and respected merchants for a quick pow-pow. Encourage them to be intentional about their inviting habits. Support them in prayer. Provide them with calling cards to give to clients that includes basic church info: church name, address, worship schedule, mission statement and web address. Ask them for helpful feedback about the experiences their guests share with them after they visit. Use this information to improve your welcoming and assimilation system.

Additionally, it is important that your church raise its profile in your immediate community. One of the best ways to do this is to engage in several externally focused ministries.* These will improve your church’s name recognition, although this is never the primary motivation for doing such ministries. Consider leading your church in a steady emphasis on good neighboring so that more people will be aware of your church and its Christ-like love for everyday people.** Additionally, every pastor would be wise to make it a regular to meet local merchants.

The stats change dramatically when we examine who influences Believers to attend a church. “Merchants” have little influence (1%). Rather,  “Family Members” have the most influence at 30%. These are followed by “No One” (25%), “Friend” (22%), “Coworker” (3%) and “Neighbor” (2%). The most influential Family Members are Parents and Spouses.

The surprise in this study is the large percentage of Believers who show up at church with no previous connection to the church—the “No One” in the study at 25%. Most likely this is due to the rise of Social Media and the Web. An increasingly large number of people hear about a church, check it out online and then attend based on positive impressions from their Internet experience. In today’s world the first visit that most people will make to your church is through your web site. This is especially true for people under 40. Without a strong web presence your church will be virtually unknown. Therefore, it’s important to do a first rate job presenting your church through your web page and your Facebook page.

One of the more surprising insights based on this survey is the importance of theology. Even for Seekers, theology was important to 50% of those checking out a church. For Believers the percentage rose to over 90%. Guests want to know that your church has rock-solid beliefs. One Mission Northwest pastor asked an unbeliever with a critical eye to critique their church’s web site. Her response was intriguing. She said that there wasn’t enough emphasis on God! Her point was that people expect churches to have strong convictions about their beliefs. For these to be missing on a church’s web page is off-putting. McIntosh’s research affirms this to be true.

It’s no surprise that “Friendliness” also ranked high with Seekers at 72% and for Believers at 80%. Warmth and genuine interest in newcomers is highly important. But, the most important question in the mind of a guest is, “Can I make genuine friends here?” If there is a sense that all groups are closed, and there is no obvious onramp for making friends, then guests will move on to another church.

One additional factor is the critical part that the pastor’s preaching played in a guest coming to church. Believers ranked preaching at 90% in importance. Seekers ranked preaching at 75%. This is huge! Responders placed great value on preaching that applied to their lives, the authenticity of the pastor, and the pastor’s convictions. Preaching was more important to guests than worship style, the church’s location, and a variety of other factors such as programs. Least important was a church’s name. This is a clarion call to all pastors to continuously hone one’s preaching skills.

With this information in hand, every church can increase the number of guests who show up each Sunday. In my next article, I will share ideas for retaining guests.

 

*resources: The Externally Focused Church by Rick Rusaw & Eric Swanson; The Externally Focused Quest by Rick Rusaw & Eric Swanson

**resources: The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak & Dave Runyon; The Neighboring Church by Rick Rusaw & Brian Mavis

Attracting, Welcoming and Retaining Guests

Dr. Charles Revis, Executive Minister, ABC Northwest

Hilton Welcome
Hilton Welcome

On a recent trip to the Tri-Cities area in WA I snagged a great deal through hotwire.com and ended up in a nice Hilton Gardens Hotel. I love getting 3-star service at a 2-star price. Throughout my experience of walking through the door, registering and settling into my room it was evident that Hilton anticipated my every move and need. They made certain that my experience would be positive and welcoming. The desk person was warm and informative. Fresh cookies were on the counter for the taking. I received a personal, hand-written welcome note from the hotel manager. In my room there was a clear and comprehensive “Comfort Guide” to the room’s amenities. On the desk was a welcome letter from the C.E.O. of Hilton. They did this without a hint of intrusion. I have to say, I was impressed. I felt welcomed and appreciated. 

This experience made me reflect on what it’s like to be a church visitor and how churches welcome and follow up with their guests. In this realm churches could learn a thing or two from the business world.

Churches that grow attract guests, welcome guests and retain guests. First, they have a proactive plan for attracting guests.

This is bolstered with systems that guide and anticipate each stage of the guest’s experience to make it as positive and inviting as possible. Growing churches are sensitive to the fears and concerns of guests, and they try their best to put them at ease and provide helpful information. They’re careful not to intrude, giving appropriate space to their visitors. They follow-up with them in smart ways that encourage return visits. 

Because of intentionality with their visitor processes such churches have a high number of guests each Sunday and they’re able to retain a respectable percentage of them. All of this focus on guests contributes to their growth. Seems simple. It is. Seems obvious. No doubt. But, too often what is simple and obvious is underappreciated and overlooked in church life. Having no plan and no system for gathering and welcoming guests is a guaranteed way to block church growth.

Hilton Comfort Guide
Hilton Comfort Guide

In light of this here’s a good question for church leaders to wrestle with, “Are we as a church focused on guests with the goal of retaining them?” Here’s another question, “What are our guest focused systems? Are they working, that is, are they producing the results we envision?”

After honest evaluation if answers to these questions are unsatisfactory, and nothing is done to improve the church’s guest systems don’t expect to grow. It’s that simple. Simply being friendly on Sunday morning with a decent worship and preaching experience is not enough to attract and retain new people. Churches in these times need redundant systems for attracting, welcoming and retaining guests. Remember my experience at Hilton? Although the Hilton Garden Inn is an attractive hotel in its own right, the Hilton did not take my presence for granted. They made sure that I knew they greatly appreciated my business, and they expressed it through attentiveness to me as a customer. Churches should do no less for their guests.

So, how does a church address this issue? First, there are excellent resources available for tackling this challenge. A church doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. I’ll list a few of these at the end of this article so your church will know where to start. Second, be aware that there are several components in such a system that build on each other. It’s not a complicated project. However, it isn’t simple either. Planning and intentionality is required in order to put enough pieces in place to truly be successful. Third, it will take at least a year of working the system to insure that the system is having the results desired. Fourth, these systems require regular maintenance, or they fall into disrepair and a church will find itself back at square one with no system in place.

A “fly over” of what such a system looks like can be found in

Church That Works

by Gary McIntosh. (By the way, this was a 2005 LLC book and should be referenced as a regular resource by pastors and church leaders.) McIntosh devotes 9 brief chapters to this topic. The chapter topics alone are instructive for what churches need to consider: 1) Attracting guests 2) Starting good rumors (about the church) 3) How do you say hello? 4) Is your church friendly? 5) What guests see 6) Pathways of belonging 7) Assimilating newcomers 8) Getting ready for company 9) Visitor follow-up that works.

If you are interested in developing your church’s guest system here’s a list of resources in addition to the aforementioned book. These will provide most of what you will need to design a fruitful guest welcome and retention system:

1.

Fusion

by Nelson Searcy – provides a comprehensive step-by-step plan for welcoming guests and follow-up. Several ABCNW churches are using this system.

2.

After the First Visit

by Gary McIntosh – builds on the theological perspective of God as a "welcomer.” Churches are wise to reflect God’s attitude in the way they treat their guests. McIntosh offers sound advice on assessing and improving the ways in which churches attract people, welcome them, do follow-up, and bring them into the church family. 

3.

First Impressions: Creating Wow Experiences in Your Church

and

Lasting Impressions: From Visiting to Belonging

by Mark Waltz – Mark shares boatloads of ideas that are easily adopted by churches in any setting. He is passionate about ministering to people who show up at church in a personal way. He eschews the assimilation schemes that view the attender as merely a faceless number or financial contributor. 

4.

Thriving Churches in the 21st Century: 10 Life Giving Systems for Vibrant Ministry

- Using the analogy of the human body, this book explores ten interacting systems that make up a healthy church body. It’s a good foundational work for understanding church systems and how they contribute to growth and health.

© Dr. Charles Revis 2012