A constant struggle that every church faces is how to better engage with visitors. When we have a new visitor first come into contact with our church, whether that’s through our website, social media, a sign out front, or actually attending Mass in person for the first time, there’s a lot to think about what impact that first experience will have. Churches of every size can always stand to learn new ideas on making our communities more hospitable for first time guests, just like the best practices and tips we have here.
Questions To Ask Yourself As You Get Started
- How do we introduce ourselves to first time visitors?
- How do we know who our first time visitors are?
- How do we get them to come back?
Making Good First Impressions
Have you ever been to a church that felt cold and indifferent, or even uncaring, when you walked in? Did you get the sense that you didn’t belong? Would you voluntarily go back to a place like that? Of course not! When a newcomer arrives at your parish, you have the opportunity to make a life-changing impact through each step of the process. After all, the church is the body of Christ and each part plays a role in showing Christ-like love and compassion to someone attending for the first time.
“Planning To Attend” Website Form
Nowadays, though, churches have online resources and other means of actually engaging with potential visitors before they ever set foot in the church building. One of these methods is to feature a page on your parish website that allows those planning to attend for the first time to fill out a form and let you know they’re planning to attend.
From there, you can use your Church Management Software (also known as a ChMS) to send an email response with helpful information and resources for them, such as a map of the parish campus and parking, as well as photos and names of any team members they should visit once they arrive. When they get there, have a new visitor packet with goodies and informational resources on hand so they can learn more about your parish, upcoming events, and opportunities to get plugged in.
New Visitor Station
A new visitor station is a great way to have resources for new visitors right when they come in the door. While your station can help answer questions and provide information to your guests, it should never be seen as a replacement for a real person.
There are plenty of horror stories out there of guests coming by the new visitor booth and looking around for someone to ask questions, only to feel lost and helpless when no one’s available. Now sometimes, you have people coming up who don’t necessarily feel comfortable talking with someone at first or just want to learn more or give some information for follow up, later. With those scenarios, it’s always helpful to have an electronic kiosk at the new visitor station, which you can do with a simple form on a tablet or computer that they can walk up to and use.
Clearly Marked Signage
As someone comes to our church, make sure that a new visitor can tell where things are and where to go when they arrive with clearly marked signage and labels around our facilities. Think of what someone sees from the road and the parking lot, first. Do they know where to turn into the parking lot at? How about which area of the parking lot to park in? Is the entrance labeled and clearly visible from the outside? Once you step inside your church, what will they see first? Make sure that your new visitor station is visible and easy to get to as soon as you walk in. Also, make sure signs to restrooms and classrooms are clearly visible as you walk in so visitors know where those are.
Train Your Volunteers
Your people will always be at the core of your church communication and interaction with new visitors. For that reason, you need to take some time with those volunteers and ensure that they know how to welcome and represent your church to newcomers.
Host a class for new volunteers to let them know how to identify and interact with new visitors as they come in. Be sure to give your volunteers some sort of identification that makes them stand out so visitors know who they can talk to or ask any questions. Volunteers could be given name badges, lanyards, or matching shirts to help them stand out. Take time to teach new volunteers basic things like body language and giving visitors proper next steps to connect with the church. It’s also a good idea to meet with certain groups of volunteers, such as ushers and children’s ministry volunteers, before each service to discuss the game plan for the day and pray beforehand.
Church Connection Cards
Your connection card is a major tool to collect information and follow up with new visitors. However, many churches tend to overdo it and accidentally overwhelm their guests with all the information they ask for, resulting in these paper handouts simply getting tossed in the waste on the way out. That’s why it’s best to keep it short and sweet with what you ask your visitors to fill in.
Your basic connection cards may ask for these three things:
If you need more information for specific reasons, it’s best to use separate cards for different purposes. For example, if you need information for event registrations or volunteer signups, you can make separate cards or handouts for each and ask only the necessary information to make sure the right person follows up and gets the rest of the information.
So what do you do once you have your visitors’ information? How do you reach out to them after their initial visit? We cover the best practices and tips on your follow up communication strategy in Part Two.