A friend who is a retired UMC clergy person shared with me how hard it was for him and his wife to find a new church home. They had moved into a new community and visited the five UM churches driving distance from their house. At each one they filled out the registration pad leaving their name, address, email and phone number. They marked “visitor” and on several marked “would like a visit from the pastor.” How many of those five churches responded? None. Not one.
When I am asked about church decline and the reasons for it, I share what hurts me to say: A big issue is our lack of friendliness to newcomers. Churches often feel they are friendly but the reality is very different. How do I know this? Because I visit churches and I talk to people I send to churches to visit. Sure, we say hello and hand a newcomer a bulletin. But for the rest – the follow-up, the invites to our gatherings, an invite to fellowship or lunch? We don’t do that. And this is a big issue.
Today we continue our summer series where I’m sharing a list of 9 ideas for pastors and laity as we live into Bishop Grant’s challenge to increase worship attendance and professions of faith. Here are earlier posts: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, 6
Today I want to focus on, What is our WEEKLY plan to follow-up with visitors, those attending less than weekly, and those who were weekly but have had a change of attendance?
You need a plan and the simpler the better. Here are a couple of ideas to try – (summer is a great time to update your welcome plans for visitors).
Idea #1 – Use cards or registration sheets to track attendance. Sheets are given to the pastor or another key leader Sunday and calls are made Sunday from 4-6 PM. Calls are made to all first time visitors, newer people, guests of members who attended and members and regular attenders who the pastor either didn’t have time to connect with or who seems like someone who would appreciate a call. Patterns are noticed – who is missing? Calls are short and friendly. Notes are taken and shared with the rest of staff/key leaders.
If the pastor isn’t the right person for this in your community, find out who is. If Sundays from 4-6 PM don’t work, pick a time that does. If no one answers, leave a message. If email (and not a phone number) is given, email instead.
Idea #2 – Use cards or registration sheet to track attendance. Office Administrator creates a simple report each Monday morning listing attendance, visitors, offering, etc. Staff meet Monday at 11 AM and go over the list of visitors, sharing information. Each staff person calls a couple of people right after the staff meeting – both newcomers and regulars, and those who we haven’t seen in a while. A Google Doc is shared between the staff and notes are left taken and shared so everyone knows the calls have been made.
Please do not send a form letter to a newcomer. This is a terrible practice, left over from a time when we didn’t need to cultivate visitors. Today we do. Today people are looking for a more authentic connection – through voice, text or email.
I find most pastors and leaders believe they do not have the time to do this. But the 1-2 hours you spend will make a difference both in newcomers returning and in regulars attending more often. And, while it is hard to start it, you will be glad you did.
Test it out – Try if for 6 months. Spend one hour each week calling everyone who leaves a phone number and see what you find. Thank them for their visit. Ask how you might pray for them this week. Invite them back.
Action – Put together a plan to call everyone who visits and leaves a phone number. Send an email or personal note if they leave addresses. Make notes about what you learn.
Action – Evaluate your numbers with your new system. How did calling people and connecting more intentionally work for you?