One of the goals of the local church is to reach and keep new people. Not for the sake of numbers, but because genuine church leaders WANT to reach their communities with the life-changing message and power of the Gospel of Christ.
I’ve had the privilege of traveling and assisting hundreds of churches over the past 20+ years. Several years ago, I became extremely frustrated, because I personally witnessed so many churches that would see new people visit, but not stay. They would have special services, revivals and events where they would see new people visit, but hardly any of them would stay. Interestingly enough, I saw that church leaders craved the next “special event” where they could see more people come, but didn’t recognize the need to work on their processes for KEEPING new people.
If people try our church, but don’t stay, it’s our responsibility as church leaders to discover why and take action to make it better.
3 Ways to Reach and Keep More New People:
- Sundays Have to be Great
Especially in America, when somebody starts surrendering to the tug of God on their life, attending a church is their “go-to” move. That’s good, as long as the experience is great. If it isn’t, we’ve actually hindered their journey to Jesus.
Weekend Services have to be GREAT, but “great” doesn’t mean perfect. Don’t aim for perfection. Aim for Life-Giving and Excellent.
Our weekend services are the entry-point where people are trying out Christianity. They’re curious. They’re probably feeling conviction. But they’re probably not sure whether or not they’re going all-in.
With that in mind, we should prepare our weekend services as if new people really are coming – people who are hungry for God, but also trying to decide if “church-life” is for them.
When they show up at our churches, the experience should be GREAT. Because, no amount of follow-up will bring people back to a poor weekend experience. Here are three areas to focus on first:
- The Main Service: Prepare your service intentionally to eliminate dead air-time, have high quality worship and life-giving messages, and flow seamlessly from start to finish. NOTE: Yes, you can be “Spirit-Led” and “Well-Planned” at the same time.
- Kids’ Department: Parents have to believe in it, and kids have to love it. If kids love it, the parents will come back.
- First Impressions: New people are evaluating everything as they arrive. They don’t need it to be perfect, but the CULTURE matters so much to them. Pour tons of time and energy into creating an incredible experience as people enter your property and building. Make their entrance easy, fun and life-giving.
- Next Steps have to be Clear
The local church is in the business of taking people from where they are to where God wants them to be. Lots of people are saying to themselves, “I like how I feel, but I don’t know where I fit.” The answer to this problem is when the church leaders:
- are crystal clear on where they are trying to take people
- understand and develop the steps people need to take
- put in tons of effort to clearly communicate those steps
We don’t get to decide their speed of progression, but we do get to decide whether or not they know what steps to take.
The weekend service is all about making a great first impression and giving people the opportunity to connect with God. Beyond that, we have to make their next steps CLEAR and EASY.
Make sure they know how they can easily:
- Discover more about your church and find out how they can get involved.
- Connect with other people outside of the Sunday service.
- Serve on a team.
You may need to develop some of these things, but once you have them, you should constantly communicate these Next Steps, rather than communicating lots of new and random things.
- Follow-up has to be Consistent
We really need to recognize that random follow-up isn’t good stewardship. So many churches focus tons of attention on outreach (which is great), but very little on follow-up. The goal isn’t to get somebody to visit once. The goal is to lead people into a growing relationship with God and with the local church. The way we follow-up makes a huge difference in that journey.
I’m NOT saying we shouldn’t do outreach, but what I’ve seen is that God is already pulling people toward Him, but He’s depending on the local church to take really good care of them and show them the right kind of attention once they show up. Here are some starter-points for Guest Follow-up:
- You need a REAL PLAN. Literally write it out on a whiteboard. Whatever action they take, we need a systematic response. “When they say or do THIS, THESE are the EXACT steps we take.”
Example: If somebody fills out a Connect Card and marks that they are a 1st-time Guest, what are the EXACT STEPS we will take?
- Create a Weekly Schedule. Once you have a clear plan, create a weekly schedule to make sure these tasks are completed.
Example: If one of your steps is to mail a letter to every 1st-time guest, and you want it to arrive on Wednesday of that week, create a weekly schedule to mail those out on Monday.
- Stick To it. Consistency is massive in the eyes of God. No matter how many guests you have, be consistent with the plan. Do it faithfully week after week, and trust that God is doing a work in their hearts.
Don’t be overwhelmed and don’t feel like you have to recreate the wheel. Reach out to a church that is several steps ahead of you and doing these things well, be honest and submit to learning from them.
These things won’t happen without intentionality on your part. These are the things that are mapped out in a backroom and nobody notices. But God does.
And when our churches become life-giving places where Next Steps are clear and guests are cared for, God HIMSELF will be at work drawing people to us.
Brian serves as Staff Pastor at Church of the Crossroads in Corinth, MS, and co-owner of Faith Teams Software. He has a degree in church consulting and has worked with hundreds of churches across the country. Brian and his wife, Lisa, have been married for over 25 years, and they have two sons, Avery and Adam.