Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How to Retain Visitors

In my experience, the average reformed/presbyterian church does not have a problem attracting visitors. Unless you meet 30 miles outside of town on a dirt road no one ever drives on (and I know those types of churches exist!), then chances are you will occasionally have a visitor in your midst on a Sunday morning. If your church does any sort of advertising or any sort of outreach, those chances increase. But even if you don't, you will get the stray visitor now and again. This post is not meant to give advice on how to attract visitors, but how to make sure that the visitor's first visit is not their last.

Here are some simple steps that I have seen help retain visitors:

1. Pray! Pray that God will send you visitors. Pray that the visitors will feel welcomed. Pray that the Holy Spirit would work in their hearts to apply the preaching of the Word that they will hear at your church. Pray that you and the members of your congregation can effectively minister to the visitors. Pray that they will come back.

2. Get the visitors contact information. Have a guest book and make sure they visitor signs it. Alternatively, have pew cards for visitors to fill out. Do something to get their name, address, phone number and e-mail. The point here is to prepare for follow-up. You will need contact information.

3. Greet your visitors! Some churches make the visitors stand up at the beginning of the service so everyone knows who they are. I think that goes to far, and could potentially embarrass your visitors. But, you must make sure to introduce yourself, shake their hand, ask their name. Elders, this is primarily your responsibility. You must be the ice breakers. If we have visitors on a Sunday morning, and I don't get to talk to them, I feel I have failed in my duty (thankfully, when this happens, I know the other elders will have talked to the visitor). Elders should also be encouraging others in the congregation to improve on this point. For some people, it is very difficult to say hi to someone they don't know. For others it is easy. The more people that greet a visitor, the more welcome they will feel in your church.

4. Be prepared to show hospitality to your new visitors. This one requires some forethought. My wife and I try to plan each week for the scenario of visitors (the key word being "try"--we don't always succeed). We try to plan our Sunday lunch accordingly. We try to leave the house in a state which is appropriate for visitors (kids' toys put away, dishes done, etc.). This can be a difficult thing to do as you are rushing out of the house on a Sunday morning to get to church on time, but it really only requires a bit more effort than usual. I view this preparation as part of my preparing for the Lord's Day: I want to be prepared to show hospitality.

5. Follow-up! This goes back to point 2 (get the visitors' contact information). Now that you have their contact info, send them a card thanking them for visiting your church. Take them a plate of cookies during the week (as a side note, this was done to my family the first time we visited my current church. It pretty much sealed the deal for us and we've been their ever since). Give them a phone call, asking if there is any way you can be of service to them. Whatever you choose to do, make that follow-up contact.

These are only five things that can help you retain visitors, and I'm sure there are many more. Do you have something to add to this list? Leave a comment and let me know!


  1. Seth, one of the biggest problems we (or I) have is securing visitor information. We have both a guest book and visitor cards in the pews, but they very rarely get filled out. So, invariably, the visitor leaves and there is no contact information -- ergo, no follow up. How would you suggest to prevent this?

  2. Well, my method may not be the most suave, but I would have the visitor card in my pocket when I go an introduce myself to them, and after talking to them for a few minutes would point-blank ask them: "Would you mind filling out a visitor card, so we can follow-up with you?" If they don't want to, so be it, but that way they are presented with the opportunity to do so.

  3. I think that church members must show up early and prepare to meet new people! Visitor tend to show up either early or late. Someone needs to be ready to engage both these visitors -- either with plenty of conversation and information before the service, or providing assistance to the ones who need to "sneek in," after the service has started.

    AND -- REMEMBER THEIR NAMES! Especially if they show up a second time!