Welcome to Part 4 of a blog series called “10 Practical Ideas to Grow Your Church For Little to No Money!” In this blog, not only will you learn the final two ideas to grow your church, but I will share with you what I believe is the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to growing your church.
As more and more churches are emphasizing and planning to get back into full participation in worship, these blogs packed with practical ideas to help maximize your church’s impact. Over the past 12 months momentum for the overall Church has decelerated like we’ve never seen before. I firmly believe, however, that a shift is happening right now. It’s the churches that don’t play prevent defense, but instead, pull the goalie and act with urgency that will see great dividends.
If you missed Part 1, you can read that here. Part 1 presented why church growth is important and gave ideas 1 and 2 to help your church grow.
If you missed Part 2, you can read that here. Part 2 presented ideas 3-5 and talked about the single biggest key to church growth, and how our church leveraged this to become the fastest growing church in our denomination.
If you missed Part 3, you can read that here. Part 3 presented ideas 6-8 and how we tripled the amount of connection cards we received by doing just one thing.
Part 4 continues with two more ideas to help your church grow. So let’s dive right in:
You have likely heard the term “mystery shopper” or “secret shopper” before. These shoppers go in undercover into stores to observe, interact, and report on other customers and store employees. After their experience, they deliver feedback (positive and negative) to the organization in order to help them achieve their mission more effectively in the future.
A few years ago, I asked the pastor of a neighboring church, (they happened to be one of the fastest growing churches in our nation) if they would be willing to send somebody to our church for a weekend to worship with us and to report his feedback to me. I wanted this to be as normal of an experience as possible and so nobody else on the church staff even knew that he was coming. This was important because when we know someone is watching, sometimes we will tweak what we do. In addition to this, I was particularly interested in how effective our church was in reaching guests.
This “secret worshipper” helped point out a few things that we had overlooked. The major takeaway point is that he felt a little bit lost in our church as a first-time guest. Not only did we not address him much, but we also lacked a clear next step for guests. In addition, our connection cards, as well as the language that we engaged with our people, he deemed to be “insider language.” In other words, the members of the church knew what it meant, but likely, it was foreign to first-time guests. Finally, he recommended that our church create a better “New Here” experience.
When I asked him about this, he said that his church has signage as you enter their parking lot that says “For a ‘New Here’ experience, turn your hazards on.” If the hazards are on, from the moment that vehicle arrives on campus, that person has identified as a “New Here” person. this means they are likely ready to connect. His church also had a process in place, then, to welcome these people in their own portion of the parking lot, to point them in the right direction, to usher them to meet the kid’s directors (if needed), and ultimately to tell them about the church and find a place to sit in the worship center.
But what if they don’t want to be identified as “New Here” and want to be anonymous? Then they don’t put their hazards on. The more I reflected on this strategy, I realized it was brilliant. Not only do they go to effective measures to get people to attend their worship experiences, but they have also created a way for “new here” people to identify themselves so they can truly give them a VIP experience.
As I look back on the “secret worshipper” experience, not only did I learn a lot about what we were doing right and wrong, but it gave me an opportunity to also learn from another church who was excelling in church growth.
In addition, I found three reasons why this feedback from a “secret worshipper” was helpful:
If possible, it would be wise to choose a church that is growing quickly. After the weekend experience, come together as the two churches and share your findings with one another.
Did you know the average church sees 6-10% of its first-time guests return? If you can get 2 out of 10 to come back you will be well above average and if somehow you could get 3 or 4 in 10 you could start to see explosive growth. That is why I believe the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to church growth is how well you follow up with those who give you their contact information.
Imagine this. You get a new person, or family, to come to church. You then get them to connect and fill out a card and give you their information. Now what? Sadly, for most churches, this is where we miss out. We don’t follow up well. We don’t thank them for coming. For most churches, those cards sit in a stack, and every once in a while, in a non-systematic way, they will be reached out to. Maybe they will be entered into a database where they just become another name. Maybe their email address gets added to our newsletter. Isn’t there something we can do to reach out to our guests that is more intentional?
At my church, we sent them a personal note in the mail, we emailed them, and we called them. The point is to thank them for coming, and to invite them into taking a clear next step. But, even still, as I examined the process, I realize it wasn’t perfect. Our process was also run by volunteers, which is a great blessing in many respects, but something this important should have some serious staff oversight. Sometimes guests would get called on Monday, sometimes on Thursday. If a volunteer was on vacation, it may not happen until the next week. There has to be a better way.
The truth is that it is really hard and a lot of work to get new people to come to church. But if you’ve succeeded in actually getting them there and had them fill out a card, why would we ever let these cards sit in a stack or simply just mindlessly enter them into a database? If we are passionate about church growth, this is the group we should really lean into with everything that we can.
Because of privacy issues and how organizations have wrongly shared information in the past, I think many churches are hesitant to over-contact people. But I believe the risk is much greater on the other end, that churches don’t contact them enough.
When someone is filling out a card with their information, I want you to see them as raising their hand saying, “Please contact me.” If we don’t contact them there is a level of letdown for many of them. The question we should be asking is how should we reach out to them and what does it look like? What is scalable? There’s nothing too big we shouldn’t think about though.
One of the podcasts I listen to frequently is the Carey Nieuwhof Podcast. Carey will regularly host some of the pastors of the fastest-growing churches and ask them to give us the reasons behind their church growth. Twice in 2017, he talked with pastors of the fastest growing churches in our nation. And surprisingly, both pastors had something in common: their church visited the guests who filled a card out that Sunday at their home later that day. Keep in mind, these are churches that are in the thousands for attendancem, and they have found a way to make this a priority.
How? One of the pastors said his church trains their small group leaders to go and welcome these people, thank them for coming, invite them to take a clear next step. In addition, they deliver some fresh-baked cookies and a $5 gift card to Starbucks. Again, they do this on the same Sunday that the connection card is filled out.
The argument, again, is that people don’t want to be bothered. Amazingly, both of these pastors said they had received zero pushback whatsoever. Instead of pushback, guests feel loved, special, and it gets them excited to want to be a part of a church that cares.
This approach may be old school, but it’s relational. I believe this is smart offense. Churches that put so much effort to get new people to visit should ensure they throw enough effort at following up well with those who do come.
Not only this, but as guests take first steps outside of just attending worship, other systems should be put in place to follow-up and thank them. Here’s a few other potential ways to follow-up well:
Finally, if a guest doesn’t come back, it’s entirely appropriate to invite them back again. If a family doesn’t return in a few weeks, consider mailing a hand stamped and addressed letter with incentive to return (example: coupon for a free book).
Following up fast and well is work, but if this is the lowest hanging fruit, let’s be on the offensive and do our best to get them connected, and engaged in our churches.
Make changes if needed to ensure that guests are being followed up with in a way that shows them how important they are.
I hope that these blogs have been helpful for you. Again, click these links if you missed Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3. While not all of these ideas may work for you, I hope that at least one or two stuck out to you. And if they work for you church, praise God! And if these ideas don’t work for your church, I would just plead with you to try something else. Just try something.
This Jesus that we love and worship is too good for us to simply accept the status quo of declining church attendance, declining engagement, and declining devotion.
The last thing I’ll leave you with is this: Don’t ever apologize for making it easy to encounter Jesus. If there are people who don’t understand why you would involve the press, leverage or make up big days, include helicopters when you drop Easter eggs, do things outside of the box, strategize to get 5-star reviews online, or do anything else creatively to bring people to your church, just shrug them off and keep moving. Do whatever you can, anything short of sinning, to reach people for Jesus.