I was a campus pastor at a multisite church for 6 years. After just “winging it” for the first year, I talked to my friend, Nelson Searcy, and he suggested I read his book Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church . Now, mind you, many things are discussed in the Fusion book, including first impressions. I’m just touching on the area of assimilation today.
I first read the summary of the book by one of my sponsors called Leaders Book Summaries. After I read the summary, I was hooked and I had our entire Lead Team (our Senior Leadership Team) order and read the book. I then ordered copies for the staff at my campus and we read through it together, too. It’s an amazing read and well worth the investment. I highly encourage you to go get the book (paperback or Kindle) here. The leaders summary will give you the basics and highlights. The book will give you the full philosophy, principles and strategy for the Fusion concept.
So how do we flesh this out at my church? How do we get guests to return and become fully-engaged? Well, I’m a big proponent of the communication or connection card (having people fill out some sort of response or communication card), so we can gather data, allow people to sign up, let us know if they are guests and various other uses. On the connection card, there’s a place for you to check off if you’re a first-time guest or second-time guest. (One church I served also tracked third-time guests)—We contact both (this is important).
My admin. goes through the connection cards on Monday and gives me a list of all first and second-time guests. For the first-time guests, I write a handwritten thank you note (this is key) to thank them for coming and encourage them to come back. Inside the note, we give them a $5 gift card (the why for all of this is covered in the book.)
I also have a first-time guest email that goes out to anyone that included their email on their communication card. If they included their phone number, I also try to call them at some point later in the week to see if they have any questions about our church and again encourage them to come back the following Sunday. Many churches now use text as a connection point. I encourage you to check out my friends at Text in Church—they’re a great resource tool and have tons of free templates you can use to follow-up with your guests.
Why is all this contact with first-time guests so important? Allow me to quote from the book:
“When your guests return for a second look, you’ve won 80 percent of the battle of gaining new regular attenders and have increased the chances they’ll begin a journey with Christ. Their return signals a new level of interest and openness that is very exciting.”
Did you catch that? if your guests return for a second visit, you’ve won 80 percent of the battle and they are much more likely to make a decision for Christ. Wow! So, we put everything into getting first-time guests to become second-time guests. What do you we do for second-time guests?
For our second-times guests (that check off that box on our Connection Card), I send a form letter that is geared to a returning guest and I talk about next steps (like getting plugged into a LifeGroup or checking out our Discovery or Newcomers Class). In the letter and envelope is another $5 gift card—to a different place. I also have a second-time email that I send to them, which outlines next steps and encourages them to begin to get plugged in.
Here’s one sample or template for you to check out. This is the first-time guest email I sent out each week to first-timers.
First Time Guest Email
“Hello. I’m Greg and I’m the Campus Pastor at Forest Park Carthage. I just wanted to send you a quick email to first of all thank you for visiting our church and secondly to encourage you to come back and check us out again.
“We are a fun, friendly, family-oriented church that welcomes people with open arms. Please feel free to come up to me and introduce yourself this Sunday so I can put a name and face together. I look forward to getting to know you better and would love to take you to coffee. Just let me know when is good for you.
“To keep up with me, my family and my daily life, please friend me on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/greg.atkinson1. To keep up with our church on Facebook, like us here: https://www.facebook.com/fpcarthage. See you this coming Sunday. It’s going to be a great day!
“One final thing: We’d really like to know what you thought of your first experience with our church. If you would, please take two minutes and go to this link: (there’s a link to our guest survey—see below) and fill out our guest survey. We take seriously what we do at Forest Park and want to make sure we’re doing our very best to welcome people to our church. Thanks again.”
I created a new tool and resource for churches to create guest surveys that they can email, embed on a website, and/or use at a kiosk on Sunday morning. We also link to your church’s social and Yelp accounts so the guest can leave you a review! We release this brand new resource any day now. Go here to sign-up for details and to be the first to know when this drops.
Assimilation is an often overlooked or under-appreciated part of church ministry. It is vital to closing the back door to your church and helping your ministry grow. Another key that I want to help highlight is how crucial it is to get people plugged in. When I was at Forest Park: We worship. We grow. We serve.—that’s our strategy. If people can get plugged into a LifeGroup (Grow) and/or begin to serve in some area of ministry (Serve), they are going to naturally be assimilated into our church and chances are, they will stick around.
This is all a work in progress for me and my church. We’re working the kinks out and tweaking our process. We don’t have all the answers. I just thought someone could benefit from this and thought I’d share it as a resource to you. I hope it helps. God bless you as you try to be a stickier church.
Greg Atkinson is a leadership coach and guest-services consultant with more than two decades of ministry experience. This article originally appeared on GregAtkinson.com.