I was at the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta recently and was having dinner with two pastors that I coach and they both said they were doing a Trunk-or-Treat this year. I told them of how we did some serious evaluation of the one at my church and wanted to make sure that we had a way of collecting information and being able to follow up with guests (as opposed to just giving out candy).

My friend Chuck Scoggins, who is the Executive Director of the Center for Church Communications (maybe you’ve heard of Church Marketing Sucks) was with me and he decided to write about how to maximize this outreach opportunity. What follows is his guest post. Enjoy!

If you’re going to go through the effort to plan a trunk-n-treat, fall festival, or whatever you call your Halloween-alternative event, make sure you have a plan in place to maximize the event by following up with them afterward. There are a variety of ways to get participants to return to your church, but one of the most effective is through an email campaign.

Below are a few tips for you to consider if you plan on leveraging an email campaign to get your trunk-n-treat families to come back to your church on a Sunday.

Collect Information

There’s no way around it: if your strategy is to use your event to get people to eventually check out your church, you have to collect their info. The key to getting folks to give you their info is to get creative, for example:

  • Give Something Away
    If you give away a compelling gift like an Amazon Echo, Apple Watch, etc. people will be quick to hand over their details as they register to win. Set it up where someone doesn’t have to be present to win as a good excuse to get an email address so you can “contact the winner.”
    Pro Tip: Make sure you state at the bottom of your registration card that by registering to win, people are giving you information to send a follow-up email.
  • Give Away Food
    Cook up some hotdogs and a have a cooler of soft drinks (sodas and water for adults, juice boxes for the kiddos) and ask folks to quickly register (name and email address only) to get their ticket or wristband for concessions.
  • Photo Booth
    Family photos can often be a compelling reason to ask folks for their contact info. Set up a backdrop with hay bales and corn stalks where a professional photographer can take a free family photo. Collect an email address so you can send folks their photo.
    Pro Tip: If you take this approach, you might choose to manually send Email 1 from below (instead of using an automatic send) to thank them for attending and attach their photo. It’s a little more work, but the results will be a huge payoff.

Start With What You Know
As you begin thinking about forming your follow-up email campaign, begin with what you know: folks who came to your fall harvest event were most-likely families. (Pro Tip: Keep in mind that families come in all shapes and sizes, so make sure your emails are mindful of that diversity.) They’re also willing to attend community events that provide benefit for their family. We also know that people will not care about your church until they know that your church cares about them.

When done skillfully, we can leverage what we know about the people in our community to send emails that serve them in such a way that we leave them with a desire to check out our church. We can reach them without a “hard sell” email.

Pro Tip: Consider a mindset shift that your goal shouldn’t be to get people to come to your church, but rather to take your church to them…where they’re at and serving the needs they have. Resist the urge to tell folks all about your church in the initial email(s) you send.

Email Sequence
An email sequence, if you’re not familiar with them, is a series of emails that automatically send at regularly-scheduled intervals when you add an email to the list. You can easily set these up in MailChimp and, for following up on your fall event, I recommend sending one email immediately, then an email once a week following the initial send.

Here is an example of six value-add emails you could send:

Email 1:
Send a very short email simply thanking them for attending. You might want to include one line that tells folks you’re going to send them five more emails that might be helpful to their family.

Let them know they can unsubscribe at any time (by giving them this permission, you’ll show that you’re trying to be helpful and not pushy). Again, resist the urge to talk about your church in this email; make it about them, not you!

Email 2: 

Find another community event that they might enjoy and tell them about it. It there a community fall festival in your area? Or, perhaps you can provide a list of pumpkin farms and corn mazes in your area.

Pro Tip: If you can find a local pumpkin farm to partner with, you might be able to work out a special deal or a free giveaway (i.e. each family gets a free pumpkin) that can be an exclusive gift for your guests.

Email 3: 

By the time you send this email, the calendar will be nearing Thanksgiving. Send an email with “Six Ways to Help Your Family Express Thankfulness Around The Thanksgiving Table.” Include tips such as “go around the table and share one thing you’re grateful for” or, “place butcher paper as the tablecloth and encourage everyone to draw what they’re thankful for with crayons.” The goal here is to be creative and give creative and fun ideas for your email recipients. You might also include a list of area Thanksgiving Day parades or other activities folks can do on Thanksgiving.

Pro Tip: Resist the urge to make this over-spiritual.

Email 4:
Use this email to continue to provide value to your trunk-or-treat guests. This email could be something simple like a generic “Keeping Your Sanity While Parenting During The Busy Holiday Season” or something similar. Make sure it’s valuable to them and not about you (it’s okay to include a few spiritual tips such as, ‘find a good church with a good children’s program,’ but avoid making this list too churchy). Your goal here is to continue to keep yourself top-of-mind for them by giving them something they can use in their everyday lives without talking to them directly about your church.

Pro Tip: Get your children’s ministry staff and volunteers involved in creating this email. They probably have a better grasp on what families struggle with during the fall holiday season than you do.

Email 5: 

If you time your emails just right (a week apart, beginning after Halloween), you should be getting close to Christmas. Use this email as a chance to give folks something like “Five Ways to Avoid Christmas Gift Overload.”

Again, make this a practical piece—not a spiritual brow-beating—where you help families navigate the pressure to go overboard. Perhaps you introduce them to the 4 Christmas Gift Challenge:

  1. Something they want
  2. Something they need
  3. Something to wear, and
  4. 4. Something to read

Perhaps you introduce them to an alternative Christmas concept like Advent Conspiracy. Or, perhaps you point them to some meaningful local charities where they can use some of their Christmas budgets to serve another family at Christmas.

Pro Tip: The most important thing to do in this email is help them navigate pressure, not add guilt or give them more stuff to do. Approach this email carefully!

Email 6: 
After you’ve provided a TON of value to your fall event guests, you now have permission to start introducing your church. However, avoid simply making this a pitchy piece inviting people to church. Instead, make an introductory statement like, “If you’ve enjoyed these emails, we’d love to introduce you to our children’s ministry.” Then, explain the benefits of your children’s programming (talk about how it’s fun, safe, etc.). Introduce your children’s ministry staff (with photos) and let people know what they can expect when they arrive (children’s check-in process, etc.).

If you can get these families to bring their children to check out your children’s ministry, you stand a great chance at getting the adults to attend your worship service and have a great shot at getting guests from your fall event to your church.

Follow-up Emails:

Christmas

If you’ve done this process well, you are probably okay to send people a simple email to invite folks to your Christmas service(s). I would encourage you to send this email 7 to 10 days prior to your Christmas service(s) and think about how to include language that talks about how folks can enjoy the traditions of Christmas while celebrating at your service(s). Help them understand the benefit to them (think: warm and fuzzies, not spiritual transformation) if they go through the “hassle” of bringing their family to church.

January

Think about some on-ramp events or programs you can invite people to with a seventh email after a few weeks have passed (maybe in January). Financial Peace University or a Family Life Marriage event or something similar is a great option.

Final Pro Tips:

  • Make sure your church’s web address is in the footer of the email in case someone wants to find out more about you on their own. Don’t make it gaudy or overbearing, but don’t neglect the opportunity to provide someone an opportunity to get more info.
  • Speaking of the website, make sure your website is stocked up with everything a newcomer would need to get the information they want. See this post about what to include on your website to help first-time guests. 
  • In the final email you send (sixth, seventh, or eighth email), include a single line at the end that says “This is the last Trunk-or-Treat follow-up email we’ll be sending you. If you’ve enjoyed this valuable content and would like to add your name to our main church email list, click here [with a link to join your main list].”
  • Use an email system, such as MailChimp, that helps you follow the CAN-SPAM laws.
  • Please don’t go cheap on your candy quantity, the quality of your soft drinks (don’t buy cheap discount store off-brand sodas), etc. Nothing is worse than a family taking the risk to bring their children to your event and them going home disappointed that they got less candy than their friends did by going door-to-door.

My prayer is that God would send many, many people to your event and that He would give you wisdom in how to best follow up with folks to eventually grow your church.

Greg Atkinson

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