How I’ve Done Church Assimilation and Follow-up

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 (which is HUGE – you know how much I’ve written about that in the past). I’m just touching on the area of assimilation today.

I first read the summary of the book by one of my sponsors (seen to the right) 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 my 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 leader’s 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 to Subway (this is all covered in the book, as to the Why?).

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% 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 you’re guests return for a second visit, you’ve won 80% 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 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 – but this is to Sonic. You’ll have to read the book to understand the importance of all this. 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 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!

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!

*** I mentioned how much I love a Connection Card. I put together a sample template pack of editable connection cards for you. You can download it (and other FREE PDFs I wrote) here. The sample connection card and PDF bundle is FREE!

*** PRO TIP: You’ll get more connection cards turned in if you offer a free gift. It’s also very thoughtful and appreciated. Ideas for free gifts are in the above-mentioned PDF resource.

*** BONUS: Did you know you can interact with me and nearly 15,000 church leaders from around the world? You can join us at http://guestexperience.church/

Also, we have a brand new group focused on assimilation and helping guests take their next steps. You can join us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/churchassimilation/

We’d love for you to join our community as we grow together!

*** Be sure to sign-up for the First Impressions Conference coming in November. We’re currently in Early Bird registration so you’ll save half-off!

Greg Atkinson Knows Church Guest Experience

Someone recently interviewed me and asked me what I do. I thought I would state it plainly here on my blog again. I’m still coaching and consulting – yes, even in this crazy 2020 year.

Greg Atkinson and the team at Worship Impressions specialize in church guest experience. From the basic church secret shopper or mystery worshiper weekend experience to online presence evaluations to coaching and training – we do it all and stand ready to serve you.

I’ve recently partnered with a company and offer all kinds of services including renovation, AVL, signage, platform design, and more.

Greg Atkinson has been considered an expert in church guest experience, guest services, first impressions, hospitality, worship, and overall church leadership. You can read more about him HERE.

Interested in hiring Greg? Contact Greg by filling out the GET STARTED form (found at the top of his business website).

And be sure to check out the fourth all-new: First Impressions Conference featuring a killer lineup of over 100 speakers.

Did you know you can interact with me and nearly 15,000 church leaders from around the world? You can join us at http://guestexperience.church/

Also, we have a brand new group focused on assimilation and helping guests take their next steps. You can join us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/churchassimilation/

Weekend Worship, Guest Services, Church Guest Experience, and the First Impressions Conference

Hey, friends! Did you know that there is a Facebook group where we talk about everything that happens on a weekend at the local church? There is!

If you serve as a pastor, church staff member (Communications, Children’s, worship, guest services, church guest experience, first impressions, hospitality – or even on the security team) – this is a great place to share best practices, ask questions, and learn.

Go HERE to join in the discussion with nearly 15,000 other church leaders from around the world! Remember – this week could very well be someone’s first Sunday at your church. LOVE and SERVE them well.

  • And if you haven’t already, go sign-up for the fourth First Impressions Conference. It’s November 4-6, and it’s all online (no travel). Featuring over 100 speakers. You’ve got to see this killer church guest experience and first impressions lineup featuring bestselling authors, pastors, practitioners, thought leaders, and church communications specialists.
  • See you in November! Register now for half off with the Early Bird discount. https://firstimpressionsconference.com/

 

10 Questions to Ask Your Congregation Before You Reopen

“When can we reopen our church?” That is the question that keeps getting asked. I want to help you make an informed decision.

Pastor Judah Smith recently said that now is a great time to survey your congregation. We wholeheartedly agree. Our fear is that church leaders and pastors may be assuming things that their people aren’t thinking or on the same page with. 

What if you have a church of 500 people but when you reopen the doors only 100 show up? What if all 500 show up, but your Governor has put social distancing guidelines and maximum occupancy numbers in place?

What if it takes 50 volunteers to pull off a Sunday, but only 10 return? 

What are you going to do about children’s ministry? How will you keep them safe?

Who is going to completely sanitize the church? How will that be communicated to the congregation? 

Will you be adding services? Will you be roping off seats and dividing up sections of the auditorium for seating?

What about the drive-in church? Many churches are talking about starting back outside (drive-in) first before going back inside the church building?

Will you continue to live stream and do all the online church stuff you’ve been doing the past month? 

Will you continue to pass the offering plate? How will you handle giving? Are you adding giving boxes and continuing to encourage online giving?

How will you celebrate Mother’s Day? 

These are things that must be thought through and discussed as church leaders.

Here are some sample questions for your congregational survey to get you thinking. Use whatever works best in your context:

 

  1. When is the soonest you would consider coming back to the church building?
  2. Would you come if we had a drive-in service?
  3. Do you expect the church to provide you a mask?
  4. If you volunteer, are you planning to volunteer in the same spot if we reopen?
  5. If you have kids, will you be putting your kids in children’s ministry?
  6. Do you want the church to serve coffee and refreshments? (If you used to)
  7. When churches resume worship services in their facilities, will you be more likely to attend services in person, or online?
  8. In the last 6 weeks, how many times have you watched services online?
  9. How many times a month do you typically attend church?
  10. Have you ever given online to our church?
  11. Are you comfortable with us passing the offering plate?
  12. Are you comfortable with us serving Communion?
  13. Are you in favor of us rolling out house churches/small groups of 10 people to get back to meeting together physically until it is safe to do so at our full size?

Survey creation and sharing options:

SurveyMonkey.com

Google forms

Gravity form

JotForm

Formstack

Typeform.com

Your church’s ChMS (Example: FaithTeams, Tithely, Rock, Planning Center, CCB, Fellowship One, etc.)

 

SO… When you do decide to open up, here are some great resources like hand sanitizer stations from my friends at Outreach.

 

Articles and resources for consideration as you make these decisions:

 

https://www.whitehouse.gov/openingamerica/

 

https://www.aei.org/research-products/report/national-coronavirus-response-a-road-map-to-reopening/

 

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/church-after-quarantine-5-strategic-questions-help-your-ted-vaughn/

 

https://kenbraddy.com/2020/04/18/20-questions-your-church-should-answer-before-people-return/

 

24 More Questions the Church Should Ask Before People Return

 

https://www.tnbaptist.org/reopen

 

https://www.columbiametro.org/relaunching-your-congregation/

 

https://medium.com/@pastorbrandonweddle/how-to-re-open-your-church-after-covid-19-bd10ad5b2fd6

 

https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/april/what-relaunching-church-might-look-like-over-next-312-month.html

 

https://www.ministrytogether.com/what-to-do-now-as-we-enter-coronavirus-phase-2/

 

https://www.vanderbloemen.com/reopening-church

 

https://www.vanderbloemen.com/blog/reopening-the-church-after-covid19

 

https://malphursgroup.com/ready-to-reopen-church-checklist/

 

https://www.smartchurchsolutions.com/blog/church-facility-re-opening-checklist

 

https://stateofthechurch.com/churchpulseweekly

 

*** For a free downloadable PDF of this resource along with tons of other resources for the Church and Coronavirus (including free webinars), join the Weekend Worship and Guest Services Facebook group and join the discussion of 13,000 church leaders from around the world sharing resources. You can join for free HERE.

SO… When you do decide to open up, here are some great resources like hand sanitizer stations and face masks from my friends at Outreach.

*** If you’d like a downloadable copy of this resource of top questions to ask to pass out to your leadership team, click HERE.

How Your Church’s Website Homepage Should Look

For well over a decade I’ve evaluated church’s online presence across North America. For over 200 churches, I’ve critiqued their social media and website and given them feedback – all without having to get on an airplane. If you’d like to hire me to evaluate your church’s online presence like I talked about on Carey Nieuwhof’s podcast, go HERE to get more details.

However, many of the things that I looked for and advised are no longer relevant. For example, people don’t need to see a homepage with service times and directions like I’ve always advised. They don’t need to see an “I’m New” or “What to Expect” or “Plan Your Visit” button.

Now, in the midst of the Coronavirus, you should have an overhaul of your church’s homepage.

Here’s what people need to see when they go to your church’s website:

  • Online services (You should have your messages/services playing on your home page).
  • Online small groups
  • Online giving
  • Links to social media (Facebook and YouTube)
  • Daily Devotionals (if you do them)
  • Links to what you’re doing in your community

Here are some great churches for you to get inspiration from:

PRO-TIP: You don’t have to stream your service once a week (Sunday at 11am for example). You can have multiple services play throughout the week. As a matter of fact, you could be delivering online content to your people daily. Set up your service to play on-demand!

BONUS: Also, why not do daily devotionals? Why not use an online connection card like my friends at Vous Church? Get creative.

SPECIAL SHOUT OUT AND RECOGNITION TO MY FRIENDS AT ACCESS CHURCH THAT I CONSULTED WITH: https://couch.church/

I’ve been saying: “Digital = Daily” – Greg Atkinson

 

*** Since I’m grounded and not traveling like I normally do for secret shopper consultations, I can do more of my Package Three (online presence evaluations). I can evaluate your church’s social media, website, and online service. If this is something that interests you, go HERE for more details.

*** Looking to start using a true ChMS/church database with online giving built-in? Have you seen that FaithTeams is offering a FREE 60-day trial due to the Covid virus? Sign-up HERE.

*** My small church plant got up-and-going in minutes with our online giving through Tithe.ly. Here’s my link to them.

 

HAPPY EASTER!

  • Here are some essential and insightful thoughts from my friend Carey Nieuwhof about this first all digital Easter. Check them out HERE.
  • Here are all kinds of FREE Easter resources from Life.Church HERE.

The One Thing You Must Do this Easter

CCV-Communication-Card

We all come from different tribes, denominations, styles of music and sizes small to large. The one thing churches of all kind have in common on a day as huge as Easter is wanting to turn first-time guests into second-time guests. How do you do that?

One tool that I’ve used well over the years and highly recommend is having some sort of response card, info card, communication card or connection card – whatever you want to call it.

You can put these in the seats, in the bulletin or hand them out as people walk in. You can collect them in a variety of ways: Have the guests put them in the offering plate, or have the guests take them to a connection or collection area.

You can see a higher response rate by offering a free gift for people that turn them in at the designated area. Some churches give away books and some give away coffee mugs.

The point is to collect as many responses and connection cards as you can. Please have a circle or box that they can check off that reads “First-time Guest.” Also, good to ask is, “How did you hear about us?” Also, have boxes for people to check off if they made a decision for Christ. Also good is space for people to share prayer requests.

What you do with the card once it’s turned in (what you do post-Easter) is key. As I’ve said before, “Assimilation is an often overlooked or under-appreciated part of church ministry.”

You can read all about how I did assimilation at a church where I was a Campus Pastor at HERE.

Don’t have a Connection Card? Don’t know where to start? I created this sample pack (which has editable files) for you and your church.

Go here to download this resource for free!

I hope you guys have an incredible and productive week and may you see much fruit this Easter season!

Will Your Guests Return After Easter? Here Are 8 Things to Consider

If you’re like most pastors and church leaders, you’re probably already planning for Easter. It will be here before you know it. I was talking with a church recently and they said they wanted to help people get “from the street to the seat.” That’s cool and it’s what I do. I also help you turn first-time guests into second-time guests.

As a secret shopper in churches nationwide, I report specific reasons why I wouldn’t return for a second visit and why, most likely, their guests aren’t coming back. Whether it’s a church plant, established church, a small church or mega-church, some details are universal and quickly determine the first impression your church makes. Let’s look at eight:

The Front Door

Before a guest ever steps foot on your church’s physical campus, he or she has probably already checked out your church website. What every church should have clearly visible on their homepage is a section or button for first-time guests. Once clicked on, this should take you to a page that addresses FAQ’s, service times, directions, parking instructions (Is there a side of the building that is better to park on if one has kids?), what to expect (upbeat music and relevant, practical, Biblical preaching in a come as you are atmosphere, etc.), what to wear (Are jeans okay? Are shorts okay?), and encouragement for them to be sure to stop by Guest Central or your church’s Information Booth to pick up a first-time guest packet.

What Stinks?

It’s important that no church ever underestimates the sense of smell. While sight is the strongest sense for short-term memory, the sense of smell is the strongest and most vivid for long-term memories. If you’ve ever smelled something and had memories you hadn’t thought of in years come flooding back, that’s your sense of smell in action. Every church has the potential for positive or negative smells. Mold is a bad smell. Coffee is a good smell. Bleach is a bad smell. Citrus is a good smell. Many churches have restrooms that are disgusting and smell like urine. This lack of attention to detail can be costly and discourage many from ever returning. As best you can, try to walk into the lobby or entrance of your church with a new nose.

Park Here

One of Tim Stevens’ three growth lids that he thinks every growing church should have is someone who is constantly watching parking. Tim says, “This is why Visitor Parking is so crucial. If it’s difficult for newcomers to go to your church, they won’t go.” Some would argue that guests want to remain anonymous and don’t want special parking. Of course, some want to go unnoticed and will choose to park in regular parking (a minority), but for the rest of newcomers, they are appreciative of a close parking space; it’s a kind gesture in an already intimidating and nerve-racking experience of attending a church for the first time, especially a large one with a huge campus.

This Way Parents

One way to assure guests will not return is to have a confusing, long or hard to find process, for getting their kids registered and in the right classroom. Wise churches have signage for first-time guest kids’ check-in and make the process quick and painless. Regular attendees may know to go up to the check-in kiosk and enter their phone number or swipe their card, but guests will be clueless and need a manned station that is clearly marked for guests and have a volunteer walk them through the registration. Then have that person or another helper walk you to your kids’ class explaining what will be going on and how to go about picking their kids back up. If they must have a sticker with corresponding numbers on it to get their kids, this needs to be explained to them. Signage for the kids’ check-in should start in the entryway of the guest parking. Do not assume people know where to go once they enter the building.

Give It Away

Something subtle, but powerful is a church that has a generous spirit. Chris Hodges at Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, AL is big on this. They have a coffee shop, but they also have a designated area where people can get free coffee and not pay for anything. They also give away their message CDs. Too many churches charge for everything and wonder why no one buys CDs of the message. If you want to bless people and create a generous spirit throughout your church, give away free coffee and message CDs (and other surprises throughout the year). I know churches that will have ice cream trucks pull up outside the church doors and give away free ice cream to congregants leaving on a hot, summer day.

Security Counts

One issue that is huge to a secret shopper and visiting families is security. If a parent is worried about their child’s safety, they will not enjoy the service and will likely not return. A children’s classroom must be clean, safe and secure. Security also includes the check-out process. If anyone can walk into a classroom and pick up a kid, you’re asking for trouble and will turn off potential newcomers. It’s important that your kids’ volunteers are trained well and know to ask for the parent’s sticker when picking up their kids. This is vital and goes a long way to ensuring a tragedy doesn’t occur and a parent has peace of mind.

The Visible Pastor

Accessibility of the senior pastor is another subtle and powerful statement of a church. Even pastors of the largest churches in America make an intentional and strategic effort to be seen, greeted and hugged after a service. They may have a bodyguard present for security reasons, but they are available and willing to pray with people that need to speak to their pastor. Some churches have a designated Guest Central, like Steve Stroope at Lake Pointe in Rockwall, TX or Brady Boyd at New Life in Colorado Springs. Some have a Meet and Greet.Some pastors stand down at the altar and meet and pray with people like Kevin Myers at 12Stone in Atlanta. Some walk around the campus shaking hands like Don Wilson at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix used to. Erwin McManus at Mosaic LA has an After Party, at which the pastor is present and available to meet with newcomers. This, especially in a large church, goes a long way toward countering the rock star or unavailable pastor stigma that so many guests walk into the church expecting.

Finish Strong

It’s simply not enough for greeters and parking lot attendants to say “Hello” or “Welcome” when one walks into their church. To go to another level, have your first impressions team stationed at their posts when the service ends to say “Goodbye” or “Have a nice week.”  This goes a long way to wrapping a bow around the entire morning experience and will send them off with a lasting positive impression.

I’m really just scratching the surface, but these are some of the most crucial things to have on your radar. I cover all this and more in great depth in my book Secrets of a Secret Shopper.  If you’re interested in hiring me to serve you as a church secret shopper, go here for more info.

Look out for and be sensitive to these 8 things and you’ll see a greater return of second and third-time guests. And allow me to be the first to say: Happy Easter!

*This article originally appeared in Outreach magazine and on Pastors.com.

Why Bring Greg Atkinson, the Church Secret Shopper, to Your Church This Year?

Greg Atkinson is the bestselling author of Secrets of a Secret Shopper and The Hospitality Handbook for Volunteers – and is a speaker, coach, and consultant who has worked with churches of all sizes, including some of the largest and fastest-growing churches in the country. Greg has also consulted with numerous businesses and nonprofits, including Josh McDowell Ministries.

Greg has produced worship services for three mega-churches and been a pastor – serving the local church for the last 20-plus years. He has also produced large conferences including Leadership Network’s Conference and Catalyst Dallas.

Greg has a unique ability to see things that you miss due to his “fresh eyes” and experience in knowing what to look for that makes a difference to guests visiting your church.

Whether your church is historic and traditional like Menlo Park Presbyterian in California and First Baptist Dallas, or modern and rocking like New Life Church in Colorado Springs and Bayside Church in Sacramento (where Lincoln Brewster leads worship) – Greg will make sure your church is doing things with excellence and an eye towards hospitality.

Greg is available to come to your church over the weekend this year and give you a detailed and lengthy report of his finding and action items to do to help your church go to the next level. Greg goes over the entire report with your church’s leadership team, takes questions and points you in the right direction. If you’re serious about reaching the unchurched and making your church guest-friendly, contact Greg.

Here’s what some amazing leaders said after hiring Greg to work with their church:

“Greg’s ministry provided a really valuable perspective on our weekend experiences as a church. His heart for the Kingdom and passion to see every church reach its maximum potential is a gift to those of us who care deeply about seeing our churches thrive.” – John Ortberg, Senior Pastor, Menlo Church, Menlo Park, CA

“Greg came into Grace Community Church and gave us a top to bottom look at who we are as a church to the people we are most trying to reach. He is thorough and detailed in his report but tries hard to be helpful, explaining his findings in a context that fits with the church culture. He knows that culture well because he knows churches, people and he does his homework. This is money well spent!” – Ron Edmondson, Former Co-Pastor, Grace Community Church, Clarksville, TN, CEO of Leadership Network

Greg Atkinson is smart, detailed, thorough and saw things that we would never notice.  His feedback was invaluable and we are making several strategic changes as a result of his visit. We will use him again. I encourage to you do the same. In a word – he’s the best.” – Ray Johnston, Senior Pastor, Bayside Church, Sacramento, CA

“Visitors to your church are more often than not people who don’t know Jesus and are looking for an excuse to not come back. Greg’s evaluation of your church helps you dig into where you can significantly improve a guest’s first time experience. He makes you think and leaves no rock unturned.  Probably the best money we’ve spent all year long.” – Ashley Wooldridge, Senior Pastor, Christ’s Church of the Valley, Peoria, AZ

“I highly recommend Greg as a “Secret Shopper” for your church. He helped us see things we had missed and confirmed what we were already working toward. His insight will help your church feel like a home.” – Brady Boyd, Senior Pastor, New Life Church, Colorado Springs, CO

“Greg has a great ability to see and assess ministry detail. His work in many churches brings considerable experience and insight to your staff team. Greg’s church Secret Shopper process offered us a fresh set of eyes to help us take excellence to the next level. Very helpful!”– Dan Reiland, Executive Pastor, 12Stone Church, Lawrenceville, GA

“Greg was able to bring things to our leadership team’s attention in areas that we had missed. His perspective and ideas have helped us develop new strategies to help us grow and reach more people. As we take the ideas for improvement and implement them we look forward to seeing more people come to connect with God, grow and learn to live generously.” – Steve Smothermon Sr., Senior Pastor, Legacy Church, Albuquerque NM

“Greg brought a fresh perspective to our campus and offered a frank assessment of where we were honoring our guests and where we might need improvement. It’s easy for us to miss the obvious when we experience it week in and week out. But Greg knew what to look for and where to find it! His input has shaped a key area of our strategic development.” – Danny Carroll, Senior Pastor, Water of Life Community Church, Fontana, CA

“It is easy to get lost in the day-to-day operations of the church and not see some of the glaring issues you may have in your church. Greg has the unique ability to look at the church from a “first-time guest” perspective and communicate with you that experience. His insights were invaluable.” – Scott Wilson, Lead Pastor, The Oaks Fellowship, Red Oak, Texas

“Greg provided detailed and thorough feedback regarding his experiences before, during, and after his visit to First Baptist Dallas.  He helped confirm some things we already knew or suspected, and brought others to our attention for the first time.  Greg will help you make sure you are doing everything possible to reach as many as possible for Jesus Christ.” – Ben Lovvorn, Executive Pastor of Operations, First Baptist Dallas

“Greg’s approach is thorough and holistic. From the conversations before the visit to the detailed report following, you can tell Greg knows what he is doing and that he cares deeply for the local church.  Our weekend services benefited a great deal from his critical feedback and observations.”– Ted Vaughn, Chief Creative Officer, The Rock Church, San Diego, CA

“You want your church to Thrive? If so, pay attention to the little things. They add up to a big impact! Greg can help your church become more effective in just one visit!” – Dr. John Jackson, Executive Director, Thriving Churches International, Executive Pastor, Bayside Church

“Greg Atkinson helped us look at our weekend services with fresh eyes. His feedback was intelligent, balanced, and helpful.” – Steve Stroope, Lead Pastor, Lake Pointe Church, Rockwall, Texas

To inquire about more information and get the process started, fill out Greg’s brief intake form here.

* Happy New Year!

A Christmas Reminder: 8 Reasons Why People Aren’t Coming Back

It’s the Christmas season and church teams are working hard to prepare for all the expected guests. As a secret shopper or mystery worshiper of churches around the country, I’ve found there are some reasons that I will tell a church I would not return for a second visit and some may be news to you. Whether I’m working with a church plant of 60 people or a mega-church of over 25,000, some things are universal and should be present regardless of church size. Throughout this post, we’ll look at actions and areas every church needs to address.

The Front Door

Before a guest ever steps foot on your church’s physical campus, he or she has probably already checked out your church website. What every church should have clearly visible on their homepage is a section or button for first-time guests. Once clicked on, this should take you to a page that addresses FAQ’s, service times, directions, parking instructions (Is there a side of the building that is better to park on if one has kids?), what to expect (upbeat music and relevant, practical, Biblical preaching in a come as you are atmosphere, etc.), what to wear (Are jeans okay? Are shorts okay?), and encouragement for them to be sure to stop by Guest Central or your church’s Information Booth to pick up a first-time guest packet.

What Stinks?

It’s important that no church ever underestimates the sense of smell. While sight is the strongest sense for short-term memory, the sense of smell is the strongest and most vivid for long-term memories. If you’ve ever smelled something and had memories you hadn’t thought of in years come flooding back, that’s your sense of smell in action. Every church has the potential for positive or negative smells. Mold is a bad smell. Coffee is a good smell. Bleach is a bad smell. Citrus is a good smell. Many churches have restrooms that are disgusting and smell like urine. This lack of attention to detail can be costly and discourage many from ever returning. As best you can, try to walk into the lobby or entrance of your church with a new nose.

Park Here

One of Tim Stevens’ three growth lids that he thinks every growing church should have someone who is constantly watching is parking. Tim says, “This is why Visitor Parking is so crucial. If it’s difficult for newcomers to go to your church, they won’t go.  Some would argue that guests want to remain anonymous and don’t want special parking. Of course some want to go unnoticed and will choose to park in regular parking (a minority), but for the rest of newcomers, they are appreciative of a close parking space; it’s a kind gesture of an already intimidating and nerve-racking experience of attending a church for the first time, especially a large one with a huge campus.

This Way Parents

One way to assure guests will not return is to have a confusing, long, or hard to find process for getting their kids registered and in the right classroom. Wise churches have signage for first-time guest kids’ check-in and make the process quick and painless. Regular attendees may know to go up to the check-in kiosk and enter their phone number or swipe their card, but guests will be clueless and need a manned station that is clearly marked for guests and have a volunteer walk them through the registration. Then have that person or another helper walk you to your kids’ class explaining what will be going on and how to go about picking their kids back up. If they must have a sticker with corresponding numbers on it to get their kids (and they should), this needs to be explained to them. Signage for the kids’ check-in should start in the entryway of the guest parking. Do not assume people know where to go once they enter the building.

Give It Away

Something subtle, but powerful is a church that has a generous spirit. Chris Hodges at Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, AL is big on this. They have a coffee shop, but they also have a designated area where people can get free coffee and not pay for anything. They also give away their message CDs. Too many churches charge for everything and wonder why no one buys CDs of the message. If you want to bless people and create a generous spirit throughout your church, give away free coffee and message CDs (and other surprises throughout the year). Chris Hodges will have ice cream trucks pull up outside the church doors and give away free ice cream to congregants leaving on a hot, summer day. What gift could you surprise your guests with this Christmas Eve?

Security Counts

One issue that is huge to a secret shopper and visiting families is security. If a parent is worried about their child’s safety, they will not enjoy the service and will likely not return. A children’s classroom must be clean, safe and secure. Security also includes the check-out process. If anyone can walk into a classroom and pick up a kid, you’re asking for trouble and will turn off potential newcomers. It’s important that your kids’ volunteers are trained well and know to ask for the parent’s sticker when picking up their kids. This is vital and goes a long way to ensuring a tragedy doesn’t occur and a parent has peace of mind.

The Visible Pastor

Accessibility of the senior pastor is another subtle and powerful statement of a church. Even pastors of the largest churches in America make an intentional and strategic effort to be seen, greeted and hugged after a service. They may have a bodyguard present for security reasons, but they are available and willing to pray with people that need to speak to their pastor. Some churches have a designated Guest Central, like Steve Stroope at Lake Pointe in Rockwall, TX or Brady Body at New Life in Colorado Springs. Some have a “Meet and Greet.” Some pastors stand down at the altar and meet and pray with people like Kevin Myers at 12Stone in Atlanta. Some walk around the campus shaking hands as Don Wilson used to at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix. Erwin McManus at Mosaic LA has an “After Party.”  at which the pastor is present and available to meet with newcomers. This, especially in a large church, goes a long way toward countering the rock star or unavailable pastor stigma that so many guests walk into the church expecting.

Finish Strong

It’s simply not enough for greeters and parking lot attendants to say “Hello” or  “Welcome” when one walks into their church. To go to another level, have your first impressions team stationed at their posts when the service ends to say “Goodbye” or  “Have a nice week.”  This goes a long way to wrapping a bow around the entire morning experience and will send them off with a lasting positive impression.

Do these 8 things and you’ll see a greater return and a higher percentage of second and third-time guests. May you all have a wonderful Christmas and I pray you have many guests to honor and minister to. Love well. Serve well.

 

 

How to Have the Best Trunk-or-Treat Ever

I 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 was 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 or AirPods, 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 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 benefits for their families. 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, and 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 a go around the table and share one thing you’re grateful for, 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 how to 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 of 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,” like:

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

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