Easter is our Super Bowl
If you are a football fan, then you know that the NFL Scouting Combine started on Feb 23rd. Your favorite team, rabid fans, and athletes with dreams of being the next superstar have turned their eyes towards Indianapolis looking for the next great prospect. Each of them share a singular hope: holding the Lombardi trophy at the end of a Super Bowl. Each practice in the hot days of August, each game and workout are fueled in some part by Super Bowl hopes.
At churches, Super Bowl Sunday can have record low attendance, especially if your home team is in the game. As church leaders, our Super Bowl Sunday is Easter. Much like the big game, there is frenzied excitement leading up to Easter. It is the most momentous time in the liturgical calendar, usually a high point in attendence, and one of the best times to engage with first time visitors. But to engage with your first time visitors, you had better prepare like Katy Perry for a halftime show. If you don’t plan in advance, you may miss the opportunity to connect with returning and first time visitors. Here are a few tips that can help you to connect and create an experience that will encourage them to come back.
Help Them Feel Like They Are Coming Home
How visitors are identified is important. I once visited a church that asked all the visitors to pin a carnation to their shirt so that people would know they were new. Some churches ask visitors to stand up in the middle of the service so people will be able to greet them. Singling out visitors can create awkwardness for them. I know it can make it easy for your regulars to be sure to greet them, but for some people, this amount of attention and awkwardness can be really uncomfortable. Instead, encourage your people to greet people in natural ways. Some people might want to engage with others on their first visit and others may want to hide out for the first few times they attend before they engage. You do want to connect with them, so why not ask them to fill out a connection card in your mobile app and send them a coupon code for a cup of coffee as a thank you? This allows the visitor to connect on their own terms and feels more organic than forcing them to single themselves out.
Engage The Whole Family
Often the first in-person experience that a visitor has on Easter is getting their children into Sunday School. If registration for Sunday School isn’t right inside your front doors, you may want to have someone who can direct people on where to go. You will likely see more kids on Easter than normal, so plan on having extra volunteers and check-in stations to make the experience easy. Easter is a beautiful time for children, full of hope and wonder. Try to create experiences that result in a child saying after service “Mommy, I love this place, can we come back here sometime?”. A great way to connect with parents is to share with them what was covered in Sunday School using your app. You can also use mid week push notifications to encourage follow up activities from the previous lesson.
It’s All About The Follow-up
Start by giving people a variety of ways to share their information with you. Do you use a connect card, or take attendance in the pew? When people download your app or register their children for Sunday School, are you adding them to the master follow up list? Lots of churches give people a gift as a first time visitor, and that is great! Don’t forget to follow up with them later in the week. Create a master list of all first time visitors and reach out to them the following Wednesday or Thursday. Easter is a great Sunday to introduce a new series that will be launched or a ministry opportunity. In your follow up you can thank them for visiting and invite them to the upcoming events or series. You may see a noticeable increase in return visitors just by simply asking them to come back.
Don’t Get The Post-Easter Blues
The Monday after Easter, you feel great! All the planning, all the work, and so many new visitors, all add to the feelings of hope that are part of Easter. But, prepare yourself. The Sunday after Easter is often one of the lowest attendance Sundays of the year. If that happens, don’t be discouraged. Take the time to review your plan for engaging with people this year, and figure out what worked and what didn’t. What did you learn? If you have reached out to the visitors once, but didn’t get responses, don’t lose heart. You can reach out to them a week or so later with another attempt to engage them. You don’t want to over do it, so perhaps reach out in a different way. I once visited a church that sent a follow up email and after not hearing from us, followed up with a phone call the next week. The pastor asked me about our experience, what we were looking for in a church and how welcomed we felt. It was clear that they were trying to build a community of welcome and it made us want to engage again.
What creative ways have you engaged with first-time visitors?
Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame