6 Ways Retaining Visitors is Like Getting a Second Date

 In Blog, Connection

I am a student of modern advertising and I love finding new ad campaigns that are connecting with the audience.  Match.com has recently started running ads highlighting that they lead to more second dates than anyone else in the web dating space. I love this because a first date, especially one from a website, can still feel like a rejection. If you meet someone, spend time together, and then they agree to do it again, that is the beginning of a relationship. Wanting relationship is what brought them to the website in the first place. This ad campaign links the person’s need (connection) with the product they are offering (second dates).

Visiting a church is a lot like a blind date. From the church’s perspective, you never know if, when, and who, might walk through your door. As the visitor, you may have visited the church’s website or had a friend tell you that church was a good place. It’s like when a friend sets you up for a date and says “He has a good personality.” That might mean he legitimately has a great personality, or it might also be the classic match maker dodge to not tell you that he has the world’s most unkempt unibrow. Most of the time and energy on first dates and church visits are spent trying to figure each other out and see if there is a spark.

As a church, you want a second date. The outcome you want to have is the visitor saying to themselves “I think we should come back next week”. But like a first date, there are some things that you can do to help increase the likelihood of a second date; and things that you can do to ensure that the never walk through the door again. You don’t want to sit at the table with kale in your teeth and talk over them all night bragging about yourself. That guy never gets a second date. Here are 6 ways to increase your chances at another date:

Set Clear Expectations

Before someone walks into the lobby of your church, they almost always walk through your digital lobby. Your website is your first point of contact in your connections ministry. Optimizing your website as a welcome center helps people to know all the information that they need before they get in their car on Sunday. On a first date, you don’t want to show up in a pair of ripped jeans and have her be in an evening dress. Of course, there are some obvious things that need to be easily identified on your site, such as service times, campus locations, and if there is child care/Sunday School. There are also more subtle things that should be easily learned on your site. What’s the vibe at your church? Are you a traditional service or coffee cup in hand contemporary service? What do you stand for? Do you have a clear statement of belief on your site? Can people learn what is important to your church and see the ways you practically minister to the community or beyond? Lastly, don’t forget about Sunday morning. Make sure that you have clear signage making it easy for visitors to navigate your campus.

Be Welcoming but not needy

Have you ever been on a date with someone who is trying way too hard? Not fun for anyone. On the other hand, if you leave after visiting a church and nobody even noticed that you were new, that’s a huge missed opportunity. There are a few awkward things that churches sometimes do with visitors. Asking visitors to stand up in service so that they can be welcomed may be too much for some. I’ve also been at churches where as soon as someone found out I was a visitor, they asked me to volunteer. If you greet each other in service, simply asking someone how long they have been attending the church opens the door for them to indicate that they are visiting. Some of the churches that are especially good at making people feel welcomed, train their regulars to ask visitors some simple questions like ‘How did you find us’ or ‘what was it that made you decide to visit with us’ helps you learn a bit about people in natural ways.

Get their digits

You’re date is going well so far. You both showed up at the right time and had a clear picture of what your time together would be like. You greeted each other and the small talk has seemed breezy and smooth. At some point, you need to get their info if you want a second date. How you do this matters. Make it easy for them to give you a way to reconnect. Hopefully, you have a mobile app, and you have put your bulletin and sermon notes in there. This can be an easy way to stay in touch. This shouldn’t be your only way of gathering info though. Some people won’t want to add something to their phone on the first visit just like kissing on the first date. There is a balance between giving them a variety of ways to share information with you and being pushy. Give them the space to connect on their own terms. If they don’t want to fill out your connect card, that might be an indication that they are unsure if this is a good fit.

Follow up, but keep it casual

It’s been a long time since I dated, but I guess there are some common rules to follow after the date to not freak the person out. So calling them later in the night after the date and texting them 4 times over the next 24 hours without getting a response might not have the effect you want. You might end up with a restraining order instead of a second date.  There are also some rules for church visitor follow-up. The first rule that is commonly forgotten is – do it! You might be surprised at the number of people that fail to follow up.  Secondly, make it personal whenever possible. This helps people know that you actually noticed them and that this isn’t just some auto responder. Third , vary the method. It’s ok to send an email and then send them something in the mail a few days later. Some more creative churches follow up by sending a text message from the pastor thanking them for the visit and inviting them to an upcoming event.

Invite them out again

If you don’t ask them to go out again, it’s unlikely that you will get a second date. Just like you would a date, let them know that you appreciated getting to know them, and invite them to visit again. If you can personalize the invite and provide specific details of what you are inviting them to, all the better. Here is a great example:
“It was great meeting your family this weekend and hearing about how you found us. I hope your new job is going well and you’re getting settled in the home. Two weeks from now we are having a church wide picnic and would love to have you. It might be a great way to meet some of your new neighbors.”

Be prepared for a DTR

I once had a friend tell me that he was having a DTR with a woman he was dating. I wasn’t sure what that was. He explained that it was a conversation for them to Define The Relationship. Oh. So this is when you guys talk through where the relationship is heading? Yup. Churches need to be prepared for a DTR moment as well. What I mean by that, is at some point the relationship will transition from casual visitor to something more formal and serious. Having a clean ‘onboarding’ plan and process for people that want to deepen their connection to your church can help people make the transition from visiting a church to having a home church.

We all want a second date, but unless we plan for how to engage visitors, you might have more people slipping through the cracks than building relationships.

What ways are you helping visitors feel welcomed and take the next step towards engagement?