12 Practical Ways For Churches To Gain More 2nd Time Visitors

Kenny Jahng —  2010/10/01 — 6 Comments

Most churches believe they have open doors that just scream “welcome!” and may actually see some success in getting 1st time visitors.

But then, over time, not many people actually return for another visit.  Where did they go?

Ministry leaders are often left wondering why people don’t come back to their worship services another time.   Rationalization often leads to assumptions that since a church gets visitors, they must have succeeded in creating a friendly, inviting environment for new comers.  And this sometimes leads to lack of ownership of this important detail of converting first time visitors into repeat visitors.

Of course, it is easy to think those first timers just got busy the next weekend.  Or they assume most visitors aren’t serious about faith, so it’s understandable that they wouldn’t check out a church two weeks in a row.  Or a host of other excuses ministries can come up with on behalf of the absent returnee.

Truth be told, 1st time visitors don’t come back for a real tangible reason — their decision is now based on the reality they just experienced in person.

The hard part isn’t getting someone to come your church when they don’t know much about it.  It is only after they’ve experienced your church community in person — when all your ministry efforts are really felt — for them to consider retuning a second time.

Rick Ezell, pastor of a church in SC, believes there are actually 5 critical reasons why 2nd time visitors are a myth in many churches.  He says:

  • Visitors make up their minds regarding your church in the first 10 minutes.
  • Most church members are not friendly.
  • Church guests are highly consumer-oriented.
  • The church is in the hospitality business but don’t realize it.
  • You only have one chance to make a good first impression.

So then, what can churches do in order to get more 1st time visitors to turn into 2nd time visitors?

Here are 12 practical tips for getting the ball rolling with your ministry to start thinking about this in a serious way:

1. Get The Mail Carrier To Help

One tip I would give is to write a personal note to every first time guest. We encourage all guests to fill out our info card and those that do get a handwritten personal note sent to them. We get colorful note cards from Wal-mart and send via mail.
Thanks to: Jason Curlee of www.jasoncurlee.com.


2. Let Them Smell The Difference

I’ve traveled the country teaching on multi­sensory worship and engaging the senses in worship. I can have a woman pass by me and get a whiff of her perfume and instantly be transported back to my 3rd grade math teacher’s perfume or my first date. Smells are powerful and potent and very important to your situation.Coffee is a positive smell. Mold is a negative smell. Citrus is a positive smell. Bleach is a negative smell. How your facility smells (again I refer you to the high school bathroom) is huge when it comes to making a lasting impression. Sometimes people leave in a bad mood or not wanting to return solely based on smell – though they may not be able to put their finger on what they didn’t like. They just know they won’t return.

Thanks to: Greg Atkinson of www.worshipimpressions.com.

3. Show Them A Sign And They’ll Return

Let visitors know… that you want to know them, and… that you want them to know… what you know (our loving Lord).One simple example of how to make visitors feel included is to label rooms clearly, and post easily seen site maps showing ‘what is where’; even better, greeters to ask if families need help finding kids’ classes/nursery.

Before the message begins, most visitors have a pretty good feel for whether or not they will be coming back. We can help them want to be with us by demonstrating that we want to be with them, and to accompany them along their spiritual journey.

Thanks to: Jeff Moon of www.MirrorImageMinistries.com.

4. Don’t Go It Alone!

As a very single person who often felt lonely in my family-oriented church, I had a radar for “the new person”. After service I’d approach one or three, introduce myself, and tell the truth – that I’d be going out for coffee or brunch alone, and would they like to join me? I believe my calm friendliness was seen correctly – that I had no interest in trying to rope them in, just that they were new (maybe to town?) and I’d be glad for company. That we could talk about the church or not. Did a quick intro of them to the Pastor, remembering their name and town. That helps!Most often the people I invited out visited again, and there are MANY who joined and even became lay leaders, who credit me with being their introduction to that church.

Thanks to: Christie Jenkins of www.SignLanguageVideo.com.


5. Delivering 2nd Time Visitors Overnight

The best way I’ve seen is two fold:One, to send a Fed ex package the next day filled with info including a short CD introducing the guests to the leaders, DNA, and main ministries.

Two, to personally contact them by phone within 24 hours – under 500 in worship by the pastor, and over 500 in worship by a paid staff person.

Thanks to: Bill Easum of www.ChurchConsultations.com.


6. You Asked For It!

Most churches capture e-mail addresses on their visitor forms, but then follow up a first visit with a snail-mail letter. Typically this letter is generic but may be hand-signed by a lead pastor. Is this our best effort to bring a visitor back for a second time?What might work better: A personalized, encouraging note via e-mail, written by a church volunteer or staff member. If your church has a relevant Facebook site or other web presence, send links in the e-mail so that visitors can quickly connect. Any info about upcoming events could also be included: with a link to the church website with full details.

Today’s church visitors are web-savvy. Shouldn’t we reach out to them in a more appropriate way?

Thanks to: Dr. David Frisbie of www.MarriageStudies.com.

7. Don’t Be Hungry For Hospitality

The book The Work of the Greeter covers the biblical basis for “hospitality” plus the practical information that would serve to launch, revamp, or help sustain a greeters’ ministry.
“Hospitality” is not about food! Food is such a non-essential, or minimal, aspect of hospitality and it has caused us to lose sight on what true hospitality is. This book celebrates true hospitality and is foundational to any group or individual who wants to “warm up” a church, group, or an individual relative to being more hospitable!
Thanks to: Paige Lanier Chargois, author of The Work of the Greeter book.

8. Visit Other Churches ALONE

As I travel a lot for work, I like to attend church (almost any denomination) wherever I am. It’s INCREDIBLE to experience friendliness, curiousity, or the total lack of. And read the materials in the pew. The big churches have lots of info about things to do, but the small ones, and often good medium-sized churches who should know better – do not.  There is a lot of ASSUMPTION that anyone reading the material will know what/when/where the “picnic” will be – I find this to be the single most off-putting thing.
Write your info as if the person has never been to a church or your town – ever. I started a new worship service for single adults and had to fight the Board to create PR pieces, but being able to leave them in coffee houses worked!
Thanks to: Christie Jenkins of ChristieJenkinsPhotography.com.


9. It’s a Treat to Treat Visitors Right

We give a welcome bag that has information about the church that is welcoming and non threatening. We also include a refrigerator magnet with the church picture on it. The hostess keeps little loaves of bread in the freezer that are put in at the start of the service that thaw just in time for people to go home.
Thanks to: Diane Hawn of www.GetPromotedLLC.com.

10. Book ’em With The Case…

We give them a gift of info and a book at their 1st visit. I make contact in 24 hrs. Another church member makes a 2nd contact during 1st week. I touch base again at the end of the wk for questions.We give Lee Stobel’s “The Case for Faith” Visual edition. Very cool book with the same message as the regular edition but completely done with pictures with printed message around the edges of the pages. We used to get it from CBD, but I just checked and could no longer find it there. By the case we only paid $3.99 per unit.

Thanks to: Dr. Max High of www.healthychurchsolutions.com.


11. Non-Membership Has Its Priviledges

We make it a point to inform visitors they are welcome & do *not* ask nor expect any monetary offering — this is reserved for members. Visitors have *full* access to all ministry offerings as members do. At some point, like a dating relationship, they will want to make a deeper commitment. For some it takes 2 weeks…for others over a year. But in time, most do commit to the mission of the church, ready to sign on to membership expectations, and are excited about what’s going on because they felt at first, second, and every time thereafter that the church wasn’t a club. A club exists to serve and cater to its membership. Antithetically, the church is the one organization that exists in its mission to serve its non-membership.
Thanks to: Matthew Na of arcolacovenant.org.


12. Leave your wallet at home

We don’t pass a collection plate … ever. We rarely talk about money, and, if you’re a visitor, leave your wallet and your checkbook at home. We have money. What’s our secret? Come and see if you can figure it out!

Thanks to: Dwight A. Clough of dwightclough.com/c.html.


And here’s a BONUS tip in classic baker’s dozen style:

13. Empower People

When I was asked about the one tip to encourage second time visits, my first thought was follow-up. While this is important, I think there is something even more powerful I have learned during my time at Church Online. We have seen more people getting involved and feeling connected because we have empowered people to own the ministry. Now with 50 experiences each week, there are volunteer leaders all over the world who are empowered to minister to people and to lead their teams. I read stories every week of people who have visited Church Online and have felt connected because of the volunteers they encountered. When people feel a connection, they come back! Follow-up is critical, but creating a follow-up culture is priceless.
Thanks to: Brandon Donaldson of live.lifechurch.tv.

QUESTION: What specific things in your worship service turns off visitors from returning a second time? Share your comment below!

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6 responses to 12 Practical Ways For Churches To Gain More 2nd Time Visitors

  1. Awesome article!!! Thanks for addressing this issue and thanks everyone for contributing all the great tips.

    Hospitality is not an obligation or a marketing tactic. It is an offering of love.

  2. Awesome tips. This won't be as politically correct (and I'm a bit late adding to the discussion), but have some reasonably decent-looking people as ushers or greeters who are good at remembering names. I'm in my early 30's and no matter how hip or modern the venue looks, the greeters are first point of contact and if they are all people who don't exhibit life, energy, or are sloppy looking, it really does speak loudly.

  3. @Dom W – Thanks for the comment. What specific tactics, programs or other ideas have you seen implemented in the church that is aimed at getting visitors to return again?

    @Mike Kim – I think I get your gist. Perhaps it's not just about "decent-looking" but rather people that are presentable and have personalities that are readily engaging and inviting to conversation?

    • We do not have any official greeters. Some of the members will take initiative to engage the new comers in conversation before the services (Services start at 11. We usually reach out to new comers from 10:30 – 10;45) and after the service during coffee hour.

      Besides getting to know the new comers yourself, you should also introduce them to others in the congregation.

  4. That was really good info about God relationship..

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