Follow-up with newcomers is extremely important. Why work on inviting people to come for a first time visit, if you’re just going to put them off of ever returning? That’s why welcoming guests is a high priority.
Follow-up should occur within 48 hours for best retention. With great follow-up and welcome, other churches find:
- 34% of first-time guests become second-time guests
- 51% of second-time guests become third-time guests
- 78% of third-time guests stick around
Depending on your local culture, going beyond this may be a good thing. For instance, the previously linked church expert says 85% of guests return if visited in 36 hours.
Visiting may not be socially acceptable in your area. If not, an invitation to coffee might be (pick up the tab!). If you do decide to visit, make clear in advance that you want to visit to bring something [homemade cookies, home baked bread, etc.] and will not be inviting yourself in.
Make sure that before the guest ever walks through your door, you:
- Get postcards or notecards and stamps
- Decide who will write notes each week
- Have observant greeters, capable of recognizing and welcoming guests (and of not insulting a year-long attender by asking if it’s their first visit)
- Tip: “Hi, I’m Sarah. So, how long have you been coming here?” “Oh, it’s my first time!”
- Get the guest’s name and either email address or home address. Have something for them to write on. (While you’re at it, see if you can find out how they found your meeting)
- Tip: some churches have printed cards (“connect cards”) with a form they can fill out.
- If the guest has young children, explain the religious education program for children and when children will leave the meeting for their classes or a snack.
- Let the parents know whether they are welcome to join their child in the classroom.
- Assure parents that they should not concern themselves if their children seem to have difficulty sitting or feel that they are being disruptive. Assure them that most children, over time, come to appreciate this time of peace and quiet and will find a way to settle themselves.
- If the family has an infant that could be in the Meeting’s nursery, ask another Friends to help the new family find their way to the nursery.
- In small groups, everyone can introduce themselves
- In large groups, ask everyone to say hello and introduce themselves to the people next to them.
- Cultivate an attitude/culture that you introduce yourself to guests first, before chatting with old friends or catching people for committee business. Perhaps set a “shake hands with 3 people you don’t know yet” challenge.
- Provide an opportunity for social interaction, such as:
- Tea, coffee, and cookies
- Ice cream
- Give them a next step:
- Invite them to sign up for the next newcomer’s class, starting on $date (you should know the date)
- Invite them into a spiritual formations or Friendly Eights group
- Write out postcards/notecards and drop in the mailbox.
- “I’m so glad we had a chance to meet you yesterday. I hope to see you next Sunday again at meeting. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask! <your email & phone>”
- “We’re all so glad you came to meeting yesterday. Although I didn’t get a chance to say hello, I hope to meet you soon. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask! <your email & phone>”
Email people who came on Sunday and didn’t leave a snail mail address. There are some best practices for email follow-up.
Send a second email. Inboxes are flighty things. The sorts of things you could include:
- “Hey, am I going to see you again at meeting on Sunday?”
- “Do you want to grab some coffee after meeting?”
- “I’d love to chat more.”
- “It’d be great to get to know you more.”
If you know a particular interest area for the guest, let them know that there are others in the meeting that share their interest and would enjoying meeting them.
- Keep an eye out for your newcomers. Make note of their visits. If someone visits for a few weeks then stops, check on them. They might be sick, and you might be able to help. Or someone might’ve said something to put them off.
- Cultivate this caring attitude for your Meeting as a whole.
- Develop an ongoing follow-up plan with efforts to connect with visitors 1 month, 3 months or 6 months after their visit. Be sure to get them on the regular e-mail list of the meeting and send out special invitations to events they might be interested in.
- Just plain make friends with the newcomers! Making a half dozen friends in the first few months is often all it takes.