In yesterday’s post about seeker-sensitive churches in Ohio, pastor Lee Powell of CedarCreek made the comment that despite all the advertising they do (he compared it to buying weekly tire ads for Sears), 80% of first time visitors come because they were personally invited.
That’s huge. And frankly, that’s why the church has been around for 2000 years.
Shawn Wood, the Creative Communications Pastor (what did Brad say about pastors?) at Seacoast, a multi-site church in South Carolina, e-mailed us recently to say that his church relies primarily on people inviting other people—to the extent that they’ve almost given up on mass mailings.
So if personal invitations are the way to go, how can churches best encourage invites?
This is the heart and soul of your church—is it a place people want to bring their friends? If not, that’s where you need to start. As Artistry Marketing’s John LaCarter told us, “If your membership isn’t inviting people to church, well there’s a reason for that.” Make sure people are welcomed, that their questions are answered, that they don’t feel lost. It’s all about first impressions, which is a subject of its own.
Just because you have a place worth telling people about doesn’t mean your congregation will do it. So make it easy to invite people:
- Remind your congregation to invite their friends. Sometimes we need to hear this message repeatedly.
- Print invitation cards that members can use to invite friends. Give the basic church details, including times, directions and parking info. Make it more than an invitation: include interesting quotes or facts—something to make people hang on to it. If it’s an event for kids, include games or puzzles on the invitation.
- Some churches have offered incentives for visitors and the people who bring them. Skeptics have questioned, but it’s an option.
- Offer special visitor-friendly events to introduce visitors to church. Maybe it’s an Alpha Course, a free meal, a movie night or a daycare club.
- Make your bulletin an invitation so every week your congregation heads home with a handy invitation ready to go (it sounds like this is one approach Shawn Wood has tried).
- Have a page on your web site dedicated to visitors so they can check your church out online and calm any fears before they decide to go. Make sure your congregation knows about this page and encourage them to use it.
Once people come, make sure they want to come back. This goes along with having a welcoming atmosphere, but there are further steps you can take after that initial visit. My church personally delivers fresh baked bread to visitors later in the afternoon. I knew of a church in Michigan that gave fresh pineapples to visitors. A follow-up call or visit is another nice gesture, though it takes time and it’s easy to be too intimidating. (While church shopping my wife and I visited a Lutheran church once—prompting the pastor to stop by our apartment for a visit. A friendly gesture, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was being scouted as a rare, twentysomething prospect.) Remembering someone’s name and saying hello when you see them again is probably the single greatest thing you can do to make someone feel like coming back.
How else can churches encourage their congregations to invite their friends?