By Danny Franks
At our church, one of our guest services mottos is this: The first visit should set up the second visit. My entire guest services paradigm changed when I realized this truth. When we talk about “first impressions,” we rightly define what people notice during their first few minutes at church: cleanliness, organization, signage, environment, and so forth. If we believe that hospitality is a catalyst and our end goal is to point people toward the gospel, then we must keep in mind that in most cases, a repeat visit (and sometimes multiple visits) will be necessary before the gospel starts to make sense to the guests of our churches. Think about your own personal experiences in sharing the gospel. Whether you were a Monday night door-to-door knocker or an evangelist with a sandwich board, you know that not everyone responds to the gospel on their first hearing. That’s why a guest’s first visit should always set up the second visit. That’s why if you don’t have a follow-up plan in place for your guests, you may as well want to reconsider even welcoming them to begin with. So what does this look like? Here’s a mandate and a model.
A Follow-Up Mandate
The mandate is that you must a next step for newcomers beyond the first weekend. Maybe that’s an event designed especially for them, a pastor’s reception in their honor, or something else to help them get more information and plugged in to the life of the church. That event should be regular and frequent, even if you’re a small church that doesn’t see many first-time guests. Offer those events frequently enough that a guest doesn’t get lost in the shuffle waiting on the next thing to happen. I would say once every other month is a minimum, but you should aim for even more frequently than that.
A Follow-Up Model
The model that leads your guests to the mandate is follow up with your guests. Follow up is non-negotiable. When it comes to first-time guests, the week after the weekend is just as important as the weekend. Now, you have to decide what that looks like in your context. Maybe you’re in a smaller, rural community, where everyone just assumes that the pastor is going to drop by for a visit on Monday night. Perhaps you’re in a city of gated communities, where people get home, seal themselves off with their garage door, and dare you to call or drop by. We aim for three points of contact in the week following a guest’s first visit: a general email, a call from a pastor, and an email from a pastor. This isn’t a perfect or seamless process by any means. We’re still learning and failing and trying different things as we go. Your follow-up process helps bridge the gap between the first visit and second visit. It helps guests move from simply being connected to your church to being committed to your church. At a church of any size, a follow-up phone call or visit from a pastor communicates care. It helps a large church grow small. And besides that, it’s just part of the pastor’s role as shepherd. Don’t succumb to the temptation to simply cut and paste these for use in your church. Pray through them. Discuss them with your team. And then launch a fresh vision for hospitality in your church. The guests from your community deserve no less than your best as you point them to God’s best for their lives.