With overall church attendance continuing to decline year after year, many congregations are searching for ways to better their visitor engagement and get new folks connected into ministries.
As we look to the summer, usually a high visitor traffic time for congregations, we wanted to share the top three common pitfalls we see in church visitor engagement as well as solutions to overcome these pitfalls.
It is easy to point out the problems—we are committed to helping you find solutions to the communication and engagement issues you face every day!
Okay, let’s get into it!
Pitfall 1: Processes are Focused Solely on In-person Visitors
According to a Barna study about the new Sunday morning as a result of the pandemic, more than one-third of practicing Christians attended online worship with churches they do not normally attend and 42% listened to/watched messages from other religious leaders!
Although this study was completed in June 2020, you can assume this practice of “virtual church shopping” and finding spiritual guidance from various sources continues today.
Just like the front door of a church moved to a digital space in the 2000s in the form of its church website, Christians now have more sermons, choir anthems, devotions, and online worship services at their fingertips than ever before.
It would be negligent to assume Christians are not using these resources to help them have a better understanding of a particular congregation, who is welcome in the church’s physical space, and what the church values are prior to walking through your physical front door.
Why prioritize the online experience?
At Evoke, we have seen a shift from prioritizing the online experience, back to an acute focus on “butts in the seats” under the lens of “rebuilding community.” Because churches are no longer required to maintain an engaging online presence, some have let it fall to the wayside.
As budgets have taken a hit over the past three years, along with the constant comparison of “before the pandemic” numbers, we understand the human reaction to revert back to what we understand best.
Yet, there is a lot we were forced to learn about how technology can be used to enhance worship and engage more people in ministry.
However, these important learnings seem to be lost in the fearful shuffle of what comes next for churches in a post-pandemic world and how to get people “back in the building”.
Instead of believing the ways of doing ministry during the pandemic were temporary, how could your congregation utilize your learnings and integrate technology into your processes long-term to feed your in-person ministry opportunities?
When your visitor processes neglect God’s beloved who may prefer online worship, families that are praying and reading scripture together in their living rooms, those who travel often for work, and those who cannot physically visit our spaces for a variety of reasons, we limit the power of God and the work of the Holy Spirit to only the righteous in-person few. And the God that I believe in will and can not be limited by our human view of how church must be done.
Solution: Establish an Online Greeter & Prayer Team
Just like your in-person greeter team, an online team of greeters should engage with those who are worshiping online, many of whom may be looking for a church home.
This team should be trained on the dos and don’ts of how to effectively engage with folks online and how to get them connected to digital resources.
Online greeters should be familiar with upcoming ministry opportunities and events, the church website (and necessary links they can share like a prayer request form), and service/volunteer opportunities.
“Where are you joining from today?” is a great introductory question to ask during online worship.
Notice we did not say “Where are you joining us from?” - stay away from “us” language (learn why here!) to help create a more inclusive environment for online worshipers.
Consider this chat scenario:
Greeter: Good morning church! Where are you joining from today? It is a wonderfully sunny day in Fairfax, VA today.
Lisa: Myself and my three kiddos are still in our pj’s this morning. The time change kept us away today—sorry!
Greeter: So happy to have you and the kids in worship today, Lisa! Here is a link to the faith formation resources for today, including some coloring sheets for the kids to enjoy during or after worship.
Lisa: Aww, thanks so much! Super helpful for my 3 and 6-year-olds.
Greeter: Glad I could help! Hope to see you and the kids for the upcoming Easter Egg hunt on April 8, too.
This team can also take it a step further and provide an opportunity to pray over those in need of prayer while the service is taking place. There are a few live stream systems out there that provide an option for private prayer--like Church Online—or use the Messenger feature on Facebook so the person can privately chat with you.
Online engagement is more than a friendly “Good morning :)”! You want to proactively provide opportunities for others to share a bit about themselves, their spiritual needs, and connect with others in the congregation.
Pitfall 2: Lacking a Process or Confusing Processes
As you grapple with how to reach out to church seekers and the surrounding community, congregations are trying out new approaches to connect with visitors or looking to other communities of faith for good ideas (copying is the sincerest form of flattery!).
Yet, the approach to your research and development usually goes something like this:
We like to call this the “spaghetti dinner approach”—throw some spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks. If it sticks, then it must be good.
A critical step missing in the “spaghetti” approach is to first establish a few goals for your visitor process. What are you trying to accomplish with a visitor process? How do you want a visitor to feel when they come to your church? What does your congregation provide to those in your community that may be different from the church down the street? What is important for a visitor to know on their first, second, or third visit?
If the team of people doesn’t have a common goal for visitor engagement, then the ideas generated will feel scattered and disconnected, leaving it difficult to prioritize them.
The “spaghetti” approach can also lead to conflicting processes, confusing actions for the visitor, or a plethora of take-home materials that rarely get used and quickly become outdated.
Solution: Utilize the Tools You Have & Follow this Implementation Process
After you have set goals, the next step in your process should be to review and assess the current tools and processes. If you don’t have current processes documented or know how they should work, then how can you identify the areas that need the most improvement?
This step should include a review of the available tools, communication channels, and information collected to understand what you already have, what is missing, and what tools may not be fully utilized.
Ultimately, your implementation process should look like this:
Pitfall 3: Gathering Contact Info is Your Goal
When you set your goals for visitor engagement, we highly recommend you do not include gathering contact information as one of them.
Is it helpful to have contact information from a visitor for future follow-up? YES!
Does focusing on gathering contact information put the needs of your church above the needs of the person in your midst? Also YES!
Don’t get me wrong, you should build processes that help you gather contact information! But the request for contact information needs to come at the right time—which is usually not within the first five minutes of meeting someone.
When you solely focus on gathering contact information, you can easily forget that you might be just a stop on someone’s faith journey. And that’s okay. Your congregation is not going to be the church for everyone. But you should make it a priority to share the love of Christ with everyone in your midst.
Solution: Put the Visitors' Needs First
Have your team use their brainstorming power to come up with a list of reasons WHY visitors would come to your church.
Your list may include:
Asking a young adult who has unwillingly accompanied their parents to worship to fill out a connection card and share their email address with you is not going to be fruitful, most likely.
But providing a warm welcome, engaging them in conversation, and inviting them to the next young adult gathering might be what it takes—at least they will feel seen as a separate being from their parents and welcomed authentically into the community.
Share any other ideas or solutions you may have for better visitor engagement in the comments below!