Engage First Time Guests with One Simple Action

Email is one of the easiest ways to initiate a connection with first-time guests to your church. However, many churches either fail to use it or fail to maximize its capabilities if they do.

Here are seven tips to maximize your church’s use of email to follow up with first-time guests.

  1. Send a welcome email within 24 hours. Timing is important. I’m not advocating that the first time guest should still be in the parking lot when the email hits their inbox. But if they visit on the weekend, an email before lunch on Monday would be best. This shows the guest that they are a priority to the church.
  2. Send all your welcome emails from a generic church address that uses the name of the church. I recently received a welcome email from a church I visited—but I missed it because it came from a staff member I didn’t know. His name showed up, but since I didn’t recognize the name of the sender, I thought it was spam at first. Had the sender name been the name of the church, I would have recognized it immediately.
  3. Use an engaging subject line. Try to stay away from generic subject lines like “Thanks” or “Thanks for visiting” if possible. Use something more engaging or personal like “We are so glad you visited _____ Church yesterday” or “It was good to see you at _____ Church this weekend.” Just be careful about the length. Anything over 65 characters might get truncated in smart phone notifications and apps. Make your email stand out so that the guest feels compelled to open it.
  4. A template is ok, but be sure to include relevant information. You can send the same email to everyone who visited if you’d like. However, include only relevant information to guests. They don’t need a full event schedule or small group directory in the body of the email—include links to those instead. And for those of you who opt to use a mass email for all guests: use either an email program like MailChimp or ConvertKit or use the Bcc: function. Do not include everyone who visited in the To: or CC: fields. One final note, if you can personalize the email to the individual guest based on their family’s make-up, that’s always best. I realize you may not have enough information for that, but if you do, take the time and make the effort. It will likely pay off.
  5. Prompt the guest for a follow-up action. In the body of the email, offer action steps for the guest to take. Prompt them to find out more about specific ministries or next steps classes. By providing information and opportunities for engagement on the front end, you’re more likely to retain those guests.
  6. Use email sequences if the guest take action. This is where using a service like MailChimp or ConvertKit can really pay off. You can set up email sequences with information about certain ministries, which trigger when the guest clicks on a link in the initial email. These sequences shouldn’t be overwhelming or pressure-packed. But they can be highly informative and engaging for the guest when done correctly.
  7. If possible, check your future records for a second visit. Want to know if things are working? Create a way to measure your return rate and retention rate of guests. If a guest has kids who are checked into childcare, this is an easy metric to track. If they are adults attending worship service only, it’s a bit more difficult. For those, you’d need to track membership class or small group attendance records.

Should email be the only way to follow up with guests? Probably not. Personal contacts always are better than electronic ones, but email can be a starting point for your church to use to get first-time guests engaged to a point where the pastor, staff, or lay leaders can meet with them personally.

Does your church use email to contact first-time guests? If so, do you have an email service you use?

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Jonathan Howe

Jonathan Howe serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources, the host and producer of Rainer on Leadership and SBC This Week. Jonathan writes weekly at ThomRainer.com on topics ranging from social media to websites and church communications. Connect with Jonathan on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.

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Recent Comments
I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
— Ken

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