From Guest to Invested: 7 Tips for Engaging Prospective Church Members

By Will Browning

So you've got a new church guest... Now what? Here are 7 ways to move your guests from casual visitors to partnering church members.

Put Your Plan in Place

As a newly promoted associate pastor, I had no idea what I was doing. One year before leaving to plant the church God had put on my heart, I was given the opportunity to serve as my pastor’s associate to learn the ins and outs of pastoral ministry. In this new role, I was given one objective: create an assimilation plan.

So what did I do? I started a class! I quickly learned this was not the way to ensure visitors turned into members.

It wasn’t until years later at our church plant that I really got my mind around the importance of having an intentional assimilation plan. Below are seven tips you could quickly put into place to help “close the back door” of your church and help people stay.

1. Assimilation starts in the parking lot

Most people decide whether they are coming back to your church within the first 10 minutes (Greg Atkinson, Secrets of a Secret Church Shopper). This fact is pretty depressing for preachers and worship leaders who have little to do with that initial impression, but it does emphasize the role of the many volunteers who are likely unaware of their own importance. Smiling parking lot attendants who make parking easy go a long way toward making a newcomer feel welcome right from the start. The next important spot is the front door, so choose these people wisely. Next, children’s ministry is an extremely intimidating moment, so the right volunteers who will make it warm and full of intentional care are vital. Now, off to the worship center!

2. Leverage worship center section hosts

Of the few good ideas I’ve had in my life, I believe in this one to my core: start a section host ministry. What is a section host? Section hosts are people who own a section of seats in your worship center. They take it upon themselves to personally greet anyone who sits in their section and close conversations with a “Please come back next week and sit with us again.” These leaders also keep a small notebook where they stow away people’s names so they can pray for them during the week and greet them when they return. Visitors will be blown away when they are called by name on only their second Sunday and told they have been prayed for during the week. You need one of these leaders for every section, so it’s a team to build.

3. Create time for guests after the service

For the longest time, I felt like I had the same “Nice to see you! What a great sermon!” conversations with the same people every Sunday. I watched new guests walk out without having the time or space to greet them. I had to make a change! A new guest meeting the pastor even for three minutes is a game changer. Two pivots helped me improve this. First, from the pulpit, invite newcomers to meet you in a specified spot. This tells everyone what your priority is after the service. Second, we built a team of Sunday Sidekicks who stood near me to help ensure everyone got time with me even if they had to wait a minute first.

4. Write a card to everyone who gives you their information

There are few things you (or a dedicated volunteer) can do in five minutes that will make a bigger impact. Note-writing is a lost art, which makes it stand out all the more when someone gets a handwritten note. Think of it this way: if you add one person to your church family each week, you would have more than 500 new people over the next 10 years. Want to take this to the next level? Throw in a $5 gift card. They will be saying to everyone, “This is the most welcoming church I have ever seen!”

5. Create low-hanging fruit opportunities

Okay, they had a great experience with you where they felt welcomed, met the pastor, and received a handwritten card in the mail. Now, they are asking, “What do we do next?” Schedule quarterly events targeted for newcomers to come and learn how to be a part of the family. It could be a lunch after service, a newcomers breakfast during a service (see below), a Saturday event, or mid-day weekday luncheon. The goal of these events is to help everyone take that next step toward engagement in your church. Point to this call to action whenever you’re greeting new guests. Make sure section hosts know to mention it, too.

6. Start a newcomers breakfast

Most people balk at the idea of doing this during the worship service, but here are the reasons why this is a great idea. First, you already have childcare. Second, you have all your staff and volunteer team there, and they can help make the breakfast great. Third, your newcomers have this time protected for coming to church again, so there are fewer barriers for them. You may have to get someone else to lead the breakfast, but you can pop in before your sermon, offer a quick “Hello!”, and then entrust the meeting to a trusted team member.

7. Clarify expectations and talk about them constantly

This may be surprising, but we were constantly debating what information we should give at our newcomers breakfast. After 15 years of trial and error, we found the best thing to give was clear expectations. We asked them to officially join us as partners or members and talked about what that meant. We highlighted our small groups, serving, and giving. (Yes, giving! People became new givers after every breakfast!) Don’t just give expectations to them, but also explain to them what makes your church unique and what they can expect from you.

Creating a Culture of Care

I am excited for you! If you put these seven tips into practice with care, I have confidence you are going to see your church grow. Even more exciting, the people who join you in the mission will do so because they understand the expectations and have your culture embedded in them from the start. The word on the street will be, “Come to my church! They are the most welcoming church I have ever seen.”

Published April 8, 2024

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Will Browning

Will Browning serves as the Send City Missionary in Los Angeles, California. He spends most of his time coaching church planters in Southern California. Prior to serving in Los Angeles, Will was the founding pastor of Journey Church outside of Charleston, S. Carolina, where he served for 14 years. He and his wife Tarah, have three kids: Piper, Ethan and Jedidiah.