How to Get Guest Families to Return

Every church struggles with how to close the back door and get guests to return. The best way to get a guest family to come back is to give them a great first-time experience. The first impression really is a lasting impression. People decide in the first 8 minutes if they are going to return or not.

  • Give them the best parking (reserved parking).
  • Make sure they know where to go (good signage).
  • Don’t make them wait in line. Have a separate check-in area for guests.
  • Use a “Make Their Day” strategy: Listen and find out what a new guest likes (favorite candy, toy, etc.) While they are in class, run to the store and get their favorite thing.  Present it to them when their parents come to pick them.

 Tips for Greeting:

  • Make sure your greeters are friendly and will help people feel welcome, loved and comfortable.
  • Put 100% of your focus on people when they are in front of you. If you can’t help them because you’re with someone else, at least acknowledge they are there and say, “Hi! How are you today?  So glad you’re here.  I’ll be right with you.”
  • Teach your team that voice inflection communicates value.  How you say what you say matters.  It translates into either “you are bothering me” or “I care about you.”
  • Always walk … never point.  Don’t tell guests where to go … take them there.  And engage them in meaningful conversation on the way.
  • Answer questions.  There are no dumb questions.  And never say “I don’t know” and leave a family hanging. Instead, say, “I’m not sure, but let me find out for you.”
  • Put yourself in their shoes. Remember what it is like to be new.
  • Don’t stand around talking to each other and ignoring the families who are checking in.
  • Words matter … especially when it comes to guests who walk in your church doors.  Your words will make them feel a certain way. And they will remember how you made them feel…which will determine if they return or not.

These words may seem like small things, but they carry a lot of weight.  Do you find yourself saying them? You may want to consider adjusting.

“Enjoy the service.”
Interpretation: You’re a spectator.  Sit back and watch.  It’s not about you … it’s about what’s happening on the stage.
Instead:  “Welcome.  So glad you’re part of the service today.”

“Are you new here?”
Interpretation:  I don’t know you.  Even if you’ve been coming for 20 years, you’re not important.
Instead:  “Hey, I’m ___________ (name.)  I don’t think I’ve had the privilege of meeting you yet.”

“Hey Brother/Sister so and so…”

Interpretation:  We are family.  You are not.
Instead:  Just use first names.

“Thanks for visiting today.”
Interpretation:  “You’re an outsider.”
Instead:  “We’re honored to have you as our guest.” 

“You have to have your security tag when you pick up your child.”
Interpretation:  We are in charge, and you have to follow our rules.
Instead:  “The security tag is to help ensure your child is safe.  Please bring your part of the tag when you pick him or her up.”

“Sorry.”
Interpretation:  We are impersonal.
Instead:  “I apologize.”

“I don’t know.”
Interpretation:  I don’t care, and I’m too lazy to find out the answer.
Instead:  “That’s a great question.  Let me find out the answer for you.”

“You did not…”
Interpretation:  It’s all your fault, and we want you to know you made a mistake.
Instead:  “Let me help you…”

“Go down that hallway.  Take a left.  Go up the stairs.  Take a right at the water fountain…”
Interpretation:  You’re not important enough for me to leave this spot.  Good luck.  You’re on your own.
Instead:  “I’d be honored to walk with you there.”

“Let me TRY to help you.”
Interpretation:  I may or may not be able to accommodate you.
Instead:  “I can help you.”

  • Just because you greet people at the front door doesn’t mean you are friendly. Talk with them beyond the front door.
  • Greet them when they are leaving as well.
  • Don’t smother them. They’ll feel like you’re trying to sell them something.
  • “After Party Strategy” Have a guest reception for guests after the service.
    • Food
    • Make sure pastors and key volunteers are there to connect with guests.
  • “High-Five Strategy”
    • Create a kid greeter team that welcomes new kids and hangs with them for the entire service.
    • Teach them how to talk with new kids by using F.I.S.H.
      • F – Family
      • I – Interests
      • S – School
      • H – Hobbies
  • Make sure you follow proper room ratios. New parents will be looking to make sure the room is not overcrowded. 85% = full
  • Explain safety and security to new families. New parents want to know their kids will be safe.
  • Create a family atmosphere.
  • Send new families a handwritten postcard that thanks them for coming. Attach a coupon that they can bring back for a free gift.

 5 Questions New Families Ask When They Arrive at Your Church

Question #1 – WHERE DO I GO?
Remember what it’s like to walk into a new place?  You don’t know where to go, where to drop off your kids, where to find a restroom, etc.

Preparation:

  • Have clearly marked guest parking … and make it the best parking on the lot.  Have parking lot attendants guide guests into this area.  You can do this by having an entrance sign that says, “Guests, turn on your hazard lights for reserved parking.”
  • Have clearly marked outside signage.
  • Have greeters at each door.
  • Have hosts that help them get checked in and personally walk them to the right areas.

Question #2 – WILL THEY BE FRIENDLY?  

It’s also easy to forget what it’s like to walk into a new place and not know anyone.  Guests can walk in, see everyone talking in groups, and feel very intimated and out-of-place.

Preparation:

  • Have the right people greeting.  Make sure your greeters have a great personality, love people, and have the ability to make new people feel comfortable.
  • Make sure the friendliness factor is part of your church’s DNA.  The friendliness factor must go way beyond the front door.  It should extend through their whole experience.
  • Have a time of welcome and greeting at the beginning of the service. Do not have guests stand or point them out. They are feeling awkward enough already. Simply have people near them greet them and welcome them.
  • Show genuine interest in them. Move beyond the “welcome” and take time to talk with guests.  Engage them in conversation and find out about their family. Have the attitude “there you are” instead of “here I am.”
  • Have a guest reception after the service and invite guests to come meet the pastor, have refreshments, etc.
  • Be just as friendly when are leaving as when they were coming in.  Have greeters at the doors thanking people for coming as they leave. The smiling face they see when they are leaving will be what they remember the most.

Question #3 – WILL MY KIDS LIKE IT?  
This is one of the biggest questions you have to answer for families.  It’s one of the main reasons people will choose a church.  Mark it down … if the kids aren’t happy…mom and dad won’t be happy.

Preparation:

  • Make Children’s Ministry a top priority at your church. This includes space, budget, volunteers, scheduling, resources, and staffing.
  • Make church fun for kids.  Fun simply means engaging, age-appropriate and relevant.  Listen and you will hear guest parents ask their children, “Did you have fun today?”  Work hard to make sure their answer is a resounding “yes.”

Question #4 – WILL MY KIDS BE SAFE?

With the volatile culture in which we live, parents will be wondering if their children will be safe in your care.

Preparation:

  • Have clear safety and security procedures in place…and follow them.  This includes background checks on all volunteers, no volunteers alone with a child, pick-up tags, etc.
  • When parents check in, share with them the basic safety and security measures you have in place to keep their child safe.
  • Provide parents with a pager or other method of contact when they drop off their child. Assure them you will contact them immediately if their child needs them.

Question #5 – WILL THERE BE ANYONE I CAN RELATE TO?
They are wondering if there will be anyone they can connect with?  Anyone in the same season of life?  Anyone who will understand them?  Anyone who will accept them where they are?

Preparation:

  • Have people from all generations as greeters.  If a young couple walks in and only sees senior citizens greeting, they are going to get the impression that the church is not for people their age … and visa versa.
  • Your congregation should reflect the social economic and ethnic diversity of your community.  Someone from any nationality should feel at home.  A millionaire and a hundredaire should feel equally valued and loved.
  • Create a “hospital” culture instead of a “museum” culture.  Message that people don’t have to “have their act completely together” to be a part of the church.  Allow people to “belong” before they “believe” and start “behaving.”
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Dale Hudson
Dale Hudson has served in children and family ministry for over 27 years. He is the Founder and Director of Relevant Children’s Ministries which provides resources and coaching for churches. He has been named one of the Top 20 Influencers in Children’s Ministry. He is the co-author of six ministry books, including If Disney Ran Your Children’s Ministry.