When my wife, Consuela, and I first started attending the church we’re at, we were just another face in the crowd. Seated in the back of the sanctuary with a couple of hundred other people, this interracial couple with a very young baby stopped by to check things out. We had been to other churches and tried them, but none of them seemed to be a good fit. This church was our last try before we settled …
But something different happened. Something different than we had experienced at the other churches we visited. We connected, in a meaningful way, to people that fit into three distinct categories. And I believe that these three categories contain the key to retaining people who are searching for a church home:
1. Another church-goer. This is someone who attends the church and often fits in the same demographic as the first-time guest. They sit in the same row, attend the same service and/or are in the same life-stage. The value here is that the first-time guest knows that they will be accepted and that there’s the potential for friendships at your church.
For my wife and me, we connected with another interracial husband and wife who had a baby close to the same age as us. Now, six years later, we are still close friends with them and have been going through life together as friends. That friendship helped us feel accepted and led to other friendships later on.
2. A non-pastoral leader. This could be a life group leader, a head usher or anyone who is in a leadership position (volunteer or paid) within the church. This is someone who can answer some questions about the church and point the way for first-time guests to go deeper and get connected quicker. The non-pastoral leader is looked at as a person who represents the church in an official capacity.
We connected quickly with the head usher. As we came back week after week, he remembered us and began talking to us. He even introduced us to his kids (who were close in age to us) and to others. He helped us find the children’s ministry to take our infant son to. Also, we were able to connect quickly with the choir director who asked our family to be Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in the Christmas production (it was an easy choice as this was the starring role we were made for!).
3. A pastor. People go to church for Spiritual direction. Connecting with a pastor increases the likelihood that they will get their questions answered, take steps forward in their faith, and fully assimilate into the church family. Pastors are integral to the decision that guests make about continuing to attend a church.
The first time we attended this church, the senior pastor held a meet-and-greet after the service. My wife and I attended it and got to meet him. He asked some questions to get to know me better, then prayed for me and finally invited me to meet him for lunch sometime so we could talk further. A couple of months later, he personally invited me to join a class that he was teaching on leadership.
Being intentional about connecting new people to folks in your church that fit these three categories will exponentially increase the likelihood that they’ll stick around. All three of these connections, of course, do not have to happen on the person’s first visit—as that may be somewhat difficult. But the more you can escalate the rate at which these happen, the higher the chance that they’ll fall in love with your church and continue to attend.