Home Pastors Articles for Pastors First-Time Guest Gifts: 26 Lessons From 33 Churches

First-Time Guest Gifts: 26 Lessons From 33 Churches

First-Time Guest

Recently, I connected with church leaders from 33 churches from across North America and asked them to share with me what they are doing for first-time guest gifts. This continues in a series where I’ve asked other church leaders to help us learn what is happening at their church … earlier I’ve done posts on church bulletins, adding new services and the “other holy days.”

I’m thankful for the leaders who took time out to help us all learn!

6 reasons your church should give first-time guest gifts.

1. Shows guests that you expected them.

Think about the last time you were invited over to a friend’s house … did they get their place ready for you to arrive? Good friends do! We set out a few snacks, have the drinks cooled, light some candles … all signs to our guests that we expected them.

You are inviting guests to come to your church, and a great way to indicate to them that you expected them is to have a gift ready just for them. As a thank you for taking the risk to come and visit you!

2. First impressions count.

When people are new at your church, they notice everything … the grass growing up in the parking lot, the unclear signage, that funky smell in your kids space …

A well-thought-out first-time guest gift creates a great initial experience for your guests. It creates a “moment” that has potential to say a lot about your church. Think through what first impression you want to give to your guests and build your gift around that.

3. Extend the experience beyond the weekend.

Why do people buy t-shirts at a concert when they could probably get the same t-shirt for much less online? Why does every major ride at your favorite theme park exit out through the gift shop?

People are looking for souvenirs from experiences that matter to them. It’s a way for them to take a piece of the experience with them back into their “normal life.” When you give people a gift to take home, it has the potential to help them recall the positive time they had at your church and implicitly invites them to return.

4. Clearer explanation of who you are.

Although when people come to your weekend service they will get a good idea of what is important to you … chances are every weekend doesn’t represent the entire picture.

First-time guest gifts for your guests gives you the opportunity to explain what makes your church tick … you can give them an inside look at what it means to be a part of your community. It’s a perfect opportunity to define the “next step” for them as they are just entering community.

5. Invite them to come back!

One the realities of growing churches is that they are just better at getting their guests to come back. In fact, the difference between a stagnant church and a growing church is often that stagnant churches only have one in 10 guests return, while exploding churches are getting three in 10 guests to come back.

Giving first-time guest gifts is a part of asking your guests to come back. In fact, some of the churches studied actually have two tiers of gifts … one for “first-time guests” and then a second for “returning guests.” Make sure your gift asks people to come back for whatever is coming up next at your church!

6. Slow down the weekend experience.

If you give the gift to your new guests as a part of the weekend service experience, then it slows that experience down and ensures that they need to interact with someone. They shouldn’t just pick up the gift up off a table somewhere … but they should have to interact with some amazing members of your volunteer team who are particularly skilled in working with new guests. This “speed bump” ensures that new people are interacting with even just a few people at your church before they escape out the door and into the parking lot.

Quotable quotes from church leaders on first-time guest gifts.

1. “E-gifts are often not opened. Not sure if they are going into spam or why. We are looking into a tangible gift card and are open to other ideas.” —Chris McCombs

2. “The first-time guests enjoy receiving a gift. We find that the gift needs to have our information on it. We have seen more repeat visitors since we give them all our contact information and not just a random gift.” —Nichole Brown

3. “Our rate of returning guests definitely increased when we got serious about recognizing them with a gift. But truth is, while people seem to appreciate the gifts, I get more comments on my handwritten note.” —Scott Gamel

4. “People are blown away that they have been “mugged” before they get home.” —Doug Bedgood (This church has their guest-services team take coffee mugs to the guests’ home during the service.)

5. “What we discovered is that people don’t usually return because they got some cool swag. They come back because of the quality of the service (preaching, music, kids, etc.) and the warmth of the welcome they received. Best thing for us has been the establishment of a VIP reception area for guests. They connect with staff and volunteers there and receive personal follow-up from the volunteers they meet. Our returns on this have been very good.” —Dave Bowman

When is the best time to give first-time guest gifts?

As I researched the churches that give gifts to their new guests, I found that there seems to be three times that churches give gifts to first-time guests. Here is a run down of the three times to think about:

1. During the Sunday experience.

Some churches use first-time guest gifts as a thank you during the actual Sunday they attend. These churches generally have guests go to a welcome desk or dedicated first-time guest area.

The advantage of this approach is that the guest leaves with the gift in tow after their experience, and they’ve met some members of the church’s team.

2. As a follow up after the experience.

Other churches send the gift in the week following the guest’s visit. Sometimes these are mailed or in some cases hand delivered by a follow-up team. The first church I served at did this … we had a team of people that delivered home-baked cookies the week after the visit!

This approach implicitly asks people to come and visit your church the following weekend.

3. A promised gift for a second visit.

Another time that churches will give gifts to guests will be as an incentive to return that second time. Sometimes these gifts are given in combination with the “first-time gift,” and sometimes they are just offered to the second-time guest. By rewarding these guests for coming to your church another time, you are rewarding the behavior you want … people to return!

From my perspective, the best time to give a gift to someone new at your church is as a part of their experience.

We give our gifts to everyone who is new and hands in a “new here” card. We have a specially trained group of volunteers that help these guests feel extra welcome to the church. We go out of our way to ensure they know what they need to know about our church … and take some first steps to seeing them get connected.

We want that first experience with us to be a super positive one … first impressions matter!

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Rich serves as Operations Pastor at Liquid Church in the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. He blogs at UnSeminary.com and is a sought after speaker and consultant on multisite, pastoral productivity and communications.