One of my favorite parts of my job is to "secret shop" a church service. Although my evaluation begins when I pull in the parking lot, it doesn't end until a few days later.

One of my favorite parts of my job is to "secret shop" a church service! As I pull into the parking lot, I put on my guest/detective hat and begin assessing the weekend worship service. Did I find guest parking? Did I easily find a place to sit? Did I know where to go if I had more questions?

And, although my evaluation begins when I pull in the parking lot, it doesn't end until a few days later as I anxiously await to see if anyone noticed my presence on Sunday.

In an effort to engage with visitors and encourage a welcoming spirit within the church, many congregations ask guests to sign a guest card or attendance register so they can connect with you. Typically, within a week, I receive one of the following:

  • A postcard. The front - praying hands or a church steeple. The back - a sentence or two telling me how wonderful it was that I visited, lovingly hand-signed and addressed from "Lois, President of the Welcome Committee."
  • A form letter. "Dear ______: Thank you for visiting us on _______. We hope you come back soon. Here are the 27 ways you can learn more about our church. Please come again."
  • A packet filled with every piece of print literature the church has ever produced about every ministry they have. (Which I already received in my over-flowing welcome visitor bag I clumsily carried around your church building on Sunday).

I was pleasantly surprised to receive both a voicemail and a personal email from a pastor of spiritual life. Ben, Shawn and I had secret shopped his church on Sunday, and those of us who filled out the Connect Card received follow-up by Monday evening. Here's the email (voicemail was similar, but even more sincere with his voice). Names have been changed to protect the identity of the innocent!

Hello Lindsay, my name is John Doe, and as one of the pastors at ABC Church in Anytown, USA, I want to say thanks for visiting with us this past weekend. I really hope you enjoyed your time with us and that you were encouraged. During this Christmas season, it's such a joy to welcome people from all over to join in worshipping Jesus Christ. He's the focus year-round, but especially so as we celebrate His birth on Christmas day. Thank you again for being with us!

I don't know if you're still in town or not, but if so, we'd love to have you join us again this coming Sunday. We have two identical services at 9:15 a.m. and 11 a.m. If you've already headed back home, we hope we'll have another opportunity to have you with us sometime in the near future. Thank you again!

And if there is anything I might be able to do as a pastor to serve you or your family in any way, please do let me know. My contact information is below and it would be my pleasure to serve you. Merry Christmas! 

John Doe,  , (123) 456-7890

Here's what I love:

  1. Personal introduction from one of the pastors. It feels like when the owner or chef at a restaurant visits your table.
  2. Reference to the time of year I visited. This tells me it's not a template.
  3. Subtle reiteration of their faith/focus on Jesus.
  4. An invitation to visit again, with the service times listed.
  5. A sincere line about serving me. When he said this line in the voicemail I honestly felt I could pick up the phone and talk to him right away.

Additionally, his voicemail was genuine. I really felt that he, and the church, cared that I visited. And, in the voicemail, he indicated that someone from the Stephen Ministry (I checked the "I'd like to learn more about" box next to that) would be in touch soon to talk about the ministry. She called the next day!

How are you connecting with your visitors? Are you being personal, relevant and memorable? Are you being as intentional with the follow-up as you are with the arrival?

Following up with first-time guests is important, but it's more important how you connect with them during their visit. 

Get the First-Time Guest Piece Guide to see how you can design a strategic, welcoming and beautiful first-time guest piece.