Shutting the Back Door: How to Retain Visitors

By Jonathan Adkins

“We receive many visitors every week, but not many of them stay.” One struggle that many churches face is an inability to retain visitors. If this describes your church, then be encouraged, because there are steps you can take to help reverse this trend.

From Visitor to Guest

One of the most significant steps your church can take to close the back door for visitors is to be sure that you are actually viewing your visitors as guests. The difference between a visitor and a guest sounds like a subtle distinction, but there is a difference. The term guest implies that one will receive a greater level of hospitality than that of a visitor. For example, if you host a “guest” in your home, you will show him or her around the house; you’ll make sure that your guest knows where all of the important parts of the house are; you may prepare meals for the guest, and you’ll go out of your way to make the person feel at home. As the host, you will naturally have the desire to go above and beyond in order to ensure that your guest is treated with exceptional care. This same level of care should be provided for every guest who attends your church.

Here are four steps that can help the members of your church begin to treat your visitors as guests:

  1. Make a point to learn the guest’s first name and use it in conversation. Learning someone’s name shows you value the individual and view him or her as distinct from everyone else. Furthermore, calling someone by his or her first name is more personal and warm and will immediately help the guest feel more at home in your church.
  2. Personally walk the guest to where he or she wants to go. In the busyness of Sunday it is easy to give in to the temptation of pointing people toward a specific location. Avoid this mistake at all costs! Taking the time to walk with an individual to a specific room shows that you care about that person, and the extra time allows you to further develop conversation and rapport.
  3. Follow up with the guest within 24 hours. Immediate follow-up provides continued momentum and further shows that you care about the guest by quickly contacting him or her.
  4. You should be excited when new people attend your church. The fact that a person is courageous enough to make the first step in visiting shows that the Holy Spirit is likely active in his or her life. God may soon use your church to do spiritual wonders, and you get the privilege of cooperating with the Holy Spirit in that process.

Involve Your Congregation

Prestonwood has found great success in retaining visitors by involving our congregation in two specific guest-related ministries: Guest Central and Own Your Own Section.

Guest Central – Prestonwood hosts a Guest Central kiosk in the center of the front Atrium. This is where we receive new visitors and help them get connected to the life of the church. Guests see the kiosk as soon as they walk through the front doors, and our pastors promote it during our worship services. We have found Guest Central to be a key instrument in helping us assimilate new visitors.

Guest Central is staffed primarily by volunteers representing various age groups. A large variety of volunteers enables us, for example, to start a friendship with a new guest immediately because the volunteer can take the guest to Bible Fellowship with him after Worship Service. Volunteer leadership also lends credibility to church programs promoted at the kiosk, because their endorsement is coming from the voice of the congregation.

Own Your Own Section – Another congregation-led ministry that Prestonwood has found to help new visitors feel welcome is our Own Your Own Section (OYOS) ministry. OYOS has volunteer hosts responsible for greeting and welcoming people who sit in the host’s Worship Service section on any given Sunday. In addition to greeting new visitors, OYOS hosts are available to pray with individuals during appointed times or as needed.

Recently, an OYOS host visited with a married couple who had deliberately decided not to visit our church during the last few years. This couple had attended once many years ago and left not feeling welcome in our Worship Service. This time, the husband remarked to his wife while driving to Prestonwood that if no one spoke to them that day, they would not attend our church again. When our OYOS host greeted this couple, the couple was overjoyed and shared the story from their drive to the church. This couple returned the very next week. This is only one example of many as to how OYOS has directly benefited our church by helping make people feel welcome.

Closing the back door with visitors requires making deliberate, personal connections. Retaining visitors requires time and commitment, but the payoff is worth it when you get to witness the work God is doing in your church to minister to each individual.

Jonathan Adkins serves as the Minister to Single Adults at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. Follow him on Twitter at @jonathaneadkins.