Seven Reasons Your Guests Aren’t Returning
First-time guests are critically important to a church’s vitality. Having first-time guests on a regular basis is a sign that your church is active and is reaching new people.
But the most important metric isn’t how many first-time guests you have, but rather how many of them return for a second or third visit. That’s the true indicator you’re doing something right and providing a great guest experience. For most of us, the percentage of returning guests is a fraction of the number of first timers. While we celebrate those who do return, few churches really take the time to analyze why most of them don’t, and then address those issues to increase their return rate.
It’s not about the numbers; it’s about missed opportunities to connect people into the church community, to help them grow deeper in their faith, and find the hope, healing, forgiveness that we all need.
Let’s look at some of the most common reasons guests don’t return for a second visit:
- Your people are inwardly focused. Your people may be friendly, but mostly with each other. They enjoy conversations with their church friends so much they don’t look for or make space for new people or invite them into the conversation. Guests feel invisible. Worse yet, some of your members may think of certain seats as “theirs” and don’t hesitate to ask a guest to move. Yes, this really happens, and it tells guests they don’t belong.
- Your signage is inadequate. Most churches (especially established churches) don’t put much thought into their signage – after all, everyone knows where things are. Except guests don’t know. If they can’t find the primary entrance quickly or the space they’re looking for, or (gasp) the bathrooms, they’re confused – and a confused guest isn’t having a great experience. Paying attention to directional signage tells guests you anticipated their visit.
- Your spaces aren’t clean and well-maintained. Well-maintained grounds and buildings that are clean and tidy tell a guest that you care about what you do. When they find physical spaces that are messy, uncared for, or need repair, they notice. It sends a message to them that you’re not attentive to details, and you may be haphazard in caring for them.
- Your children’s space is dated and/or unsafe. The number one priority for families with young children is knowing they are safe and in a clean space. Make sure your church has a secure check-in process for children, and that you have policies and procedures to keep them safe. A fresh coat of paint and thorough cleaning ensures your children’s space is bright and appealing.
- They can’t follow the service. Going to a new church for the first time is intimidating and can be very overwhelming. Make sure every leader who speaks from the platform introduces themselves or has a graphic with their name on the screen. Provide context and instructions for every element of your service, so guests understand what’s coming and are comfortable participating. Don’t use church lingo or insider language. Guests often aren’t familiar with terms like narthex or eucharist, and they get completely lost when your announcements are filled with acronyms and clever ministry names they can’t decode or references to contact people they don’t know.
- The message is boring. Dry sermons that exegete scripture without context or relevance to a guest’s life today will lose their attention quickly. Look up books/resources/video training to help you prepare and deliver a more engaging sermon. Check out the numerous sermon resources available for free download on ShareChurch.com.
- You didn’t follow up (quickly). Follow-up is an important extension of your hospitality, and (when done well) communicates to guests that you noticed their presence and welcome them with open arms. Try to follow up within 24 hours, if possible. Following up quickly tells guests they matter and has a strong correlation to guest return rates.
How does your church rate on the seven points above? Which ones are growth edges for your church? Every one of the reasons above contributes to a sub-par guest experience. The guest experience is about more than your hospitality team. It is essentially a guest’s perception of your church, based on the sum total of all their interactions with your communication, your property, your people, your programs and services. Focus on providing a great guest experience, and your return rates will increase.
Yvonne Gentile is our Guest Experience & ShareChurch Lead Director, a former retail industry executive, and co-author of four books. She and her husband Frank have been part of Resurrection since 1996. Together they enjoy movies, road trips, and spending time with family.