Three Characteristics of Excellent Follow-Up
Following up after a guest’s visit to your church significantly impacts their decision whether to return, so it is vital that we follow up effectively. Knowing how to do that isn’t always intuitive.
Guests return not so much because of what we do, but because of how we make them feel. Consider how you want your guests to feel when they experience your follow-up. You want them to feel seen, valued, and respected, but not harassed. Your follow-up should be intentional without being overwhelming. Not following up sends a clear message that you didn’t notice the guest or, worse, that you did notice them, but they don’t matter to you.
We’ve found that there are three key components of effective follow-up, and the principles are true whether you’re following up after worship or other program participation. Effective follow-up is prompt, personal, and pleasant.
We live in an age of instant access to information, in a society that expects immediate gratification. Not following up quickly with guests communicates to them that they just aren’t that important to you. Bill Easum, Founder of the Effective Church Group, wrote that there is a direct correlation between how quickly you follow-up and your visitor return rate. His research showed that if you follow-up within 24 hours, your guests are 85% likely to return. Wait a week, and the likelihood of them returning for a second visit drops to 15%. Whether you follow-up via text, phone call, letter, or some other method, following up within 24 hours should be a priority. The easiest method to accomplish this is via text. If you’re not using texting as a method to follow-up with guests, I encourage you to explore that. There are a number of inexpensive (even some free) providers. Why texting? Because 98% of text messages are opened within three seconds, while only half of all emails are opened.
Make a personal connection. Guests aren’t seeking connection with your building; they hope to find community. A person-to-person interaction is most effective in engaging guests. In our children’s ministry, when a new child is checked in, the person who checks the family in sends them a handwritten note the same day. As for worship, one of our volunteers delivers a coffee mug and a warm welcome to guests after their first visit.
Personalize your email by using your guest’s name(s) and by signing it from someone they can respond to who is available for a real conversation. If your Senior Pastor isn’t the one responding to their initial visit, it shouldn’t be signed by them. Personalizing an email with the guest’s first name increases the open rate by 29%, and the click-through rate (if you include a link to more information) by 41%. Make sure the tone of your message is warm, friendly, and conversational. The goal is to establish a relationship with the guest, so they feel comfortable reaching out to you if they have questions. If you do in-person follow-up (for instance, we deliver coffee mugs), make sure to follow the guidelines in number 3 below.
Think from the guest’s perspective, and make sure your follow-up is light and non-invasive. Don’t do things that might make a guest uncomfortable. Remember, guests return not so much because of what we do, but how we make them feel. We’ve all had follow-up from an organization that was more of a turn-off than an incentive to return. When we deliver coffee mugs, we do not go inside the guest’s home, we simply hand them the mug, thank them for visiting us, and invite them to return.
Keep the tone of your follow-up friendly and conversational. Vary your communication method to make your follow-up more interesting and less overwhelming. If you only send them emails, soon they stop opening your emails. Space your contacts out. At Resurrection, we follow up after a guest’s first, third, and fifth visits, and our follow-up after their first visit is spaced over a six-week period, about one contact per week. Always plan your communication out well, so it has a purpose and a call to action. That might be to come again, to engage in an event coming up, or to learn more about your church. Finally, keep your communication brief. The reality is that most people don’t read long messages. A brief message has a greater likelihood of being read.
So, what one step could you take to improve your follow-up this week?
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.