After moving to a new area, my wife and I began the search for a church. One of the churches was a young church plant that met in a school. There was a welcome area with one volunteer who didn't seem to know much about the church. She offered to take us on a tour, but she was also looking back at the empty welcome area and seemed reticent to leave. I felt bad for her and declined the tour.

During the service, no one on stage said who they were. It could have been the pastor, or it could have been a guest speaker. We weren’t sure. This church takes communion weekly, and they didn’t give any instructions. People seemed to know what to do, so we followed them. Some people took the elements from a tray and headed back to their seats, while others partook of communion right over the tray, threw away the empty small cup, and walked out. It was both confusing and unsanitary!

After the service I received no less than a dozen emails including my “new username and password” for their church management software—when I had only visited once! I wasn’t ready to join and be part of their database system. The whole experience was chaotic and disorganized. We didn’t go back again.

I’m convinced my experience wasn’t unique to guests visiting churches.

When visiting a church, the process you want a guest to follow should be simple. Behind the scenes, that process is likely very complex and needs to be thought through and mapped out before a guest ever steps foot in your church. Here are some steps you can take to make a guest experience that is simultaneously simple and complex.

Next Steps for guests

Before you get any systems set up to actually implement a successful guest ministry, you need to have clear next steps for guests to take. These next steps should be clearly flowed down to volunteers so they can simply distill information to guests.

For example, your ideal next steps for a guest might look something like this:

  1. Visit church for first time and fill out a connect card
  2. Come back next week
  3. Attend a small group and get to know people at the church
  4. Get baptized/become member at church

Of course, your guest will only be thinking week by week, but your volunteers will have this overarching list of steps in mind as they engage with guests. It’s somewhat complex, and of course is fluid based on the specific guest, but it will be incredibly simple and streamlined in your guest experience.

System to collect information

Every church needs a way to collect contact information for guests. Many churches use connect cards that guests physically fill out and turn back in. (Learn how to get more connect cards completed here.)

Some churches try and use digital systems for guest check-ins, but bottle necks at device kiosks and down internet connections bring everything to a halt. It may seem old school, but paper and pens never fail and it's easy to have everyone fill out connect cards simultaneously. However you collect information, you need to have a clear back-end process in place and make the sign-in process seamless and clear for your guest.

Process to distribute contact info

After a guest entrusts you with their information, you need to have next steps in process to transfer that contact information to the necessary people. Does it go to the head of your guest ministry? A team of volunteers? Your associate pastor?

Distributing the information needs to happen ASAP after Sunday—you’ll want to follow up with guests within a few days to let them know you appreciated their visit and to invite them back next Sunday. (More on that in the next section.) In addition, their information should be kept secure and safe so it doesn’t get lost or misused.

Workflow to follow up

After the guest’s information reaches the person who will contact them, it’s important to keep accurate track of who has contacted them, when and how the guest was contacted, and their attendance records. Church management systems can help you track this, or you can even use a collaborative Google Sheets document to log updates.

Make sure that everyone who is following up with guests uses roughly the same process and standards that are clearly outlined. Your internal process might look something like this:

  1. Volunteer follows up with guest on Monday or Tuesday, thanking them for visiting the church
  2. On Thursday or Friday, volunteer invites guest back to church on Sunday
  3. If the guest attends again, volunteer sends a handwritten postcard

Make sure you have multiple versions of your workflow in place based on the information a guest gives you. If they only give an email, use that for everything. If they give a physical address but no phone number, have a version of your workflow in place that doesn't use text messages or phone calls. Your workflows need to work with every combination of information you ask for.

Program to train volunteers/leaders

By sufficiently training volunteers, your guest ministry will run smoothly. Make sure volunteers know:

The vision for the steps you want every guest to take (come back, join a group, introduction to another person, etc.)

How "wins" in their specific position are defined (get someone to wave back in the parking lot, ask someone their name while pouring their coffee, walking a new parent to the kids ministry, etc.)

How to identify and greet guests accurately (darting eyes, slow walking, looking up at signs, using guest parking spots, etc.)

Ask questions to get to know the guest (Pro tip: Asking "How long have you been attending here?" can never be answered incorrectly, and isn't offensive regardless of how long someone has attended the church!)

Gently reach out and encourage guests to come back (Everything about a first visit should be geared towards getting someone to come back next week.)

How complicated are your processes to make your guest experience simple?