7 Little Changes That’ll Make a Big Difference With First-Time Church Guests

Jana Gauthier
May 25, 2021

Getting new people to visit your church is difficult. Getting them back is even more challenging. The good news is that you can do simple things to keep first time guests coming back.

Follow these seven steps for effectively engaging first-time guests at your church.

1. Engage First-Time Church Guests from the Start

Guests that are visiting your church for the first time do not think about their experience quite like you do. That’s because as a church leader, you’re already familiar with everything: you know the building, the people, and the music.

But your first-time guests are not. In fact, locating nearby parking with no signage can result in a poor first-time guest experience—before they even have a chance to engage with you. This is why engaging your new church visitors from the start is critical to convert them into long-standing members.

2. Prioritize Digital Connect Cards at Your Church

So you’ve done a great job getting people to visit your church for the first time. Congratulations! 

Getting first-time guests to show up is  an achievement to celebrate! It takes a lot for an entire family or individual to visit your church for the first time. As church leaders, it's your responsibility to do everything you can to capture that individual or family’s information when they visit for the first time. 

Plus, the very first next step most visitors will take at your church is filling out a digital connect card. This means that as a church leader, getting your digital connect card into their hands is crucial. 

  1. Use a church texting solution with natural language processing (we built Thryve) and ask congregants to text the word “GUEST.” This will immediately send your digital connect card right to their mobile phone.
  2. Use an SMS QR Code Generator to create a QR code that pre-populates to Thryve's church texting platform.

Trying to get additional people to text in? Here are some more Easy Opt-in Tips!

Remember! People are busy and distracted. By taking a few moments during service to give people the time to text in, it puts the opportunity right in front of them and significantly increases the likelihood of them acting.

Connection cards are wildly important to your first-time guest engagement and follow-up plan. Why? Because now that you’ve done the hard work of actually getting a new family or an individual to your church, you have one shot to capture their information before they walk out after service—and never to be heard from again!

Your church probably has physical connection cards that are used to capture new visitor information. When it comes to a digital connect card, however, the most crucial element to focus on is the number of form fields a visitor is required to fill out.

Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean you need to eliminate your physical church connection card (that’s not recommended). Instead, prioritize and highlight your digital connection card first and foremost.

The easiest and most effective way to receive more church connect cards from new visitors is simply to ask for less information. The fewer form fields you display, the more cards you’ll have filled out. 

3. Design digital connection cards with three-four form fields

Before you say “but we need more new visitor information than just a name and email!” it's important to note you don’t need detailed info during your first interaction. Collect the basic information, and then follow-up quickly to get details and move the relationship forward.

Barna’s research on millennials and the type of personal information they are or are not willing to offer up to a church upon a first-time visit sheds emphasizes the need for fewer form fields.

What personal information are you willing to give to a church upon a first-time visit?

  •  82% of millennials say that they will give their first name to a church upon a first-time visit, but only 53% of this group will give a last name.
  • 33% will provide an email address, but only 12% will give a phone number. 
  • 15% say they won’t provide any information.
Information Millennials are willing to give upon visiting a church


4. Implement a scalable system to speed up new visitor follow-up.

Not sure where to start? Try this 3-step follow-up sequence to engage first-time guests faster than most churches have ever dreamed of. 

  1. Step #1
    During in-service announcements, welcome new visitors and invite them to fill out your digital connect card online. You can give out a free gift in exchange.

  1. Step #2
    Hook u
    p your digital connect card form to an email automation platform, such as Mailchimp (it’s free). That’s because this is all about speed. You want to trigger your follow-up sequence with a new visitor as fast as you possibly can while it’s still fresh in their mind. Digital connect cards allow any church to do this easily.

  2. Step #3:
    your first follow-up email to be sent within seconds after a new visitor fills out your digital connect card. Include other ways to stay engaged in this email.

5. Re-imagine Your Lobby as a Digital Engagement Platform

With the rise of church tech, the traditional church lobby or “welcome desk” is becoming obsolete. Instead, your church lobby space can be transformed into for deepening digital engagement while making personal connections with guests.  

Most churches confuse their visitors with inconsistent and confusing messaging. For example, when your church is promoting a variety of programs and services at once, here are some of the things that your congregants might hear when they attend Sunday services:

Check the bulletin! Talk to the pastor! Visit the table in the lobby! Download the app! Check the website!

Unfortunately, messy communication complicates things and results in lower engagement. The solution? Creating more avenues for digital engagement via a Digital Hub, such as the one that forefront church created below.

Get started with a Digital Hub of your own by:

  1. Creating a separate website to serve as the one single digital hub where first-time guests and members can find next steps 24/7 and accessible from any device.
  2. Your digital hub will be where your ministry teams gather, store, and distribute information.
  3. If you don’t want to put your digital hub behind a website, consider using a text messaging platform like Thryve, and showing guests how to engage with you inside your Lobby. Text messaging is a simple but effective communication tool that could allow your church to easily share event details, updates, reminders, service info, and more with members and guests. 

Check out a real-world examples of a digital hub in a lobby space:

6. Capture Attention of First-time Guests on Sunday

For most churches, the follow-up process begins on Monday at the earliest, but all too often, even later in the week. Usually, by that point, your church is the farthest thing from a new visitor’s mind. Day-to-day stressors and challenges are kicking in, which means your first-time guest is less likely to respond to any type of follow-up.

Grab the attention you have with these new visitors on Sunday (preferably while they’re still in your building). And if a new visitor fills out the physical connect card and returns it to the lobby, that’s ok! No sweat. Just make sure that the staff person who collects the cards manually adds them to your new visitor email automation list before they leave on Sunday. 

7. Increase engagement and decrease admin tasks with a church texting solution.

So you’ve connected with your guest, and you’ve captured the least amount of information needed. Using texting to increase engagement means that the mobile phone number is the most important and most effective piece of contact information. Collecting an email address is a bonus but a distant second way to engage. It might be that a single text is all you need. 

You probably get how texting is THE most preferred method of communication. But just in case we’ve assumed too much, you should know that 98% of all text messages are opened, and 90% of texts are responded to within 3 minutes (compare this with the email read rate of 20% or the average Facebook engagement rate of 16%. 

A church visitor follow-up strategy includes a series of rolling text messages that is sent to first-time guests after they visit your church for the first time. Check out a 14-day free trial of Thryve church texting for churches to explore text messaging for your church. 

Over to You

Now you have the tips, tools, and tactics for engaging your first-time guests in a way that inspires and motivates them to return again and again.

When executed properly, the benefits of the new visitor follow-up process are enormous. Take a deeper dive into how you can use text messaging for weekend first-time guest engagement? Download our First Time Guest Follow Up Text Message Kit.

Learn Why Churches are Seeing 10-12x More Engagement With Thryve Smart Texting.

Get DemoLearn More