We all know Easter is one of the biggest days of the year in the life of the church. It’s the day we commemorate Jesus’ resurrection from the grave. And while we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus all year long, at Easter we focus our time in a special way.
On Resurrection Sunday, church attendance is high. Many people who don’t normally darken the doorway of a church during other times of the year will show up for the big day. Others will come as invited guests of friends and family. Whatever their reason for showing up, you’ve got an opportunity to speak truth into the lives of these new people.
Of course, it’s hard to make a deep connection with all these guests in just a couple of hours on a Sunday morning. What you really want is for these first-time visitors to come back and then come back again. You want each guest’s Easter visit to spark a turning point in their life so that they just can’t stay away. You want them to be drawn into God’s family.
So, how do you follow up with Easter guests so that they feel welcome the whole year round? How do you turn one-time holiday visitors into committed members of your church? It won’t happen automatically, so you need to have a plan. Here are a few simple things you can do to keep the welcome mat out.
Enlist every member of your church
Nothing makes a first-time visitor feel less welcome than being ignored. At the same time, most of us don’t want to be singled out by some overzealous welcome team member either. The best approach is to try to create a culture of welcoming engagement in your church.
Make it clear, regularly and from the pulpit, that part of following Jesus is welcoming new sheep into the fold. Everyone should know that a spirit of invitation is part of your church’s DNA.
It’s still a good idea to have a designated welcome team and a visitor’s information desk, but be sure that everyone knows it’s their job to greet new faces. Every person who crosses the threshold into your building is someone loved by Jesus—someone He died for—so show these folks how valuable they are by loving them well.
This doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a long time to effectively communicate, model, and instill big cultural changes. And you can’t do it alone. Start with staff members, key lay leaders, and long-time members. As more and more people experience the joy of being an ambassador for Jesus and your congregation, it will catch on. Just keep at it.
Communicate via text and email
If you’ve gotten your guests’ contact information through a welcome card or a digital check-in, now’s the time to use it. Don’t wait until it’s awkward. I suggest following up the very same day through a text message, perhaps in the afternoon or early evening.
Keep the message short and simple. Just let them know you’re glad they came and wish them a blessed Easter. You may also want to let them know you hope to see them again and that you’re available to answer any questions about the church they might have.
Don’t feel too bad if you don’t get a response. Easter is a busy day. Just know that you’ve connected to let your guests know your church is a welcoming place.
Beyond the Easter Day message to your visitors, consider a mid-week follow-up. You might choose an email for this venture, as it will give you the bandwidth to send more information about your church, links to upcoming events, regular activities, and past sermons.
Finally, it’s a good idea to send a message on the Friday or Saturday following Easter, inviting your new friends to attend weekend services. Just keep it brief and to the point, with service times and any other pertinent information. Consider also asking them to let you know if they’re planning on attending. This way, your staff can be expecting these second-time visitors. It’s always easier to make someone feel welcome when they know you’re expecting them.
Beyond these emails and texts during the first week, consider how often you’d like to message visitors, especially if they don’t respond. The last thing you want to do is have “welcoming” become “annoying.” Every church has a different personality, though, so do what seems best to you.
Send a thank-you gift
Times have changed. Attending a church service is no longer as routine as it once was. It’s important to show you are grateful for your guests’ gift of time and attention, especially in our increasingly busy world with so many options available.
For many years, churches have offered guests a gift after the Sunday service. It may be a Chick-fil-a gift card, a book, or a coffee mug. These are nice gestures, but some churches have found it more effective to send a gift mid-week to the address provided on the visitor information form. Just make sure it’s truly a gift—something that would brighten nearly everyone’s day.
Consider a sweet treat like cookies or brownies. It’s fine to include more information about your church, but be sure your delivery is a no-strings-attached expression of gratitude, first and foremost.
Invite them to something specific
Of course, you want to see visitors return the next Sunday for regular services, but it may be a good idea to invite them to a different sort of event as well.
Is there a large church event coming up–one that tends to be more social? Perhaps it’s a church picnic or a special evening worship service with fellowship afterwards. Or it could be a newcomer’s event on the calendar. These are great get-to-know-you times where a newbie has more opportunities to mingle. They may also reveal the heart of your church a bit more to outsiders.
But there’s another reason I’m suggesting that you invite new guests to a specific event. Such an invitation lets them know you’re interested in their involvement in your community and not just having them bolster your Sunday morning attendance numbers.
One note of caution: Be sure a guest will actually feel welcome at whatever event you choose to invite them into. You can ensure they will by asking them to RSVP so you’ll know they’re coming and by making sure key members and staff are alerted to their presence. And, of course, cultivating a culture of welcome in your church (see above) will go a long way too.
A few other things to keep in mind:
- Focus on meeting the needs of your guests, not getting them to commit.
- Be aware of any gesture that might come off as a bait-and-switch tactic.
- Focus on your guests and their journeys, not on how wonderful your church is.
- Provide easy next steps for visitors.
- Allow new people checking out your church to set their own pace.
- Make sure you or someone else is available to answer questions.
- Love newcomers really, really well.
Over to you
The best path to making first-time visitors feel welcome is to love them like you’d want to be loved. So, put yourself in their shoes and do the things you’d like someone to do for you.