A View from the Pew: A New Old Way to Follow Up with Visitors

Note: After 10 years of writing “A View from the Pew,” I will be offering 12 monthly installments in 2024 to round out the collection and end this blog in December. Thank you for reading, and I hope these final expressions are meaningful and helpful.

In olden times, a church staff member welcomed worshippers to the service and asked guests to fill out a card in the “seat back in front of you” so that “we can get to know you better.”

Today, it’s the rare person who wants you to know them better.

The tricks of the marketing trade have become too transparent and resented by consumers, and sadly many visitors walking through our church doors feel the same way. Most internet users have become all too familiar with the click bait strategy that companies use to get their IP address and then bombard them with ads across the web.

I’m sure there are churches out there using similar digital advertising strategies, but if they lack digital sophistication, they can still opt for a digital strategy by incentivizing sharing an email address. But spamming someone’s email is a recipe for rejection.

So with all of these modern and technological approaches to following up with someone who walks into your worship service off the street, what’s a church to do?

What made the old tried and true method of asking someone to fill out a visitor’s card so effective was that they only did so if they wanted to learn more about your church or to be contacted. That made them, in marketing parlance, a qualified lead. Following up was more productive and less of a risk to all involved.

Many of our churches still use the visitor cards, but have added a QR code to the order of worship that guests can scan with their smartphones and, if they choose, leave their information on an online form. Once they have supplied the information, they begin receiving communication from the church and a personal contact from church staff and members who welcome them and invite them to upcoming activities.

But without having that information, churches are left with few options. Allow me to suggest something revolutionary that many churches have abandoned: just talk to them.

Whenever someone new walks into your church, simply engage them as you would another human being with no more deeper motive than getting to know them. Sincerity goes so much farther than collecting data that would allow you to market to them.

It’s been my recent experience that pushing too hard initially to get the contact information will only drive them away while authentically getting to know them will draw them in. It’s like a former marketing professor of mine once said: “There’s two ways to get people’s attention. You can shout or you can whisper.”

I submit that digital marketing is shouting. Connecting and conversing is whispering.

By not pushing for contact information, you are giving up a sense of control. It’s harder to move them through the customer funnel from a prospect to a “qualified lead” to a member. But giving them control in the relationship is the secret sauce. It will allow for more authentic involvement and gives the Spirit room to work in their life.

In marketing speak, “conversion” is when you achieve the sale. It’s a slippery slope when churches start treating religious conversion the same way.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does higher education marketing and communications at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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