Newcomers and Visitors


Is your parish resolution this New Year to be more like - Velcro or Teflon?

Some churches are like Velcro, while others are more like Teflon.  Growing congregations are serious about getting folks to drop in, and stick around.  Pew Research Center recently confirmed the most gifted churches in the eyes of newcomers are the ones offering: quality of preaching (83%), warm welcome (79%), engaging worship (74%), proximity to home (70%), children's ministry (56%), seeing family and friends (48%), getting opportunities to make a difference (42%).  A concerned parish can simply address any one of these factors to attract folks, many of whom will stick around.

When LifeWays dug a bit deeper into the motivations of people who are looking for more out of their experience at church, they asked "What factors cause church members to attend more frequently?" Respondents to the LifeWays study reported the following top three reasons: Growing closer to God and becoming more intentional in their relationship with Jesus Christ (49%). Simply put, people want to know God and do what keeps them close to God. Somewhat less significant, but still a major factor is a change in life situation. When faced with hardship and family crisis, people reach out to God and seek the support of the church (19%). Not insignificant is the convenience of weekend worship (10%).

Interested in a New Year resolution that can produce real results for your parish, and make you sticky and sweet to those still church shopping. People want to encounter God. They want to be part of a community of intentional disciples who will help them to love God, love God's people, do God's will and lead others to God. Real success can be less about doing more things, and more about doing the right things. In the final analysis, most people are motivated by the most important reasons. How about your folks? You might start by asking them why they decided to stick with you.  



What about the Announcements?

As Easter approaches, we recognize that there will be lots of visitors.  We give particular attention to the details because we want to make a good impression.  Church announcements are a perennial issue, and they becomes even more worrisome at high traffic times like Easter.  How can we be sensitive to people's schedules and still seize the opportunity that this privileged opportunity represents?

We've all heard it - keep'em short!  But is that the REAL secret to good announcements at the end of Mass?  Then logically, omitting these announcements completely would be even better!  Surveys suggest that one of the top complaints made by people is that they are not kept informed.  And Easter is such a significant opportunity to reach so many newcomers.  So, what do we do?  Is it a bad time for people who are preparing to leave?  Some parishes delay the start of liturgy, and allow latecomers a few more minutes on Easter, by doing some words of welcome and announcements before Mass begins.  This reduces the need to say so much afterward when people are ready to go.

What is necessary to say after communion?  Time after communion is a mixed bag of emotions and energy.  Some of the best churches see this as a privileged moment, when people are most aware of their missionary identity.  Some take advantage of this to present a call to action!  Consider these best practices:

  • Start with a word of appreciation.  Make it sincere and specific.
  • Refrain from details.  Support all announcements with the details - in print and online.  Organize all news and information online, and easily accessible. Prioritize information based on urgency and broad appeal or impact.  (If you direct people to a website make sure that news and events are on the landing page, up high, and to the right.)
  • Be enthusiastic.  Unless we engage them with humor or another form of affective response, we can lose their attention within seconds.
  • Present a call to action that connects with the Message for the day.  Mix in any necessary practical announcements with expressions of gratitude and invitations for further engagement.
  • Speak to their self-interest.  Ask yourself: What is in it for them?  (If this question cannot be answered there may be a bigger problem.)
  • Tweet your promos.  If you want parishioners to invite others to church events, equip them with the "elevator pitch" (an easy to remember pitch - maximum of two lines or what can be expressed in the time it takes to ascend two floors in an elevator.  This pitch can be tweeted on the following Tuesday as a reminder.  Avoid church jargon and keep words at an eighth-grade vocabulary.

Remember:  Church announcements work best as part of an overall strategy to get the word out in at least seven ways.  So how can the parish reinforce a message and get parishioners to act on it?  In addition to equipping your congregation with the elevator pitch, try: a short e-news note (no more than 5 items), occasional e-mail blasts (1 item), an attractive website promotion, print flyers or brochures in the bulletin or in the seats, along with posts on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter or Pinterest (N.B. Many teens text or use a photo-based forum - e.g. Snapchat or Instagram).  Most parishes have shifted from postage to one of many less expensive and quicker, digital forms of communication with parishioners.

Consider these articles and ideas:

Consider these web resources: