Make the Connection. Keep the Connection.
A first-time guest is a fragile guest. They are on high alert for anything that feels familiar and safe, and have a low tolerance for anything that pushes them out of their comfort zone. That’s why making a connection with a first-time guest is crucial.
But to paraphrase Jerry’s experience, it’s not enough to make the connection. You also have to keep the connection. And one of the best ways to keep it is to utilize the person who made the connection in the first place.
Years ago, I read a study that said if a first-time guest doesn’t have at least seven meaningful relationships within the first year at a church, they won’t stick around for a second year. That means we must help facilitate those meaningful relationships, and the entry-point volunteer can be the best one to do so.
Here are a few simple ideas, but stick around for some very important rules of engagement.
7 Simple Ways to Keep the Connection
- Remember their name after the service. This is an easy win. If a volunteer meets a guest before the service, that same volunteer should make a point to “seek and speak” after the service. (“Tasha! How was the service? Hope to see you next week!”) [related post: Q&A: How Can I Remember Names?]
- Drop a postcard in the mail. Keep a stack of church-branded cards in your First-Time Guest tent or Volunteer Headquarters. During the service, vols can jot a quick note to guests they interacted with. Then they leave the postcards to be mailed by the church on Monday.
- Send an email. Use a generic email address (email@example.com, for example) with staff- and volunteer-only access to touch base immediately following the service. This can get tricky with replies, so make sure a staffer is monitoring during the week.
- Involve the volunteer in follow up. In our context our staff does all guest follow up, but consider having that same volunteer make a call later in the week.
- Schedule a check in at one, three, and six months. Bring your vols into the assimilation process, and have them contact the guest at specific intervals during their first year.
- Offer to pay for lunch or coffee. If your budget allows it, provide a small stipend or offer to reimburse a volunteer who treats a guest to a meal within the first two weeks of their visit.
- Invite them to small group. I have a Guest Services volunteer who is also a small group leader, and the number of women in her group who began as a meeting at the First-Time Guest tent…well, that’s a number no one can calculate. She’s a connection machine. Rather than trying to get them in a group, why not just encourage the vol to invite them to theirs?
The rules of engagement
The volunteer connector should know their role and agree to their role. If the volunteer is the one person who is following up with a particular guest, they should know that and feel the weight of that. It’s not as simple as leaving out a “finishing touch,” it’s leaving out the touch, period.
Your volunteers should know the role they play in the bigger picture. They should know how their position (parking, seating, First-Time Guest tent, etc.) connects to other positions, and where their tasks land in the overall First-Time Guest process.
And if you’re moving to a make vs. keep model, the volunteer should agree to the new expectations. What you’re asking them to do will go beyond the original ask. [related post: I Didn’t Sign Up For This]
And in some situations, there can be privacy / safety / boundary concerns that you and the volunteer should keep top-of-mind. Don’t put a volunteer in a situation they are not ready for or shouldn’t be in. Use wisdom and caution when asking a vol to follow up with a guest using any of the means above. Don’t put a 19 year old college volunteer in a position where you’re asking her to make regular calls to a 45 year old single man. (And remember that these concerns go both ways. Guest information should never be distributed carelessly.)
How do you involve volunteers in keeping the connection?