Don’t Forget Your First-Time Guests this Christmas!
We are mere days away from Christmas Eve services, which means – if you’re in church world or the guest services space – you don’t have time to be reading this what are you doing have you lost your mind there are candles to light and volunteers to recruit and camels to feed and rehearsals to be held and hot chocolate to be stirred and sermons to be prepped and candy canes to be taste-tested.
But you’re here anyway, so let’s talk about first-time guests at Christmas, and how we typically do a lousy job of turning a first visit into a second visit.
A recent Lifeway Research study found that Christmas Eve is the highest-attended service during all of December, according to almost half of the Protestant pastors polled (say that five times fast). And while Easter Sunday still typically holds steady as the biggest service of the year, one leader says that the Easter spike is usually populated with inactive church members, while Christmas Eve typically draws the unchurched and unevangelized.
But too many times, the very ones we need to follow up with – the unchurched, the unevangelized, the first-time guests (FTGs) – fall through the cracks in the midst of our post-holiday comas. So how do we keep that from happening?
5 ways to retain your Christmas Eve first-time guests:
1. Know that your typical plan may not work.
Let me share a depressing fact with you: while you may have the MOST FTGs on Christmas Eve, you’ll likely have the LEAST to move through your traditional channels. If you have a FTG Tent or a Welcome Center, don’t expect to be overwhelmed with traffic unless you’re giving away a baby sheep from your live nativity scene with every completed info card. (Actually, don’t do that. It’s a wooly baa-ad idea.)
Many of your first-timers are coming with friends and family who already attend your church, so they won’t need the extra help navigating your space. Others will be in a “get in and get out” mentality, because they’ve gotta make it to grandma’s to open presents.
Another depressing stat? A few years ago in our final year of doing a series of huge services at a local performing arts center, we had just under 14,000 people in attendance. Following each service we had stations set up where people could come to find out more. We talked those stations up during the service, and made them as obvious as we could in the lobbies. Out of 14k in attendance, guess how many took us up on that offer?
(And my guess is that seven of them thought we were giving away a baby sheep.)
That doesn’t mean that those eight didn’t get our best. It just means that – likely – people were not as willing to linger after a service on Christmas Eve. And therefore, we had to change tactics in how we connected with those guests. Which brings me to…
2. Develop an overly-simple info capture strategy.
While you might still utilize a FTG Tent as your primary info-capture space, I’d encourage you to simplify and expand your data capture method. If you use paper info cards, either switch to a digital input option or have a volunteer standing by to immediately transfer paper to the database (more on this in #4 below). If you typically do info capture only at your tent, replicate that system (via QR code or keyword text) in your service, on your printed materials, via announcements, and on pre- and post-service slides. Give people multiple on-ramps to connect with you, and many will choose to take one of them.
(And here’s a pro tip: asking for at least their ZIP code will help you distinguish follow up with in-towners or out-of-town family. Read more.)
3. Nod to future options for your guests.
In your printed material, stage announcements, whatever, talk about what’s happening after Christmas. It’s the perfect time to highlight the start of a new sermon series, or events built around the new year’s “felt needs” of developing better habits, or a newcomer’s event. And whatever you do – if your Christmas and New Year’s services are taking place at odd spaces and times, clearly communicate your normal schedule that will resume in January.
4. Send a “day of” email or text.
Here’s why the digital info from #2 above is so important: you want a seamless way to follow up with a FTG the moment the service is over. Have your mass email already set up, and then you can upload your email addresses, thank them for coming, and give them some next steps. If they viewed their experience with you as a gift during their Christmas season, a “thank you” in the car on the way home is a nicely-tied bow.
5. Give your follow-up team a TEMPORARY reprieve.
You know that I believe in personal phone calls to our first-time guests within 24 hours of their visit. But Christmas is the one time of the year I encourage our team not to call. The reason is obvious: no one wants you interrupting their Christmas lunch, and no church staff member or volunteer has the gas in the tank to do so.
So the “day of” email or text should serve as your immediate follow up post-Christmas Eve. But, your team should carve out time sometime around January 3 to call all of your December 24 first-timers. Bridge the gap between a great experience on the 24th and a future great experience getting to know your church.
[Related series: Primer Posts: First-Time Guest Follow Up]
If Christmas Eve is the highest-attended service for the unchurched, let’s give them our best. What steps have you put into place to make sure your guests don’t fall through the cracks?