A funny thing happened on the way to getting warmly received and related to and retained by a church I visited... No one got my information. No one. Okay, it wasn’t all that funny. I walked in the door of the church, spent 1 ½ hours of my time, and walked out the door with no one at the church securing a record of my visit.
Just to be clear, I did not withhold my information from the church as guests are sometimes prone to do. No. The church made no observable effort to get that information. Bottom line? The information wasn't given because the offer to receive it wasn't clearly and demonstrably made to me, the guest.
Here’s the reality: If a church has a plan for gathering guest information and doesn’t inform the guest regarding the plan, it is possible (even likely) that the church guest will not know what it is. It is impossible for the guest to know what the guest doesn’t know, except, of course, someone tells him.
Here is a simple example: Guest Registration Cards on the back of the seat in front of the guest. They do not call the guest’s name and beckon the guest to complete the registration when he sits down. No, the Cards sit there in their little out of the way pocket... inconspicuously. Unless attention is drawn to the Card, they go largely unnoticed. (By the way, the same is true for the Registration Card, even when it is attached to a bulletin; it may be a shocker to some, but not all guests will look at the church's bulletin/worship guide.)
So you know, a lot is going on for the guest in the scant few minutes prior to the worship service after the guest takes his seat --- getting settled, looking around the crowd, checking out the platform activities, and wondering who and how close someone will be seated next to them. Finding a way to register themselves with the church is not one of the guest’s instinctive activities at that moment and certainly not a high priority.
That brings me to how crucial it is to draw attention to the guest registration process (in whatever form the process takes.) A friendly welcome from the platform that includes a mention of the guest registration method will help the guest find what he has to find (e.g., the Card) to complete the registration. The platform speaker would do well to hold up an example of the Card and lightheartedly invite guests to complete the Card and then, slowly and carefully, do this: tell the guest what to do with the Card after they fill it out. Why? Because at about the same time the guest is looking for the Card (or whatever), it is likely the “where to leave it” instructions are also being given. Trying to find the Card in that moment, the guest may miss hurriedly-offered instructions that answer his next question after filling the Card out, “Now, what do I do with it?”
Don’t assume guests just know; they don’t. (It might be the offering plate? connection center? Greeter? Pastor? Or the seat?) I have had the experience of walking out with a completed Guest Registration Card in hand for a lack of instructions.
Regardless of your method, and there are many in use (including Guest/Welcome/Visitor Cards, online registration, family registration at check-in, guest registry, guest connection Cards completed by all attendees, etc.) always help the guest find his way to what you want him to do to register as a guest.
That is the giant first step toward securing guest registration: We’ll call it #1: Encourage registration from the platform. Here are some other valuable steps in the process.
#2 Incentivize the registration. Many churches invite guests to turn in their registration Card and receive in return an Appreciation Gift. So you know, another cheap ink pen with the church's name on it is not much incentive for me. Make sure your Appreciation Gifts actually demonstrate value to the guest. A little creativity beyond status quo pens and pads will demonstrate real appreciation and resonate much better with your guests. You might tell your guests (and show) your guests what the gift is, from the platform, to further entice them to offer their information. Make sure it is actually an incentive, if you want it to work for you. (One incentive I like is the church agreeing to contribute $1 to a local charity for each registration Card turned in)
#3 Make registration easy. The more information you ask for on the Card, the less likely it will be that you will get it turned in to you. Do you really need to know shoe size? pet’s name? hair color? I am being facetious, or course, but you get the point. We have a tendency to ask much more than we need to know from a first-time guest who is apprehensive to tell you anything at all. So, stick to the basics: something like name, email, phone, and maybe address. Consider what info will be necessary for your follow-up communication strategy but don't forget: keep it simple.
#4 Provide adequate time. Think about this: when and under what circumstances do you expect guests to complete the registration? One problem churches face (uh, create) is a very narrow window of time to complete the Card before something else is happening in the service. I have not actually clocked this, but I would not be a bit surprised if the average time available to complete the Registration Card is less than 5 seconds before guests are directed to stand up and sing another song or turn around and shake a strangers hand. (read about this in a previous Blog) The longest window of available time for the guest will likely come during the preaching/teaching time. Is that really when you want them to fill out the registration Card? It happens. Why? Simply because no other time (especially sitting down time) is sufficient for the guest to get it done.
#5 Respect privacy. Guests are very mindful and careful that their personal information is handled appropriately. Make sure your methods do not allow information to settle before the eyes of just anybody. The guest registry model is problematic for at least that reason, in my estimation. I have observed other less than careful privacy-protection practices with personal guest information. Assure your guests that their information will be handled with the highest regard for their privacy and you will likely get more of it.
#6 Reduce fear associated with disclosure. Guests are reluctant to share information because they simply don’t want to be pestered. They want to be able to make informed decisions about the church they attend without being overwhelmed by an onslaught of mail, email, texts, or phone calls. Help them to understand that this will simply not happen. Develop a measured and timely response. Trust God to do the rest.
#7 Express appreciation in advance. Before they ever fill out the Card, thank them for sharing. Let them know how glad you are for the opportunity to get to connect with them and how you look forward to the opportunity to serve them.
Not all first time guests will provide you with their personal information, regardless of the effort you make. But if the church makes no clear and demonstrable effort to secure it, it leaves an impression with the guest that their visit was not important to the church.
Don’t make that mistake. Kindly, carefully, appreciatively help your guests to register their visit in a way the church and the guest can be pleased with the results.
ONE LAST WORD: A registered guest expects follow-up. Maybe worse than not showing enough interest in your guest to request their contact information is this: to request and receive the information and then NOT follow-up. Does that happen? Yes, it does. Don’t let it happen with you.
Roger Graves is a 35 plus year veteran of church ministry. It has been his passion and life calling. He has worked hand in hand with churches in Texas, Colorado, and Iowa, serving in church staff roles, pastoring and planting churches, and directing the work of two Associations of churches within the Baptist Convention of Iowa while serving as a Missionary of the North American Mission Board as a Church Planting Catalyst.