Here is a pop quiz. In the next month, if ten visitors come to your Sunday liturgy, how many would you guess will return for a second visit? According to Chris Walker, founder of EvangelismCoach.org, the answer is one or two. And can you guess the number-one reason the other eight to nine did not return?
Because no one talked to them. The number-one thing most visitors are looking for is a friendly parish. And how do they decide if a parish is friendly? They decide a parish is friendly by how many people talked to them.
Make a visitor’s first ten minutes awesome!
According to the Church Growth Institute, the first ten minutes of a visitor’s experience are important. Those big evangelical mega-churches are big for a reason. Many of them have greeters in the parking lot, striking up what will be the first of many conversations a visitor to their churches is likely to have on any given Sunday.
Make a visitor’s last ten minutes even more awesome!
But as important as those first ten minutes are, the crucial time is the ten minutes immediately after the dismissal. That is the time frame in which most newcomers make up their minds about the friendliness or unfriendliness of a parish.
When I read that, I immediately thought of what I did last Sunday as soon as the closing song was over. I rushed over to the facilities manager to get a key for a meeting room; I walked over to the piano to compliment the musicians; I hugged a friend I hadn’t seen in a while; and I ran off to a meeting I was having with some confirmation candidates. I did not talk to any visitors. I didn’t even look to see if there were any visitors. And I’m sure most of our parishioners didn’t look for visitors either.
An easy solution—or maybe not
The solution seems both easy and difficult. It is easy to look for visitors and chat with them, isn’t it? Yet, when I imagine trying to get my parish to do that, it seems hard. It would require a major shift in parish culture. It would require a lot of focus from the parish leadership to remind us and encourage us. It would mean we would all have to develop new habits.
The benefit to your parish
But what would happen if we could change our habits and start looking for and talking with visitors? The Church Growth Institute did some research to answer this question. They asked churches to block out six continuous weeks and observe the number of people who visited once, twice, and three times during that block. Then they asked how many of those visitors were active in the church one year later.
Guess what? The more often people visit, the more likely they are to become active parishioners. They found that 9% of the one-time visitors were active a year later. Of those who visited twice in that six-week block, 17% were active. And a whopping 33% of the three-time visitors were active.
So how to do we get visitors to make return visits? As we said at the beginning of the article, the number-one reason people don’t return is that no one talked to them. We have to start talking. And we have to start inviting. Invite visitors to coffee, a softball game, a Bible study, a “Why Do Catholics Do That?” night, a potluck, a how to plan your wedding (or funeral) workshop, a parenting class, a communications class, or anything else your parish is already doing or could be doing.
Three simple steps is all it takes:
- See visitors
- Talk to visitors
- Invite visitors
What do you think?
Is this something your parish is already doing? Is it something you could be doing? What other ways can we welcome newcomers to our parishes?