A question I am often asked in the context of my trainings with congregations is “Do special church visitor mugs work?”
My answer? NO!!!
In fact, in most cases I find special visitor mugs do harm. I rarely use the word HATE, but I do hate special visitor mugs.
Why? Because they take visitors with high expectations for how they are going to be welcomed, raise their expectations, and then? Holding the special mug you made them take, they are usually ignored. Their hopes and dreams are crushed! They are disappointed. They get angry.
Want to guarantee a visitor never comes back? Make them take a special mug to flag themselves to be warmly greeted and then ignore them. Works every time.
Does your congregation have a great system for greeting people? Have a challenge, success story, or other learning to share?
This video is an excerpt from my online course “Church Social Media and Membership Growth”. In addition to talking social media strategy, I also cover some of the basics of welcoming online visitors when they finally arrive onsite. What’s the point of doing great work with social media and outreach if we crush our vistors’ hopes and dreams when they show up, right?
On a scale of 1 to 10, how stressful do you think it is to visit a congregation for the first time?
What if it is a congregation you have lots of unanswered questions about?
Oh, that’d be about a 17!
It is my heartfelt opinion that people won’t visit a congregation until that can get their stress, anxiety and uncertainty down to a manageable 7 to 8.
The average congregation has a community of potential visitors actively researching them online trying to do this. They are trying to find enough information so they can visit with confidence and certainty!
Today people expect to be able to find answers to anything and everything online. The more important the decision, the more information and confidence in the decision they want to have. And when there is a lack of relevant information, people become anxious and uncertain. More on that in my recent post 5 Ways Social Media is Changing How People Join Congregations.
People who are anxious and uncertain are less likely to visit congregations.
You can help them eliminate the anxiety and uncertainty by actively doing one thing — ANSWER ALL THEIR QUESTIONS. And you can do it online.
One of the students in my online course Church Social Media and Membership Growth asked:
“How do you know when you’ve provided enough information for your online visitors? I want to answer their questions so they’ll visit, but I have no idea if I’ve done this.”
This is easy once you understand that social media is designed for two way interaction. You use social media to interact with your community of online visitors to share answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and to ask if they have additional questions.
Doing so, and the relationships developed though this interaction, will help people move from following your congregation online to participating onsite.
Try working through the following process.
1. Answer All Questions
On your website share the information you think people need to know in order to decide your congregation is a match for them. Share everything they need to know in order to decide they are going to join.
That’s the new expectation, answers to ALL THE QUESTIONS people have before they visit.
Ask clergy, staff, dedicated members, longer time friends who aren’t members yet, and newcomers what questions need to be answered.
I recommend placing a summary of the top questions in a Frequently Asked Questions page. First time visitors and newcomers love FAQ pages! They are also easy to experiment with and to add content to without doing major website revisions.
2. Share Your FAQ Page
As you are working to ANSWER ALL QUESTIONS, share via social media that you are working on this. You can post to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels that you are working on this and include a link to your FAQ page.
For people who have questions, this gives them the cue to seek out answers. And most important, use social media to ask your community of online visitors what’s missing. That’s the next step.
3. Ask What’s Missing
As you are sharing your FAQ page and expressing your attempt to continually ANSWER ALL QUESTIONS, ask people what’s missing. Ask if they have questions. Ask people what they would add.
You can even include a simple form on your FAQ page inviting people to submit their remaining questions. You can include an optional name and email field.
If someone submits a question and includes their name and email, make sure to email them with the answer, or thank them and tell them you’ll have the answer for them shortly. Also make sure to keep an eye out for questions via social media comments and replies.
“This is a special invitation for all of our online friends and newcomers! We’re working on updating our visitor FAQ page. We know people like to get oriented online before visiting for the first time. We want to make sure we’re answering all your questions and making it easy to connect with our community. Can you take a look at our FAQ and let us know if you have additional questions? What do you need to know or affirm in order to move from following online to joining us onsite? You can submit your questions via the form on our FAQ page, comment here, or message me through our Facebook page. Thanks for your help! ~ First Name, role in congregation.”
4. Invite to Newcomer Event
After a round of sharing your FAQ page and answering peoples questions, invite online visitors to a specific event for newcomers. Make it clear that this is the perfect time for you to come if you’ve been waiting to visit.
Make it clear you’ll welcome them, there will be snacks, coffee, key staff and leaders will orient them to the congregation, additional questions will be answered, etc…
In your FAQ you might include a question “When is the best time to visit for the first time?” and say that you’re always welcome but your newcomer event on UPCOMING DATE (with link to details) is the ideal time and explain why.
Of course, you need to keep that event information and date updated, but your visitors will appreciate the clarity. Here are answers to all the questions and this is the date I should visit for the first time.
5. Pay Attention at Newcomer Event
At your newcomer event, pay close attention to how comfortable people are and the questions they have. Use your learning to ANSWER ALL THE QUESTIONS you can online.
As you you work through these steps multiple times — maybe quarterly — you should see more people coming to your newcomer events with greater comfort and confidence.
In fact, if you’re rocking this process, people will be coming with a sense that they already know people. You can use video, photos, and podcasts to clearly communicate who you are, what your congregation is like, and to connect with people before they ever step foot onsite. I share lots of strategies for doing this in my course Church Social Media and Membership Growth.
Over time these events will be increasingly focused on affirming what has already learned online and helping people quickly make connections and form friendships in the congregation.
Proactively answer all questions, share the answers, use social media to actively engage with and support your online visitors, and then invite them to join you.
I’m always looking for great examples of newcomer events and ways to help visitors build friendships. What have you done that’s worked well? Share your success story in a comment.
With approximately seven-in-ten Americans now using at least one social media site (Pew Internet), faith leaders can’t afford to ignore the impacts of digital culture.
Here are five ways social media is changing the process of connecting with and joining congregations.
1. Visitors do extensive research online
People research congregations and their faith traditions extensively online.
In our digitally oriented culture, if you are going to buy or choose something, or make an important life decision, you do your homework.
You do a Google or other search. You watch videos, read reviews, and do everything you can to educate yourself so you can make a well-informed decision. People interested in a congregation default to a similar process.
2. Before visiting, people participate remotely
After their initial research, many people choose to follow the congregation for a time on social media.
Observing and participating remotely through Facebook, Twitter, audio podcasts, and other channels helps to determine if the congregation is a match for them.
Whether it takes weeks, months, or a year, at some point (hopefully) they will learn and experience enough to say, “YES! This is the congregation for me. I belong here.”
3. A higher degree of certainty is required to initiate an onsite visit
This calls us to use social media for more than an outreach. We need to use it to meet people where they are — online — and to proactively help them with their process.
If we want people to visit, they need access to information, have questions answered, and receive some affirmation that they are going to fit in.
Once someone is confident that the congregation is likely to be a great match, then they’ll visit.
4. High-stakes visits verify the match
After weeks, months, or a year of interacting with a congregation online, it is a big deal to visit onsite and see if people like them. Will they? Won’t they?
This isn’t a regular “let me check this place out” visit. This is the moment of transition from ONLINE participation to ONSITE participation with very high hopes and expectations.
This sort of visitor needs affirmation and to connect with others almost immediately.
5. Visitors need immediate affirmation and connection
How long do you think a visitor will hang around waiting to be affirmed and connect with the community before they give up and leave?
In my trainings, I tell congregational leaders to assume they need to offer this affirmation during the first visit. Because if you don’t, it may very well be the only visit.
Now everyone’s different and you may have more time, but not much more. It is essential to affirm visitors quickly and offer clear next steps for connecting with your community.
There are many ways we can use social media and online communications to offer this affirmation and start the connecting process before the visit. We can start the process online.
These changes create a wide range of challenges and opportunities for congregations. In my next post, I’ll share some of the ways congregations can start to respond.
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Welcome to the new Leading Congregations website, video series, and blog with me, Peter Bowden.
To help leaders keep pace with our rapidly changing world, I’m going digital! That’s right, I’m bringing my education work with congregations online via this new blog, video series, and on-demand courses.
What To Expect
I’ll be talking congregational growth strategies, changing culture and technology, trends in religion and spirituality, and more. Today much of my work and research is focused on how faith communities across religious traditions are integrating digital culture and congregational life. That’s the hot topic people want me to speak on most, but I’ll be sharing a wide range of content.
I work with leaders across faith traditions and a growing range of congregations, ministries, and entrepreneurial projects. The content I share will reflect this and I hope will be of value to my growing multi-faith audience of religious leaders.
Who Am I
I’m Peter Bowden. For years I’ve been training clergy, staff, and volunteers on a wide range of issues related to congregational life and ministry. Since 2002 I’ve worked as an independent parish consultant and educator. Read more.
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