Thanks for joining us for another episode of the unSeminary podcast. Today I’m excited to have with us our guest, Bruce Ammons from Sugar Creek Baptist Church.
Sugar Creek is one of the fastest growing churches in the country. Serving the greater Houston area, the church is very ethnically diverse, with people among the congregation from over 90 different countries, speaking 70 different languages.
The mission of getting first-time guests to return to a church again became Bruce’s burden after he learned that only 1 in 10 first-time guests will return to a church a second time. However if an unchurched person returns time and time again, Bruce notes that a lot of these people (even adults) will trust Christ as their Lord and Savior. So at Sugar Creek, Bruce and his team have worked hard to retain first time guests, and now about 50 percent of their first-time guests do return. Of those who return, about 76 percent stay and continue attending at church. Bruce talks with us today about how to retain visitors to your church.
• A great Sunday morning experience. When a first-time guest attends your church, they should feel welcomed and invited when they walk in the door. Bruce explains that at this point in the path, it’s about feelings rather than theology. Guests should feel comfortable and valued, and nonbelievers especially shouldn’t feel overwhelmed among a group whose enthusiasm for Christ may be greater than theirs. Many of the people who begin attending Sugar Creek regularly are not followers of Christ when they first come to church.
• Amazing, quick follow up. Years ago, Bruce did door-to-door visits in order to follow up with first-time visitors. But today that method doesn’t work because door-to-door visits are seen as an interruption. Now Sugar Creek does a quick follow-up mail campaign. On Sunday mornings, Sugar Creek asks that everyone in the church to fill out a communication card with their information. First-time visitors shouldn’t be singled out and made to do something everyone else isn’t doing, so even regular attendees are asked to do this. On Monday at 2:00 p.m., Bruce sends out an email to attendees thanking them for attending Sugar Creek and inviting them back again. The email includes a link to a five-minute survey that the guests can fill out if they want or have the time, which lets the staff know how the experience was and how they can improve their services. On Tuesday at 1:00 p.m., a team meets together to write handwritten cards to the guests. Bulk mail campaigns are often tossed in the trash, so these cards can’t look like a bland, metered mailer. These cards are handwritten by Bruce or the senior pastor and have a first-class stamp on the corner instead of being processed by a mail machine. As Bruce explains, these cards essentially look like birthday cards and are much more personal and inviting. The cards also include a $5 Starbucks gift card in order to make the guests feel loved on by the church. Bruce says, “I want somebody to feel blessed by our church even if they never return again. So I intentionally put a Starbucks card in that first mailing.”
• Notice when your guests don’t return. The first-time guests who don’t return the next week receive a handwritten letter from the worship pastor, which may say, “It was great having you in church last week, but we missed you this week. We want to invite you back next week and want to know if you have any prayer requests.” The letter includes the URL to the pastor’s message from that past Sunday to invite the guest to listen to the sermon they may have missed. Another gift is enclosed in this letter, which is a $5 certificate to use at the church’s coffee shop or bookstore. Bruce notes it is good to give a visitor specific incentive to come back, but that shouldn’t be the first communication the visitor receives from the church.
• Notice when your guests do return. The guests who do return for a second time receive a letter from the small groups pastor. That letter explains the connect group kiosk area and how they can get to know people within the church quickly. This letter includes a $5 Sonic gift card. Third time guests receive a letter inviting them to a Lunch With the Pastors event. This is a nicely catered one hour-lunch in which you eat and meet with the pastors. The communication card that everyone in the church is asked to fill out each Sunday allows the staff to know who is returning each Sunday.
Bruce works to help other churches retain visitors through a coaching session that he offers. You can learn more about this service by emailing him at email@example.com. You can also learn more about Sugar Creek at www.sugarcreek.net.
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Helpful Tech Tools // Workflowy
Ministries Following // Church of the Highlands
Influential Book // Walking on Water When You Feel Like You’re Drowning: Finding Hope in Life’s Darkest Moments by Tommy Nelson and Steve Leavitt
Inspiring Leader // Rick Warren
What does he do for fun // Golfing, reading and zip-lining with his family
This article originally appeared here.