Christmas visitors are not like normal visitors.
Every year, a significant percentage of them will leave your Christmas services with good feelings, but no thoughts of returning. They came because it was the thing to do. They don’t expect to be back until Easter.
How can you change those expectations so they’ll return sooner?
Answer: You can’t. Only God can change a human heart.
But you can help that heart change.
1. Make a good first impression.
Whether they know it or not, visitors want to be greeted, directed, seated and treated.
Some years ago, while New Song was still meeting in a school, I experienced a pastor’s greatest nightmare: I arrived at our site without my notes! I jumped back in the car, grabbed my sermon and dashed back to church just as the service was starting.
Before I got five steps from my car, I was greeted by Brooks Bodie. He’d been greeting guests like that for a long time, but I had never experienced it before. His kind smile and encouraging words convinced me that I would want to be part of this church even if I wasn’t on staff.
Greeting: Rick Warren’s goal is to have every guest greeted five times on their way in and three on their way out. If your church is smaller, you can scale that accordingly.
Directing: Visitors want to know three locations: Where are the children’s rooms? Where are the bathrooms? And where is the auditorium?
Last week, I asked a Walmart clerk where I could find a particular item. She surprised me by walking me to the exact aisle. That left me with such a good impression that I’m now telling you about it!
Good signage can help with this, but nothing beats a smile, a handshake and an offer to show me where I need to go.
Seating: Walking into a church auditorium can feel awkward. A sparsely populated room makes me feel self-conscious. A densely populated room makes it hard to find a seat. Both problems are diminished by the help of a friendly usher who suggests a particular seat or section and walks me there.
Treating: If first impressions are important, so are last impressions. At New Song, we offer every first-time guest a copy of The God Questions, Gift Edition. It’s a small gift book (available from Outreach, Inc.) that reads easy and answers the five major questions people have about God.
Most weekends, we put the books by the door, or offer them at our Information Counter. But on Christmas Eve, I stand at the front of the church and offer to sign the gift page and give a free copy to all newcomers. This gives me a chance to say a personal word to every guest who is willing to come up after the service.
2. Invite them to Christ.
The one force that can change a person’s mind about church attendance is the Holy Spirit. I believe every church should present an invitation to Christ at every Christmas, Easter and funeral service.
Many churches miss this opportunity.
But your Christmas visitors expect you to talk about Jesus. So explain how Jesus wants to have a relationship with them, and the benefits they’ll receive from bowing down to him (salvation, forgiveness, peace, etc.).
This can be scary the first time you try it, but the rewards of seeing someone come to Christ will quickly convince you to be bold every chance you get!
3. Connect with them afterward.
During every service, we ask everyone to fill out a Connection Card. I email all guests within 48 hours. A member of our First Impressions Team also calls them. And two days later, I send a personal note in the mail. The note tells them what we’ll be covering the next weekend, and includes a coupon for the movie To Save a Life, which they can redeem in our bookstore.
My favorite memory from last year’s Christmas services comes from a young Marine named George. George and his wife received Christ in one of our services. When I emailed him on the 26, he responded that he wanted to sing in church soon. I’m hesitant to put an unknown artist on our stage, so I thanked him and told him one of our worship pastors would be in touch.
A few days later, I heard the story: “George is good! He’ll be singing next weekend!” After receiving Christ, George went home and wrote a song about what had just happened to him.
His wife had recently miscarried. They came to church desperate, and God met them there. Now they were experiencing the peace that surpasses understanding.
May you have many Georges visit your church this Christmas!