In a recent stewardship article, Bob Crossman's first suggestion for increasing giving is to increase worship attendance, since most people will not give when they do not come.
Easier said than done, though, right?
Crossman offers fifty tips for increasing worship attendance in an article on ChurchLeadership.com (downloadable below) but to me, at least, even fifty feels overwhelming. So I had to boil it down. Share the list of fifty with your leadership team, hospitality committee, or your congregation's most avid evangelist. Examine your church's strengths and weaknesses when it comes to welcoming and retaining new people, and form a plan of action. But here are five easy first steps to get you started.
Respond to Absentees
Making sure people know they are missed is a first step to maintaining the people you already have. Crossman recommends forming a care team for this purpose. The team would review attendance each week and reach out to usually-regular attendees who have missed several weeks in a row by phone or with a handwritten note. Even more effective is asking someone closer to that person to reach out—a fellow choir member or person who usually sits near them is more meaningful to hear from than a committee member they may not even know.
Canvas Your Community
"It is more effective to cover the same 500 doors six times, than to do 3,000 doors one time," says Crossman. It often takes repeat exposure to get a response, and focusing attention on surrounding neighborhoods shows a commitment to your community. If your budget allows, produce high-quality mailings to send to every address in your surrounding zip codes. Even without pricy mailings, you can mobilize teams to go out into nearby neighborhoods, inviting people to an upcoming worship or special event. Be a positive presence in your community by raking leaves, picking up trash, and offering free, fun events.
Be Web Savvy
How easy is it for someone to stumble onto your church website? Google with terms someone looking for a church in your area might use—are you on the first page of results? (Learn to boost your SEO—Search Engine Optimization—with these tips from Keith Anderson.) Once someone finds your website, how easy is it for them to find your worship times, directions, and other pertinent information? Make sure your worship times and address are on the front page or accessible with an obvious link to that page. (Ministry Matters' secret church shopper, John Q. Visitor, gives some insight into first impressions on church websites and otherwise.)
Have you ever visited one of those really big churches with neon-vested volunteers directing traffic in the parking lot? In churches that big, they are helpful for preventing chaos in the parking lot, but what I remember about those experiences is not how easy it was to park, but the enthusiastic welcome those folks gave me and everyone driving into the lot. You don't need a giant lot to make parking lot greeters worthwhile. Simply having people in bright garb waving and smiling as cars pull in is an energy-booster for members and visitors alike. "On rainy days, they can escort people to the door under a church umbrella," Crossman suggests. Indoor traffic guides are a good idea as well, to point lost-looking people to the bathroom, nursery, or worship space.
This sounds basic, or maybe like a "power of positive thinking" thing, but really—do you plan, speak, and conduct worship with the assumption that there will be people in attendance that you don't know? How will people who have no experience with your style of worship, your programs, your building, or your people experience worship at your church? Is the way to the bathroom clearly marked? Is it clear what people should do when in the service?
Think about how every announcement you make, every note in the bulletin, and every invitation to participate would sound to a new person. Put on those special listening ears and you may hear things like,
- "If you want to participate in 'Fall for Friendship' this year, talk to Terry after the service." (What is 'Fall for Friendship'? Who is Terry?)
- "We're glad to see Betty Sue is back this week. Good to see you, Betty!" (This seems like a really tight-knit group. I'm not sure there's room for me in this family circle.)
- "The table is now prepared; come as you are able." (Huh?)
- "Praise God from whom all blessings flow..." (Why are they standing? Where are the words to this song?)
Check out Josh Mauney's People We Haven't Met Yet for more on this point.
What have you found makes the biggest impact on worship attendance in your church?