8 Free Things Your Church Can Do To Serve Your Guests This Christmas.

8 free things for christmas

Most of the time, this blog is dedicated to how we use Church Management Software. I also know that the software is just a tool we use in the overall guest strategy process: getting our first time guests connected to our church and committed to our mission. So today we’ll look at the overall process of guest services.

I’ll admit it. I’m a big fan of some things people would call attractional. Have a hot cocoa bar or stock your coffee bar with some extra seasonal treats (peppermint mocha creamer).

Have a photo booth, have Santa (yes, in church!). You might want to stop short of a car give-away or hiring a helicopter to drop money from the sky. Unless, of course, you’ve earnestly prayed and God is calling you to do that. Then by all means, do it.

But for some churches, the budget for these things just isn’t there.

Here are 8 free things you can do to serve your guests this Christmas:

1. Check your web site and social media. This is the first step in your guest services process. People are checking you out online before they decide to visit your physical property. Is everything accurate? If a sign up or tickets are required for a special Christmas service, is there a way to respond online? Are your event images, event branding, and church branding visually consistent?

2. Have greeters stationed outside the door. Once I’m on the property, is it clear that I know where to go? I’m a big fan of parking teams, but if you don’t have a parking team, at minimum, have a door greeter or two stationed OUTSIDE the door. Yes, I know it’s cold. Gloves. Hat. Warm coat. A smiling face. Your first time guests are in their car and you may have multiple entrances. Make sure there is someone outside welcoming them.

3. Have your staff and volunteers park furthest away. I know of a church that meets in a shopping center/strip mall. They frequently ask their staff and volunteers to park in the back. Should your staff and volunteers park off-site and carpool or can you arrange a volunteer shuttle? Do whatever it takes to free up prime parking spaces for your guests this Christmas.

4. Declutter. We’re in a season of Nativity Sets and flowers. Great. How much of that is there because it’s necessary and how much is there because a prominent church member donated it and that’s where it’s always been? I have a friend who is a real estate agent and when someone is trying to sell their home, the first thing she tells them is to declutter. Get all of your stuff off your counter tops and shelves because people want a clean slate. They want to envision their stuff in your home. Do you have so much in your ‘home’ that people can’t imagine being a part of it? Give them open space to imagine themselves being there.

5. Clean. Unless you’re not in the habit of cleaning regularly, this will cost you. At minimum you need some cleaning cloths and a multi-purpose spray. I hope you already have this. Go in Saturday night and take out the trash, wipe down bathrooms, make sure there’s plenty of toilet paper and make sure it’s two-ply (yes, I went there). Are the soap dispensers full? Okay, so this may cost you a few dollars (be thankful for dollar stores). Run the vacuum, and check for stray pieces of trash in the worship center. You get the idea. Tidy up.

6. Communicate and explain. Your church may take communion differently than the one I normally attend. That’s okay, but do I know that? For example, I know one church that passes the communion plates and each family prays together as a family and takes communion in their own time as music is softly playing. Another church passes the plates, waits until everyone is served, and their Pastor leads them in taking communion together, and yet another church has communion stations. It is not served, you go take communion as you’re led. None of those are ‘bad’ ways to take communion. Each is very different. But would you know what to do if you weren’t told?

Explain what you’re doing every step of the way. Believer or non-believer, if I don’t go to your church, I don’t know your traditions. In addition to this, tell people a little bit about your church and how they can get involved going into 2018. Tell them about small groups, children’s ministry, your next big event, etc.

Don’t neglect internal communication.

If your children’s ministry is doing something different than normal, make sure you tell your greeter ministry so they can be prepared to answer questions as guests arrive.

7. Say goodbye. Have a greeter stationed at every outside exit. Tell your guests goodbye and thank them for coming. I  don’t just mean from the worship center to the lobby. Say goodbye as they exit the building. “Bye. Thank you for coming. Have a Merry Christmas.”

8. Follow up right way. Yes, I get it. It’s Christmas Eve (Sunday) or Christmas Day (Monday), but I guarantee you there is someone willing to make the sacrifice. Get those guests entered into your database (Church Management Software was going to play a part in this post somewhere) and follow your normal follow up procedures. If your follow up procedures include a Monday phone call, that could wait until Tuesday. For 2017, I would get them entered Sunday night and send an email that night thanking them for coming, telling them what’s next and how to get connected. Whatever you do, don’t wait a week. It’s normal for churches to take a week off between Christmas and New Years. As a connections person, I had a tendency to work or serve when it was normal for others to be off. I want to get those guests connected and if coming to church more is part of their New Year’s Resolution, I want to help them with that.

All of these things are 100% free. What else can you think of to add to this list?

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Guinea Pig / Test Family

guinea pig bibleThis morning our family visited a new church. This week, I had spoken with the Lead Pastor and one of their Elders and they both knew of my love for knowledge of neurotic obsession with CCB (Church Community Builder) software.

Their web site and social media gave us enough information to know where we needed to go and a general idea of what to expect when we got there.

Their greeting team did a great job of telling us the important information: where to take our kids, where the bathrooms were, where to get coffee. We were walked to (not pointed to) the children’s check-in area.

It was there that this magic happened. The Elder serving at the children’s check-in desk was helping to explain to someone a new thing they were trying with CCB check-in and said, “she [pointing to me] wouldn’t mind being  our guinea pig and testing this for us.”

Wouldn’t mind!? That’s a bit of an understatement. Does this guy know who I am and what I love? Jesus. Family. Coffee. Church Management Software. I try to keep it in that order. I’m not always good at it.

“Wouldn’t mind.” Make that: “happy to…” “I’d be mad if you didn’t ask me…” “I’ll report for work on Monday morning. Where’s my office?”

Okay, I didn’t say that. I thought it. I didn’t say it out loud.

I did tell him I’d blog about it. So here it is.

Their childen’s team did great and when I pointed out that it may be taking too long to check in a new, first-time guest and made a suggestion about about what I’d seen and helped with at other churches, they listened. I don’t know if they’ll do what I suggested. But they showed an interest in what I said. (They may be blogging about the crazy first-time guest who tried to tell them how run their church.)

The Children’s Pastor took us from there to where we’d leave our youngest son. (Again he didn’t point; he walked us to our destination.) Our middle-school daughter had the option of staying with us or participating in a Bible study. This morning, she chose to stay with us. He asked me how I came to love church management software. I told him that while serving as Next Steps Director at another church, I saw it’s power and ability in helping us get guests connected and retaining them long-term. He said he’d only really been using it for about a year. (It’s okay, I’m here to help. I’ll report for work Monday morning. Where’s my office?)

Side note: I’ve been known to tell churches that they didn’t even have to pay me. That I believed so much in this software helping them, I’d help them implement it for free. With two kids in college and rising insurance rates, my husband has suggested that I rescind that offer.

We saw a few friends. One we saw just last week. Another we hadn’t seen in 19 years. It was great to see them both.

After service, we got to chat with the Pastor and his wife. The Pastor asked us to send an email with our feedback. I’d send an email if I had anything critical to say. Because I have nothing critical to say, I’ll post publicly on my blog.

This morning was fantastic. I have no doubt, we will be back.

And any time you need a guinea pig to test a CCB feature, please use our family. We are happy to help.

 

Volunteers Needed and Wanted

The good thing about not having a job is that I am able to spend more time with (intentionally invest in) my kids. I’ve been able to pick up my son from carpool in the afternoons. I’ve been able to get to know my neighbors a little better. I’ve been able to meet some new friends. I’ve been able to reconnect with people from our old homeschool group. I’ve been able to organize a little bit around the house. And did I mention grocery shopping while everyone else is at work.

The bad thing is that when your job is (was) at a church, you’ve also ‘lost’ your church family.

So, we’ve been visiting a church and learning a little bit about how (and when) we get further connected.

One of my favorite books is this book. by Jonathan Malm. This book is a quick, easy, read. I’d recommend getting a copy for everyone on your guest services team. One of my favorite (or least favorite) is Chapter 45: Unwanted Volunteer. Jonathan describes a time when he and his wife were looking for a new church, found a church they liked, and were eager to volunteer. They signed up to volunteer and never heard back from anyone. They felt unneeded and unwanted.

He goes on to talk about the need for systems and processes to get people connected. He even points out the need for us to make sure we are responding to questions from unexpected places like social media.

“A church that responds quickly to people is a church that loves people.” (p. 146)

Put your church management software to work to help you love people.

If your software allows, have some custom fields that reflect your church’s ‘language.’ For example, you might have a category of “Interested In Serving” with several options for where someone is interested in serving.

Connect cards are your friends. I’m in favor of connect cards being filled out every week. If your church doesn’t have weekly connect cards, have some sort of way for people to respond. Even if you have a sign up kiosk somewhere else. In some ways, a computer or ipad kiosk may be more helpful for you than connect cards. You’ll see why in a minute.

Data entry should happen Sunday afternoon or Monday morning. This means you’ll be taking all of the data from your connect cards or exported from your sign up kiosk and filling in data fields in your church management software. In some software, you can set up a form to auto-fill the profile data fields. If your software offers that and you have a computer kiosk, your data entry job just got that much easier (or non-existent). You may still want to double-check kiosk form entries against profile fields, but it’ll be a whole lost easier than data entry. Exporting form entries to update fields are easier than connect cards because you’re not deciphering handwriting.

Regular custom reports should be run immediately after data entry. If you know data entry will be done on Sunday afternoon, make sure custom reports are set to run and be sent to ministry team leaders on Monday morning.

You should also use the notes field of your software for any follow up notes (make sure your ministry team leaders have appropriate access).

Your church management software can make sure no leaves your church feeling unneeded or unwanted.

 

Why Are You The Way You Are?

There are days when all I think about is strategy and people.

The database. How do we maximize it’s use? How do we use this tool we’ve got to help us do our jobs better and smarter? How do we teach? How do we train? How do we help others understand it’s value?

Social Media posts. The internet never sleeps. We are on 24 hours, 7 days a week. How are we responding to the world around us? How are we telling our stories to our community? Do they know us? Do they trust us?

Our web site. Does it reflect who we are? Is it clear? What are our exit rates off pages? Our Google rankings? How do we make it better? How do we make it the best?

I pray over the people I don’t even know who are searching for something. Do they trust that we are here to help them find the answer?

When they come, what do they see? What is their experience? How and where are we getting them connected? Do they understand each next step? Is it clear? Is it confusing?

How and what are we communicating?

Everything communicates.

Everything.

Why are you the way you are?” A friend asked me that exact question this weekend.

This Explains Me.

 

 

Follow Up: Revisited

Back in January, I wrote a short post on event follow-up. I want to explore follow up (and next steps) a little more in depth.

Look at the images above. In the spiral staircase images, I’m not sure if I’m going up, going down, or they are rotors of fan blade that will chop off a limb if I try to get through them.

However, in the picture on the right, I am visually oriented. I know I’m at the bottom, and I see light at the top. I also can see the steps I need to take to get to that light.

First, let’s define an event. An event is anything you do. From every Sunday (each service), to a once-a-year large scale event.

Second, let’s define follow-up. Follow-up is any next-steps action item that  you take or that you’d like your guests to take.

Third, let’s define guests. That’s anyone in any way connected to your event who isn’t you. I often look at my team as guests. I’m there to serve them. And as a team, we’re there to serve everyone else.

What’s next?

At The Event – Make The Next Step Clear

My husband and I recently attended a very large dinner for a local charity. I’m not sure how many people were there, but I’m guessing around 500. Maybe more. During that dinner, it was very clear what actions they wanted us to take afterwards to support their charity. There were only a few next steps. Each was explained in depth. We had no questions, upon leaving, as to how to get further involved.

If you’re hosting a fall festival this year, then make sure you have promotional material available for other events happening at your church. Make their next steps very clear.

For follow-up, have some door prizes that people can register to win. Two key questions on any door prize entry form are:

1. Do you regularly attend church? (With check boxes for yes or no.)

2. If so, which church do you attend?

Put your church management software to work with these door prize entries. I’d set up a form for any door prize entries and enter them into your ChMS. Or go my favorite route and have people enter their information online. Have a few tablets or laptops available for door prize registration. Then use a plug-in or app to help randomly select winners. One thing that was really helpful was to see how people were connecting to our church. I set up a form for door prize entries and from that, I could see who came to our church as a first time guest.

Prior To The Event – Make The Next Step Easy

If you are promoting your event on-line, have a next step ON LINE. One of the challenges we ran into with the golf tournament was that I’d market it online, but the next step was “contact us and we’ll mail you a registration form” or “stop by _____________ (this location) and pick up a registration form.” We weren’t meeting people where they were. They were already online viewing information, but our exit rate off those pages was higher than I would have liked. Now, one of our church partners is allowing us to use their church management software for online registrations and payment. I’ll give you an update after it’s implemented.

For follow-up, Acknowledge everyone. If your event has financial sponsors, acknowledge them. You’re following up throughout the year and building relationships. I’ve had the privilege of helping a national charity with a local golf tournament. As often as possible, I acknowledge our sponsors leading up to the tournament, but I also mention them on our social media pages all throughout the year. There’s a local jeweler who donates a door prize each year. I’ll be mentioning their business on our social media page around the holidays (and at Valentine’s Day). There are several local churches who partner with us, allowing us use of their facilities, resources, even allowing their staff paid time off to help with the tournament. I’ll mention those churches as often as possible on our social media pages.

Even if you paid for a venue, acknowledge their hospitality. Did you rent a hotel ballroom for a charity dinner of 500? Write the venue a letter of thanks for hosting your event, even if you were a paying customer. If there any servers who went above and beyond the call of duty, mention them by name.

Our church once served at a downtown festival hosted by our local Chamber of Commerce. I’ll admit, it was a miserable day. It rained and it was cold and it wasn’t a good day for an outside, downtown, street festival. On the Monday after the event, I took flowers to the women who work at our local Chamber of Commerce and thanked them for giving our church the opportunity to serve the community. I also wrote note cards to the businesses who allowed us to run our power cords from their businesses to the street outside.

The next thing I knew, our church was getting mentioned on social media by the Chamber of Commerce. Did I do it for the mention? No. I did it because I wanted to intentionally form a relationship between our church and local community. We’re  here to make a difference. I wanted them to know that.

Keep your event participants updated on what you’re doing throughout the year, whether through social media or direct email marketing, let them know the results of what they did or contributed.

After The Event – Make It Fast

Timing is everything. Have you ever gotten a thank you note for a Christmas present…in July? Last year I was able to help a Youth Pastor with a large scale youth event. The event was on a Friday night and we had follow-up postcards in the mail on Monday. They were very simple: thanks for coming, here’s what coming up, here’s where you can view pictures of the event. The follow up was simple. It was also effective. We saw some new families connect to the church through that event.

During my time as a Next Steps Staff Director at a local church, I viewed every Sunday as an event. No, I’m not talking about gimmicky, marketing, ‘new-theme-every-Sunday’ type of event (although there are some churches who have done that, and if – after prayer, counsel, and discernment – you believe that’s what God has called you to do, then you should do it). I’m talking about the fact that every Sunday happens. We have a church service. I did not rest until every connect card had been read, every first time guest had been contacted (at the time I was writing hand-written notes to each first time guest), and every prayer request had been prayed for and sent to our Lead Pastor and Prayer Team Leader. The first time guest note cards were dropped at the post office on Sunday evenings. Every week. Timing is everything. Your guests took time out of their lives to visit you. Don’t take that lightly. As guests progressed through our system, the follow up strategy changed (week to week). I know of many churches who give their Pastoral and office staff Mondays off. When leading our Next Steps team, Sunday afternoons and Mondays were my busiest times. I don’t think they could have paid me to take time off.

I’d love to hear your follow up and next steps strategies. Tell me how your view follow ups and next steps.