First Time Guest Follow Up and Change

I want to revisit the “why we use it” question. Admittedly, I can get so caught up in the application of the process, that I forget why the process was developed in the first place.

To connect human people to our church.

There are a few times a year that we visit other churches. We purposely want to take a break from the norm, but I also want to observe their guest services process.

Recently my daughter visited a church. When she came home I didn’t ask about the message, I asked about her first time guest experience. Parking? Approach? Clear directions? Connect area? Connect cards? First time guest gift? Did anyone say hello and introduce themselves to you? (I wonder what database they use. I kept that thought to myself.)

You see, as much as this blog is about databases, it’s also about the process. The database should reflect our church’s process.
At one church, the Next Steps Director writes a hand written note card to welcome the first time guests. Guests are entered into the database and entered into a process queue (new entry > hand written note card > alert to Next Steps Director).
At another church, a formal letter is emailed, authored by the Senior Pastor. Guests are entered into the system and a a “follow up” is assigned to the Senior Pastor who then sends the email and checks ‘complete.’
Some churches send first-time-guest surveys. Some do not.
One church may ask guests if they’d like more information. Another church sends it – whether it’s been asked for or not.
I once visited a church that sent an email, but then called later in the week. The sole purpose of that call: thanks for coming and we’re praying for you. Do you have any prayer requests? What was missing: they didn’t specifically invite me back. They didn’t invite me to a group or a class. They thanked me for coming and they prayed for me. No strings attached.

In our database, we have categories of visitor, attender, member. I love watching people move through that process.

But there is that dreaded list of first time visitors who didn’t come back.

I’ve tried to look at things through the lens of a first time guest. What is their experience?

Through most of our lives, we have been blessed that God has specifically called us to a church for His purpose and reason. However, there was one time, when He called us to leave a church with no clear direction or next step. We were (gasp) “Church Shoppers.”

Three weeks into visiting a new church. Our third Sunday morning visit. We arrived early and found our seats. No one approached us. As we sat in our seats, we sat alone. We watched other people reach across pews to tap people on the shoulder with the sole purpose of introducing themselves. None to us.

Temptation to leave crept in. We stayed. We heard a great sermon. We don’t regret that we stayed. Would we return? Would the average first time guest return?

Several years ago, as a new Christian, I attended a church with seemingly no clear path to membership. I’d attended. I’d accepted. I’d said the prayer. I got it. But membership seemed elusive. Or exclusive.

How hard would I try to become a member? Or would I be content with simply attending? Giving sporadically. Not serving. Not invested in my church. Because if I’m not a member, it’s not really my church.

I share each of those experiences not to criticize each church. As a matter of fact, I’m grateful, still, for each of those churches and the positive impact each had on my life. But those experiences helped shape and guide how I view my ministry today.

If I called each of our first time guests over the past six months – the ones who didn’t return – what would they say? Am I prepared to hear what they would say?

If I called one of our attenders who hasn’t been to church in several weeks, what would they say? Am I prepared to hear what they would say?

You see, as much as I love our church. And believe I’ve clearly communicated our next steps, I want to be open to change. I want to find the balance between adapting to our ever-changing society while helping our Pastor preserve the integrity of our church.

As you are building your database, make sure it reflects who and what your church is. But always be willing to re-evaluate what you’re doing and be open to change.

Understanding Why We Do This

Our Pastor spoke Sunday about the dangers in having zeal for God without understanding His Word.

It is possible to have a passion for God and be all in, without truly understanding His Word.

It won’t surprise you to know that I’m a ‘Next Steps’ person. There is nothing I’m more passionate about than seeing people take their next steps in their walk with Christ. From that first time guest to new members class. From unbeliever to Baptism. From lost and lonely to small group involvement. From searching to serving. Seeing that wakes me up in the morning and keeps me awake at night.

But wait! Is it possible all of this could be happening without them having true understanding of His Word?

Our Pastor was preaching from Judges, but the verses he cited there came straight from Romans 10:1-3.

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God concerning them[a] is for their salvation! I can testify about them that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. Because they disregarded the righteousness from God and attempted to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted themselves to God’s righteousness.

Wow! I thought about how often I’d been guilty of just wanting to see those ‘numbers’ increase. Yes, I wanted them to increase for all the right reasons. My primary goal was to see people know Jesus and take their next steps in their relationship with Him.

But how often did I just want those numbers alone? Those percentages?

If we have 100 new first time guests, then we want at least 75 in the new members class. That gives us a success rate of 75%. Of those we want at least 50% to commit to joining – including serving and giving.

I once told my boss, “when we added [this portion] into our new members’ class, we had a 100% follow up rate after class. When we took it out, that dropped significantly.”

Of course, it’s for Jesus. Of course, it’s to see people connected to a Gospel-centered Church. Of course it’s because each person that walks through our doors represents another soul in Heaven. Of course to all of that.

But do we have systems in place to assure that each of those people – each number – truly knows God.

I don’t want to be in the business of making ‘fans.’ I’m not moving people through a system to create ‘yay-God cheerleaders.’ Zeal itself is not enough. Along the way, I want to make sure each of those people is truly learning about God. About His character and nature. I want to make sure they know His Word.

This blog isn’t just about databases. It’s not just about systems and processes. It’s about our hearts as we see people connected to Jesus and His Church and the great privilege we have been given to play a small part in that.


Grade Promotion

It’s hard to believe that it’s July. It’s hot (ridiculously hot!). And I’m about to talk about fall grade promotion.

Here in North Carolina, some year rounds schools have already “gone back” to school. This seems like a strange use of words (‘gone back’) when talking about ‘year round’ schools.

Let’s talk about how this plays out in your church management software. A few software programs now offer automatic grade promotion (I know Breeze does). In Breeze, you can set your date for auto-promotion. So that one the given date, all grades move up.

In CCB, you’ll have to tell it to promote everyone from one grade into another.

Here are a few tips and factors to consider.

  1. What grade did you ask for from kids who registered for summer events (missions trips, camps, VBS, etc.). If you asked for what grade they were entering, you do not want to promote those kids.
  2. Create a “holding” group or tag and reverse the promotion. Put all kids in grade 12 into a holding group. Then move from 11th to 12th, 10th to 11th, 9th to 10th, etc. By doing that each group will be cleared before you move new people from the previous grade into it. If you went in reverse and moved everyone from Kindergarten into 1st, then when you moved 1st into 2nd, you’d be moving all of your former Kindergarten students into 2nd grade.
  3. Consider a fall data-drive. At one church, we handed out paper forms to each family or individual over 18. We handed out the forms for 8 weeks to make sure each family had one. At the end of those 8 weeks, we drew a name from all the forms submitted to win a $50 gift card to a local family restaurant. We were able to update over 100 family profiles in our system that year.
  4. Consider separating each class into a separate event. Rather than children checking into ‘elementary’ or ‘kids’ ministry, they check into their class – K, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.. Use that data to cross check their profiles for correct grades.

Those are just a few things that have helped me verify and update data over the years. I’d love to hear how you’re cross-checking your data and keeping it updated.

More People

This week I had a chance to talk to someone who manages the database for what some would describe as a “mega” church. I realized a few things.

She uses the same language that we do at a mid-sized church:

“We need to do better about shutting the back door.”

“As shepherds of the flock, we need to know and take care of our sheep.”

I realized that for some, the term “mega” church has a negative connotation. But your average mega-church Pastor has something in common with the small- or medium-sized church Pastor. And even the church planter. In all scenarios: they were called to Pastor a church.

There’s also nothing “wrong” with being a “mega” church. If we are called to make disciples (The Great Commission), then how will we make disciples without bringing them to Church to hear the Gospel?

Yes, we can (and should) take the Gospel to them. To our workplaces, to our kids’ activities, to the ends of earth. But in Hebrews, we are instructed to not neglect meeting together. Let’s assume the best: every person who walks through the doors of our church, represents another soul in  heaven. With that logic, I want an ultra-mega church – sized XL.

I’ve also realized that it’s possible to preach the Gospel first. No “smoke & mirrors.” No helicopter rides in the parking lot. No cool coffee shops. The Gospel first, foremost, and central. And grow THAT into a mega-church, if the Pastor’s heart is in the right place and he’s truly, one-hundred percent, concerned with pointing his flock in the direction of Jesus.

VBS Attendance and Involvement

VBS can be a great time of year for an Assimilation and Connections person. Think of all of the guests you have an opportunity to reach during this time. It can also be a challenge for your software administrator.

Last year, our registration and check-in system went well and in a few days, we’ll begin this year.

Here are a few tips:

1. Use the software to build your registration form. That way the data is in the software. With a lot of the ChMS, forms don’t always auto-populate profile fields. Which leads to #2.

2.  Recruit help with data entry. Remember all of those people who said they’d help in the office? Now is the time to call them in. Ask them to bring their personal laptops if they are able and give them enough software permissions to update profile fields, even if those permissions. (Also, make sure you provide something for them – order lunch in or get them gift certificates to a coffee shop.)

3. If you can’t recruit data entry help, tell your family you love them and you’ll be back after VBS.

4. Add those visitors and guests to your system. First, you’ll need them in there if you intend to use the event check-in features (and security labels features) of your software (which I highly recommend). And, second, if they do end up attending or joining your church, you’ll be able to track back to their first event (how they originally connected), which will delight your marketing team and accounting team. Utilize membership type codes and have a code of ‘other’ or ‘event.’

5. Don’t forget about volunteer scheduling features of thes software. Use the software to help organize and communicate with volunteers.

Most of all, have fun and remember why we do this. As much as we love organization and connections, there are times when we miss a setting on a software or there’s an error in data entry. Those can seem like a huge detail to us, but when we step back and look at the big picture, they really aren’t that major. We’re helping to point kids in the direction of Jesus and hope this becomes a turning point in their lives. We’re looking at eternity.

Have a few sheets of labels, fun-colored Sharpie markers, and themed stickers as a back-up plan if needed. Smile and let Jesus’ light shine through you. Learn from any mistakes. There’s always next year!

22 Of My Favorite Quotes From “Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work With God’s Work” -Tim Keller

I’ve taken a break from blogging. I believe that when you work in an administrative, communications, or connections capacity – especially in the latter two – it is easy to slip into pride. It is so easy to see a facebook post doing well and think, ‘I made that.’ It is easy to see a connection – a person finding their fit, using their talents, being honored – and think, ‘I was a part of that.’ How often has my boss done something awesome and I think, ‘I helped him do that’?

But it’s not about me. It’s always, only, and ever about the God I serve. I don’t need facebook numbers. God is infinite. I didn’t make anything. God gave me the skill, the talent, the ability. And all I can do is humbly use what he gave me to give back to Him.

I recently (re) read the book “Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work With God’s Work” by Tim Keller.

Always remember that it’s not what we do that should be most important, but why we do it and who we do it for.

Source: 22 Of My Favorite Quotes From “Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work With God’s Work” -Tim Keller

The Software Is A ____________ Tool.

Yesterday, my boss and I had a conversation about what my job duties and responsibilities.

Administration. Communication. Assimilation or Connection.

This led me to think about how we view our Church Management Software.

As an administrative tool – it can be used in all areas. Some programs available offer, not only a way to track contributions, but a full accounting suite, with the ability to track both accounts payable and receivable. It can give your Administrative Assistant the ability to run custom reports (with accurate data) in minutes without having to look over and assimilate data from paper different data sources.

As a communication tool – it can be linked to your public web site. Calendar features can display images for events. Links can be added to register for events. It can be used to all ministry directors to schedule services and people.

As an assimilation or connection tool – it can be used to see who is attending – where and when. From a first time guest getting connected, to the new church member making a commitment, to a long-time member being commissioned to the mission field.

What is the primary way you use your Church Management Software?

If you had to fill in the blank, what would you choose?

(If my boss is reading: Communications.)

Have An Exit Strategy

Recently, I learned of a church that had several ministry team leaders with advanced access to the software step down – all at the same time. Church leadership was faced with adjusting several levels of access on short notice.

There will be times when a staff member leaves or ministry team leaders are called to a different church or ministry.

Here are some things that can help you.

  1. Have a written policy in place to address potential situations. Whether the church is staff-led or congregationally-governed, it’s important to have a written policy of who has access and at what level. Include what actions or behaviors will dictate immediate removal privileges. Having a written policy, approved by necessary parties, will help guide you when making somewhat difficult decisions. Let’s face it – it’s a church. These are your friends. There are times where it will be difficult to separate business from friendship.
  2. That written policy should include who has access BEFORE a potential problem arises. There should always be an application process for software access. Include who has the authority to approve access.
  3. Have one or two 24/7 people. Emergencies don’t always happen Monday-Friday 9-5. The people with the highest levels of access should know they may be on call 24/7.
  4. In a case where people are leaving a ministry on good terms, have open communication and dialogue about their levels access and a timeline for phasing out their access.

People leaving your church or ministry is never easy. The need to make split-second decisions during what could be an emotional time can be easier if have a plan in place.

What access situations  have faced and how have you addressed them?


Easter Guest Follow Up

Congratulations! You may have just finished up your first Easter weekend experience – Good Friday. And chances are you’ve had guests. (I hope so!)

But you’re not sure you want to enter them into the Church Management Software with profiles. Those relatives who only visit once a year or the “chreasters” (people who only come on Christmas and Easter) could really skew your metrics if you don’t have a contingency for a membership type code.

There are two things that can save you.

  1. Membership type codes – if you’re so inclined, develop a membership type code for occasional regular visitors. This means managing and sorting based on membership type codes when sending system-wide emails and eliminating those codes from metrics reports. This is an option, but not necessarily the one I recommend.
  2.  Forms. I love forms for this purpose. Create a form within your software for internal use. In our case, we are having an Easter Egg Hunt and I’ll name the form “Easter Egg Hunt 2017.” We’ll be having a door prize give-away with registration cards to capture information. My form fields will match what’s on those entry cards. I’ll input as much information as I’m given into the form for each card. I’ll make sure no form submission verification emails are sent to the person submitting the form (the software won’t recognize me as filling out the form, but instead will try to pick up the email field as I’m transcribing information from the written entry cards). For marketing purposes, we’ll always be able to track who came. Appropriate leaders will have access. And if that event guest ever becomes a first-time guest on a Sunday morning, a regular attender, or – even better – a member, I’ll be able to link that original form back to their new profile.

Another benefit to a form submission is that we’ll have information on our neighbors and visitors to invite them back for future events. For example, guests at our community Easter Egg Hunt might also be interested in our summer VBS.

How are ways your church follows up after a community event?

Where We Are Now

So…where is Fairview now in our onboarding of our new Church Management  Software?

Still learning.

All of the former paper membership records have been input into the new software.

We are still establishing guidelines for use, and developing systems and processes. We are still discovering new ways it can be used, be linked to the public web site and other features.

We are happy with Breeze customer service and their response to our questions.

There are still times when we discover the software can’t do what we want at the time. Breeze is good about responding to feature requests and we’ve accepted that not every software works the same – each has it’s own unique features.

Overall, we are happy with the software and what it does to help us.

Next week, with Easter approaching, I’ll tell you some ways you can use your Church Management software to help follow up with guests at Easter and keep track of data on who is connecting through your community outreach events.