We are on to something.
At first glance you may find yourself thinking, this isn't anything new—been there and done that. But you would be wrong. I have found that there are major gaps in the retention and assimilation processes in churches of any size, and I will bet, after you read this, you will see the gaps in yours and have a roadmap to explosive growth.
The back door out of most churches is just like the song ... deep and wide and many can be found there. We try to plug that hole with Small Groups and that works to a certain extent, but not everyone is on that wagon, core value or not.
It is still a personal choice, and to a newcomer, a risky proposition. And then there is the approach at the other end, welcoming and making the first-time visit experience a very memorable experience complete with preferred parking, a host, and even a special tour and reserved seating. And we have had success with this and left a wonderful first impression. The problem is, if it works, there is a second week that is very different than the first week, and they are now just like everyone else trying to find their place.
You can achieve authentic and lasting connection that results in dynamic retention in four easy steps.
1. You must have a place and a process of official connection. Bottom line, if you do not have some kind of assimilation process that helps people find legitimate connection, then you are without excuse. It doesn't matter what you call it, how many weeks it lasts, or when it is offered—you have to have that place of connection. The days of the total organic connection path sounded good on paper, and maybe even in a staff meeting. But people crave structure and specifics and an actual place to go to take that next step.
We have created a four-week Next Steps process at our campuses that do basically four things:
- Tell you our history and what we believe
- Tell you our DNA...what makes us unique and our focus areas
- Tell us YOUR DNA...your gifts and talents and where you might be the best fit connect you to your place of service
- Schedule you and train you
Yours may be very different, but I will tell you this: We have found that if people go through these four weeks (one hour each) they stay. They just do, and all the relationship connections take place in their places of serving and the small group we connected them to in the same process.
2. Hold ministry leaders accountable. There is nothing worse than a person to go through four sessions, think they are connected to a ministry, and then the leaders never contact them and never activate their service ... and actually pastor them. It should be a part of your weekly meetings to talk about how the different names are experiencing their place of service. Celebrate that and make it a priority.
Many of you probably have some version of Steps 1 and 2 above and are thinking about checking out right about now, but you would miss the best part—Divine Connections.
3. Reach back, reach out and follow through. This is where I think we will start looking at ideas you may not have thought of, and this is what has made all the difference in the world for us. We found that we were doing a good job with first impressions and even our initial outreach to visitors and the people who had made decisions at our altars.
But in looking at the overall picture over time, there was a gap, a crack people were falling through—a crack that led right out the back door of our church.
We found that even if people responded to our initial personalized contact, we really didn't track them much beyond that point. They were in our e-blasts and marketing stream, but no personal contact or follow up.
Call Center Team. We started a good old-fashioned Call Center Team that meets Monday or Tuesday every week to make personal phone calls and e-mails and to pray with people and the results have been profound.
Remember, we found that if we could get folks to attend and finish our Next Steps process, they were connected in a very real and authentic way and accountability and connectedness became a part of their DNA. So it was a no-brainer to make the focus of our outreach and follow-up to get people to our Next Steps program.
After the initial contact and church post card, we would wait about one week and call just to see if they had been back and if there were any questions they needed answering.
Goal: Get them to return
Then we would call back one month later, month after month to check on them and pray with them until we could get them signed up for Next Steps.
Goal: Signed up for Next Steps
Altar Decision Cards
This was the biggest shocker. We found that while we had hundreds of decisions for Christ or rededications, these numbers did not translate to baptisms and Next Steps. We would baptize 60 but over 200 had made decisions in that time period. Worst still was that after the initial contact, we never really pursued these folks much in a personalized way after that. This became a major function of the Call Center Team.
Goal: Get them signed up for Next Steps
When we began to look at the thousands of people who had been here at one time over the last 10-15 years but were no longer here, and especially those who had made decisions here over that same time period but were no longer here, the number was staggering. Where did they go? Why did they leave? What were they doing now? Were they without a church home? Would they want to be reconnected? Would they be open to receiving information from us? Did we have their correct contact information? Did they have kids now that would love our kids and youth programs? Were they still walking with Jesus?
We decided to actually reach back to those thousands of people and ask these questions. If they moved out of the area or had a new church home now, we simply wish them the best and leave them alone and pray for them. But we are finding that many are unchurched today and many appreciate that we are reaching out and some of the results have had the timing of God on their lives. It may take months but we plan to reach back to all of them that we cannot verify are here any longer.
This will take some work, but it is so worth it to seek after lost sheep or sheep without a shepherd, possibly thinking no one cares. We care and we want them to know that.
Goal: Survey monkey that asks all of the questions above and gathers new information. Seeking to invite back the unchurched.
4. Connection Teams—Connection Is the Banner. We united all of our teams who have contact with people on a Sunday under one banner called "Connection." Greeters, ushers, info desk, parking and altar workers were re-focused, moving from greeting and helping to the idea of Divine Connection, the idea being that there are no accidents, and each person the Lord brings across their path is a divine appointment orchestrated by God. We changed the language from greeting to connecting and letting people know they were in the right place and that we had been expecting them, and that they picked the perfect day to visit.
We challenged our greeters to connect with people on the way in and to reconnect by being back in the lobbies as the service ends, to purposely reconnect with those they connected with earlier. We also challenge them to remember three new names each week.
Goal: A sense that they are in the right place and that God has something to say to them about their lives, and that we truly do care.
Altar Team: We challenge the altar team to be sanctuary greeters, looking for those in pre-service that are sitting alone or who do not appear to be connecting with others and to intentionally connect and remember names. Then pray for those folks during the service.
Goal: Sanctuary Connectors
This isn't rocket science I assure you but it is powerful and explosive. Our Call Center Teams are passionate about their night and the calls they will make. We can make contact with over 150 people with just 5-7 people that will give us just one hour between 5:00pm and 8:30pm. We attempt to call three times with a goal of an actual conversation, and we are having hundreds of conversations with people who have questions and always thank us for praying with them.
The secret to growth, I am convinced, is retaining the ones God sends to us. Period. And it is within your reach.
Dr. Rich Rogers is the editorial director of Jentezen Franklin's Connection and Discipleship Free Chapel OC in Irvine, California and the author of Next Level Living and Next Level Parenting.
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