Trouble Getting Visitors to Stay? Ask Yourself These 3 Questions

(Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash)

We all want to see our church grow to reach more people for Jesus.

That often requires a deeper look into what needs to be improved in order to see that vision realized.

Focusing on church growth first requires accurate assessment for the lack of growth.

Nothing is more frustrating than working hard, doing all the right things you know to do, and your church doesn't seem to grow. Or it may be growing, but just barely.

I'm going to jump over some of the obvious and more subjective factors that contribute to growth or lack of growth in your church, such as:

  • Emphasis on prayer
  • Quality of leadership
  • Size and growth rate of your city

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Let's focus on the three connected and more objective scenarios, related to visitors, that if diagnosed correctly can strategically assist you in growth.

It's important to dig deep and know which one (or more than one) is the specific problem, to develop the right solution.

If your church is not growing or growing very slowly, one or more of these three specific conditions is present.

  • Visitors don't show.
  • Visitors don't stick.
  • Visitors don't stay.

These conditions are highly connected but very different.

Which one needs work in your church?

It's true that every church has the potential for a variety of unique circumstances that can make this more complex than it seems on the surface. But at least starting with these three questions is a vital and productive process.

If more than one needs work, focus on one at a time, that will help you gain confidence that you are on the right track.

I also recommend tackling them in the logical sequence that is presented in this list.

3 Questions to Diagnose and Help Deliver the Right Solution

1. Do you have visitors who show up at your church?

The process starts here. Do you have new visitors (guests) every or nearly every Sunday? Does the number of guests represent what you consider a healthy number for your church?

For example, let's take a church of 300 in attendance, that loses on average 10 percent a year to natural attrition. (Like a job transfer, among other possibilities.)

They would need 30 first-time visitors a year, if every guest who visited stayed, just to maintain their average attendance. If, however, they retained a more likely percentage of, one-third (example) of their guests, they would need 90 new visitors a year just to maintain their current average.

In this hypothetical example, from a strictly strategic viewpoint, (there is much at work in the spiritual realm), growth would not begin until they had at least 30 percent each year of their average attendance in first-time guests.

You can do the math for your church.

If this is your primary issue—not enough first-time guests—then the solution is based more around:

  • The quality of your worship experience
  • The level of evangelistic passion
  • The quality of your children's ministry

Invest time and energy in these three areas to realize more visitors at your church.

2. Do you have visitors who show up but don't stick?

You may have a good number of first-time guests, but they don't seem return for a second or third visit that results in "sticking" for several months and longer.

Your overall worship service is probably good, and people are inviting guests; that's great. But improvement is likely needed in the way you receive and connect with guests as well as in the structure of your follow-up process.

In most churches that have visitors, the volunteers and staff are friendly. But there is a difference between surface-friendly and from-the-heart friendly. In the former, the hospitality is because you know it's the right thing to do, and in the latter, it's what you want to do at a heart level.

If this is your primary issue, visitors stick but don't stay, and the solution is based more on:

  • The level of genuine hospitality of your parking, usher and greeters' teams.
  • The diligence of your guest follow-up process.
  • The need for a clearly emphasized first step (class, program or other) to connect.

Invest time and energy in these three areas, and you will increase the early "sticky" rate of your visitors.

3. Do you have visitors who stick but don't stay?

You may have a strong number of first-time guests, and they stick for weeks and even months. In fact, some for even a year or so.

This would indicate that your worship service is good, people are inviting, and your overall hospitality and follow-up is good.

But when you begin looking more closely at the long-term patterns and participation, you can see an obvious drop-off rate. In this case, sometimes a person or family may stick for months, even a year or so, but then they leave your church. (For reasons other than natural attrition.)

If this is your primary issue, the solution is based more on:

  • The enduring and inspiring nature of your vision.
  • The depth and robust nature of your small groups and serving opportunities.
  • The overall health and vitality of your staff and church culture.

Invest time and energy in these three areas, and you will increase the long-term staying power of your congregation.

Keep in mind, we're not addressing big factors like leadership, vision, spiritual vitality, etc. The focus is on:

  • Do visitors show?
  • Do visitors stick?
  • Do visitors stay?

Dig in and go for it!

Dan Reiland is the executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as executive pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as vice president of leadership and church development at INJOY.

This article originally appeared at

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