Solving the Church Visitor Card Problem
Do you remember your first day of your new job? What about the first day of high school?
You walk in nervously, hoping that you don’t look as awkward as you feel. Nothing feels normal to you. You don’t know where to go. You don’t know what to do. You don’t know what to say. So you just stumble through the day, hoping that nobody asks you any questions.
Every week, first-time visitors walk into churches in your city feeling just like that. They don’t know when to stand or sit. They don’t know the songs your singing. They don’t understand the different parts of your worship service. In general, they just feel out of place.
Of course, that’s not what you want for them. You want them to feel welcome. You’re thrilled that they’ve decided to visit. In fact, you’d love the chance to follow up with them and get to know them better. But to do that, you’re going to need their contact information. Most churches do this by asking guests to fill out one of their connection cards or church visitor cards.
But that’s the problem. Getting first-time visitors to fill out your visitor card is not as easy as it sounds.
Here is the scenario that is far too common in churches: someone visits your church, connects with your people, and even smiles on the way out the door. Then later, you find out that you you can’t follow up, because you didn’t get their contact information.
Some pastors obsess over this problem. They imagine that there is something wrong with their facilities. Maybe the welcome team wasn’t friendly enough. Maybe the ushers aren’t getting visitor cards to everyone. Maybe they were offended by something in the sermon.
But there’s probably a much simpler explanation for the problem. Don’t assume that first-time visitors are opposed to giving out their contact info. Put yourself in their shoes for a minute. They’ve probably come looking for more information about your church. They’ve at least come interested. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be there at all.
There’s just so much going on. And by the time they’ve dropped their kids off for classes, scanned the bulletin, and found their seats for the service, that visitor card is buried in a purse or pocket.
Of course, some people are simply not going to fill out a card. That’s fine. Don’t try to trick them or guilt them into filling it out. Focus on the people who really want to connect with your church and make it as easy as possible for them to do that.
The process itself is pretty simple. Just two steps - fill out the card and get it back to us. Let’s talk about making those steps as easy as possible for your visitors.
When you ask someone to fill out a visitor card, you’re asking them to trust you. And in our culture, that’s a big step, because privacy is a big deal for many people.
In a Barna national survey, Millennials were asked what information they would be willing to give a church when they visit. The results show that most millennials are very hesitant to share information with a church.
Barna summarizes their research by saying: “Millennials are generally not restrictive of their personal information and privacy, but they tend to distrust churches… [They] are the least likely generation to say the church has their best interests at heart. This is one reason they prefer to stay off the radar until they are comfortable at church.”
This research was focused on millennials, but these concerns about privacy are shared by adults of all ages.
So how can you earn their trust? You earn it by being thoughtful and respectful in the way that you ask for it.
Here are four simple ways to build trust with your visitors.
A visitor card is not an application for membership. So don’t ask a bunch of detailed questions.
The most effective cards contain no more than 4 or 5 form fields. Name, phone number, email, and physical address - that’s it. The more information you require, the harder it will be to get people to fill them out.
You can always get other information later if you need it. For now, focus on what you need to stay in touch with that visitor when they walk out those doors.
Bottom line: visitors shouldn’t need more than a minute to fill out your cards. And they shouldn’t have to look up information from last year’s tax return to do so.
This really builds on the last point, because a simple design requires a clearly defined purpose. If you’re asking for too much information, your design is going to be busy and overwhelming. Stay focused. This will go a long way toward improving the look of your visitor card.
If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out the great church visitor card designs at ProChurch.
And remember, this is about more than making it look nice. This is about serving your visitors well. If you’re asking them to fill out a faded visitor card that was designed 20 years ago, you’re sending them a clear message about how important it is to you.
You know what your visitor card is for, but your visitors may not. So instruct your ushers or greeters to be very clear about why you’re asking them to fill it out.
If your visitors know what you’re going to do with their personal information, they won’t worry so much about giving it to you. So tell them.
- Is someone going to call that week to thank them for visiting?
- Are they going to be added to a mailing list?
- Are they going to get a surprise visit from the pastor that week?
Depending on your church culture and your community, you may need to adjust your follow-up approach. Most people are okay with the phone call or email, but most people are not okay with surprise visits. Maybe your guests aren’t giving you their contact info, because they’re not sure what you’re going to do with it.
Many churches offer a gift for any visitor that fills out a visitor card. This is a great idea, but let’s be honest. There are a lot of really lame church visitor gifts. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that “something is better than nothing”. That’s just not true. If all you have is dried up ink pen or a melted candy bar, “nothing” is definitely better.
But offering a thoughtful visitor gift may give your guest that little nudge of encouragement they need to fill out that card.
Getting people to fill out the card is only half the struggle. Now, you need them to give it back to you. And again, you want this to be as easy as possible.
There are four main settings that churches use for visitors to turn in a visitor card. We’ll cover the pros and cons of each one. You’ll probably want to take advantage of as many of these settings as possible at your church.
Many churches give out visitor cards as the guests arrive and ask guests to fill them out during the service. Usually the cards are returned in an offering plate or handed to an usher.
- It gives you the opportunity during the service to remind your guests about the cards you gave them before the service.
- It doesn’t require any additional steps for your visitors. They just drop it in the offering or hand it to an usher.
- It can come across very impersonal, because it’s not happening in the context of a relationship or a conversation.
- If they haven’t filled out the card beforehand, it may force them to awkwardly rush through it during the service.
A first-time visitor will have multiple interactions with your church family, which means there will be many opportunities for people to greet and welcome them. It would be good for you to assign certain people to carry pens and visitor cards with them. If they meet a first-time visitor, they can mention the visitor gift and encourage that person to fill out the card right there.
- It gives that visitor a chance to make a real connection with someone in your church.
- It provides an opportunity for the visitor to ask questions or clarify the follow-up process.
- It requires people who can interact in a very natural and friendly way.
- It might come across a little heavy-handed or pushy.
Most church have some kind of check-in process for kids who visit for the first time with their parents. During this process, it’s very common to ask for basic information from the parents.
- It takes advantage of a very natural context to ask for the information.
- It builds trust because it involves the safety of their children.
- It may seem out of place to use this information for follow-up, since it was given for a different purpose.
- It only works for people who have kids.
Since first-time visitors are often overwhelmed by everything that happens at a new church, It may be best to get that visitor card filled out before the service even starts. To do this well, churches will normally set up a guest kiosk in the lobby or a welcome tent in the parking lot.
- It allows you to give that incentive gift right away.
- It allows you to create a welcoming space for first-time guests with refreshments and friendly volunteers.
- It asks for visitors to provide personal information before they’ve had a chance to connect with your church family.
- It requires a centralized location that your visitors will see on the way into the service.
Once those visitor cards are filled out and turned in, the real works begins.
Your visitors came to your church with questions, physical needs, and ultimately, an eternal soul. Your follow-up provides an opportunity to nurture their relationship with your church and point them to Jesus Christ.
To follow up effectively, you need a process in place for every visitor card that comes back to you. These steps will vary from church to church, but they need to be clearly defined.
If you don’t have a process like this already, here are four simple steps that you can implement this week at your church:
- Make sure the email is personal. Use a template, but don’t just copy and paste the entire email each time.
- Include a link to your church’s website and Facebook page/group (if you have them).
- Take an informal survey. There are a lot of online survey tools for creating simple surveys. Ask for some feedback from your guests. What did they notice about the church first? What did they enjoy about the services?
- Find a volunteer from your church to call your first-time visitors from Sunday. Make sure they’re friendly and comfortable talking on the phone.
- Thank them for visiting, answer any questions they might have, and ask if they have any prayer requests.
- If given the opportunity, you can even pray over the phone with them.
- Send out a personal letter from your church. It should read like a greeting card, not a business letter.
- Keep this letter short and to-the-point. Don’t put information on every ministry in your church. Just thank them for visiting and choose one next step for them to take. Maybe a small group or a new member’s class. Choose the next step that works for your church and encourage every visitor in that direction.
- Include a small gift from your church. Gift cards are the easiest option here. You can just throw in a $5 Starbucks card or gas card.
This is probably the only optional part of this follow-up process. It used to be very common for churches to make personal visits on every first-time visitor. It was even common for these visits to be unannounced. Today, that’s not always a good idea in every community. It’s just really important for you to know the people in your area.
If your visitors are open to a personal visit and if they give you permission to stop by, you should definitely take that opportunity.
- Thank them for coming, answer any questions they might have, and offer again to pray with them.
- If they’re not up for a visit at the house, meet up at a local coffee shop or restaurant.
- Bring a gift from the church with you. Maybe a pie from a local bakery or a tumbler with your church logo on it.
God is at work in your church and your community. Are you praying that God would send visitors to your church? Are you expecting them to come?
Think through the process at your church. Do you have clearly defined steps for identifying and engaging with visitors? Have you assigned ushers or greeters to help you welcome new people? Have they been trained on how to welcome and direct first-time guests? Do they know where to find visitor cards?
There’s a lot that goes into making your first-time guests feel welcome. A good first step might be to re-think your visitor card. If you’re looking to upgrade your design, you should definitely check out the great church visitor card designs at ProChurch. With their online editor, you can choose a style, add your church info, and place a print order in minutes.
Make it easy for your visitors to connect with your church.