3 Ways to Keep New Families Coming Back
When building your church or ministry, it is almost always easier to retain visitors than it is to bring new visitors in. One challenge pastors and ministry leaders often face in retaining visitors is that he or she may not have the time or availability to spend time individually with newcomers. An occasional hello and a handshake from the pastor are likely not enough to make visitors feel like they are truly welcomed and their continued presence is desired. How can you reach out to newcomers and keep them coming back?
Our first suggestion is to encourage each and every person in your church to be welcoming, starting with your leadership team. Create a culture of welcome in your church or ministry. Although you may not be able to personally spend time with each newcomer, everyone from your leadership team on down to your regular attenders can offer welcome to visitors. When it has been made clear that everyone is welcome in your church or ministry, that sentiment will trickle down to even the children attending, and they will make new children feel welcome as well! One common obstacle to a culture of welcome is an exclusionary inner-circle mentality among long time members or attendees. Sometimes just reminding your members that this mentality might make newcomers decide not to return is enough.
It is also important to recognize that everyone is coming in with different backgrounds and experiences relating to church. For some, church may be a positive, foundational influence in their life. Others may have no background or context for God or faith in their personal history. Still others may have experienced hurt at the hands of people of faith, and just stepping into your church or ministry is a challenge. By being aware that everyone is coming from a different place spiritually and emotionally, you and your leadership team can help people feel welcome no matter what their background is.
Another way to welcome and keep new families is by offering hospitality. 1 Peter 4:8–10 refers to hospitality and creating that culture of welcome: “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” (emphasis added)
The Greek root of the word “hospitality” offers us some direction in how to be welcoming. Romans 12:13 says, “When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.” According to Lifeway, “Romans 12:13, however, encourages us all to practice hospitality, whether it is our spiritual gift or not. In fact, the Greek word philozenia is actually a combination of two words — philos, meaning ‘affection’ and zenos, meaning ‘stranger.’ While usually translated to mean hospitality, philozenia signifies affection toward strangers.”
Do you have people in your church or ministry who have the spiritual gift of hospitality? These are almost always the people who say hello to newcomers first, who want to make sure that everyone feels seen and comfortable in a new place. They may not have the perfect home or be the perfect cook, but they are the first to share their home and meals with everyone and anyone. These are the people that you want on your team — those with the natural gift of making everyone feel welcome and at home! A meal or an invitation to spend more time after a church service or event can make all the difference to a new family.
The third suggestion we have is to follow up with newcomers. Having a plan in place for how to reach out to newcomers, what that looks like, and who is involved is key to being successful. This is often where ministries show their true goals and priorities, where a ministry is either attempting to create a frequent attender or a disciple. A ministry that truly cares about discipleship will work hard to enfold newcomers because they want to help them to pursue a relationship with Christ. A ministry that prioritizes attendance will focus on ‘capturing’ newcomers to add to their numbers.
The more personal the follow up, the more your newcomers will feel seen and valued. Being intentional and genuine is important, because no one wants to feel like they are an action item or part of a checklist. While working to build relationships with newcomers, you can share your ministry’s mission and calling and invite them to be a part of it.
We believe these three suggestions can make all the difference in your church or ministry as you work to welcome and keep new families! Remember to create a culture of welcome, offer hospitality, and follow up with newcomers.
WellConnected is an initiative of OneHope, and is a gathering place for children and youth ministers to access resources, research, and content to raise up the next generation. It’s a collaborative platform to equip leaders and influencers to effectively reach the kids in their communities. We invite churches and ministers to join one another in coming up with innovative solutions for today’s realities. We are continually learning and growing from each other — sharing knowledge, insight, and best practices.