How to get visitors to return to your church

By Thom Rainer

There are so many elements that determine if guests will return to your church after a first visit. The doctrine of the church is key. The preaching and the entire worship service are vital. Even small issues, such as cleanliness of the church, parking and signage may have at least an implicit impact on a guest’s decision to return.

It is not my purpose, therefore, to suggest the strategy I outline below to be a guarantee toward guest retention. I have seen, however, many churches vastly improve the return visits of guests with just a few simple steps.

  1. Make certain every person attending gets a “connect” card. You can, of course, call it something else. I would recommend you not call it a guest card, because you want your members to have the freedom to use them as well.
  2. Keep the verbiage on the card simple and clean. The most effective cards request only the name and email of the guest. Home address is optional. There is typically a place on the back for anyone to request prayer. There is a simple place to check to designate if the person is a member or guest. The more you request a person to write on the card, the less likely he or she will complete it.
  3. A key leader should explain the card every service, and there should be a clear point in the service to return the card. Most of the more effective churches request the cards returned during the offertory.
  4. Follow-up should be a high priority. Many church leaders send emails to the guests on Sunday afternoon if they were returned on Sunday morning.
  5. Send a handwritten letter to anyone who provided his or her home address. Read those words carefully: a handwritten letter. If someone goes to the trouble to provide the church a home address, he or she should get personal attention. I recently spoke to a staff member of a church who told me that the recipients of the handwritten letters have the highest return rate of any of the guests.
  6. Make certain church leaders truly pray for those who request prayer. Some church leaders gather on Monday morning to do so. They send a note to the person letting them know that people truly prayed as they requested. While I understand there are many more important issues in the life of a church, this process is simple and highly effective. There is nothing sacrosanct about this process, but some variation of it seems to be highly effective in guest retention in many congregations today.

Published November 15, 2016

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Thom Rainer

Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has wirtten more than 20 books including the bestsellers Simple Church and I Am a Church Member. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. You can connect with Dr. Rainer on Twitter @ThomRainer and at