Use these 5 fantastic follow-up tools for children’s ministry events — to get families to return next week.
Outreach events can be a lot of work, but they’re worth it when done right. Children’s ministers agree that it’s great to have lots of people attend. But if it doesn’t result in new children and families returning to your church, is it really worth the time?
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People returning to your church after an outreach event isn’t a given. Pastor Werner Rienas states that “20 percent of those who visit a church visit again, another 20 percent will never return — no matter what follow-up is done. However, 60 percent of guests need nurture and follow-up if they are to return.” We want your outreach events to be wildly successful-and we want your church to grow! So we beat the bushes to discover the five key steps to a fantastic follow-up strategy. Follow our step-by-step guide with proven ideas to get first-time guests to return to your church.
1. VISITOR-FRIENDLY EVENTS
Great follow-up isn’t just the actions you take after an event occurs; it also includes taking care of visitor-friendly details that ensure your event is well attended and welcoming from start to finish.
Consider these critical things that’ll get your guests wanting more.
- Great Beginnings — From the moment families enter your parking lot, welcoming faces and clear signage must direct them to your entryway. Staff you
r parking lot with volunteers to direct traffic for easy and quick parking-even if you think your church is too small for this. Then have uniformed attendants who can direct people to your event entrance (a uniform can be a simple vest or fun hat). Also post greeters at your entryway who can smile and answer guests’ questions.
- First-Class Event — Put on an event that your community can’t wait to attend. Use welcoming publicity that invites your community, not just peo
ple from your church. Train your volunteers to be friendly and attentive to children and families. Recruit floaters to assure that restrooms are cleaned and stocked and that garbage cans are regularly emptied. Make sure all elements are fun, welcoming, and worthy of buzz as families leave your event.
- Exit Strategies — Stage volunteers at your exits to ensure that people feel just as welcomed when they leave as when they came. As families leave, train volunteers to thank them for coming and tell them they hope they had fun or ask a question about what their favorite part of the event was. Hang posters as people exit with information about your service times, next event, or large photos of kids with quotes about why they love your ministry.
- Be My Guest — More than 40% of the unchurched said they’d return if a friend or acquaintance invited them. Encourage people to make a personal invitation and keep in touch afterward with those they invited.
- Kid-to-Kid-Encourage kids to invite their friends, classmates, and neighbors. Give them a fun way to invite kids. For example, give them two rubber wristbands with the information about your event. They keep one and give one away. To order rubber wristbands, go to 24hourwristbands.com.
- Adult-to-Kid-Encourage adults to invite kids they already know with a fun, customizable invitation for any event. Simply cut the opening and place a sucker in it. Download this cute sucker invitation. Encourage adults to offer to pick up the children if they need a ride the day of your event.
- Family to Family-Create a polished “ticket” to your event that your church members can give out. Encourage families to share with others the one thing they’re looking forward to most at the event and then tell their prospective guests how much they’d enjoy going to the event with them. Download a customizable ticket for any event.
2. FIRST CONTACT
Making an initial contact within 48 hours is critical after your outreach event. “Follow up within two days of their visit,” advises Dale Hudson, co-author of Turbocharged! “If you wait more than two days, you’re diminishing the chances for return.”
Use these techniques to make the most of every opportunity and retain your guests.
- Capture Information. You can use a direct route by having everyone register for the event at the door. Or get creative by inviting everyone to register for a door prize. Also, you could take a photo of every family, then get their contact information to send the photo to them.
- Call the parents. Thank the parents for attending your event or for allowing their child to attend. Explain who you are and what your role is at the church. Ask if they have any questions about your church.
- Call the child. Always ask the parent for permission to speak with a child. When speaking with children, identify them by name and introduce yourself and your role at the church. Keep your conversation simple.
- Invite the family to return. If you sense the family isn’t interested in attending church, let them know about a nonthreatening opportunity to return to your church, such as a family barbecue or a play group for moms with small children. If you sense they’re interested in attending church, then invite them to your weekend service and provide information. Once you’ve established an initial phone contact, follow up that week with an email, postcard, or letter in the mail.
- I Got You Kits — Have your church families “adopt” all your guests. Make a kit with each child’s vital statistics: birthday, age, likes, interests, address, phone number, parent’s email address, and family information. Then connect each child with a church family. Families can use the kits to get to know their adopted guests throughout the year and encourage them to come to church and Sunday school.
3. VISIT THE FAMILY
Visiting a child’s home can be a great way to make a face-to-face connection. And in this day and age when a personal touch is rarely given, a personal visit could make all the difference to a family.
When visiting a family just be yourself and follow these tips.
- Call ahead to ensure that you’re visiting at a good time for the family.
- Never go alone when visiting a child’s home. Include another adult or two or three kids from your ministry.
- Keep it brief and fun when you make a home visit.
- Don’t come empty-handed. Bring a pre-wrapped snack to share, a ball for a quick game on the front lawn, and brochures or fliers about your ministry and upcoming events.
At Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, leaders recruit for follow-up when they recruit for VBS. They ask their leaders if they’d like to participate in Sixth Day, which occurs the Wednesday following VBS week. Diana Pendley, minister of children, says they provide childcare for participating leaders that morning and a quick breakfast when they arrive. They have a praise report on highlights from the previous week and then everyone heads out for the morning to deliver packets to homes of children who indicated their family doesn’t have a church home. Each packet contains information about their church, a sermon CD, and a calendar of upcoming children’s and family events.
Leaders go out in pairs with printed maps for each visit location. Visiting leaders don’t enter homes but deliver packets and thank parents for letting their children be part of VBS week. If no one’s home, leaders handwrite a personal note to the family on provided note cards.
4. MAKE IT PERSONAL
Make follow-up visits more personal by strategically connecting people who may know each other. Follow-up doesn’t always happen as a purposeful gesture, it can also take place by creating something for people to talk about. Positive conversations about your event are a natural way to follow up with visitors.
- School Connection-Group visits according to schools. Have children already involved in your ministry who attend the same school be the ones who extend an invitation to return to your church.
- Extracurricular Connection-Ask families if they recognize guests’ names as kids who are involved in sports, music, or a club they’re also involved in. Use this connection to have families connect with these kids and th
families as they wait during practice or at a related competition or event.
- Neighborhood Connection-Plan visits according to neighborhoods, subdivisions, or communities. Ask church families living in those areas to make follow-up visits. Ask church families to be open about where they live and extend an invitation for guests to drop by their home if they need information about the church or would like their family to attend a service with them on the weekend.
- Conversation Starters — A blog is a great way to stimulate conversations with families. Children’s ministries director Diana Loach at St. Giles Kingsway Presbyterian Church in Toronto, Canada, set up a blog for families to connect. Every afternoon after VBS, she posted one or two ideas for families to do together that corresponded with the day’s theme. Diana also included the words to songs kids would sing during their final program for parents. This was a great way for parents who weren’t connected to the church to feel part of the outreach event without a lot of pressure.
- Survey Says…Ask parents for their input — even parents who are first-time guests. Hudson, also a children’s pastor in Palm Gardens, Florida, sends families a “thanks for being our guest” letter after they visit. Included with the letter is a survey asking parents to give feedback from their first experience. When completed, parents can return the survey for a free gift on their next visit. This idea helps Dale’s team continuously improve guests’ experiences at church and opens the door to call and connect with families about their visit.
- Social Networking — Before, during, and after their summer outreach camps, Central Church in Collierville, Tennessee, takes advantage of social networking sites such as Facebook and their ministry website for follow-up strategies. Before camp, director of children’s ministries Anne Clay concentrates on building credibility with visitors by posting updates, fun welcome videos from camp leaders, and details visitors will need to know about the week. During camp week, Anne posts a blog on what happened at camp and photos from the day. Parents and kids leave comments. After camp, she posts a slideshow of camp highlights and opportunities for kids to reconnect with friends and leaders. Building relationships online has become a great way to establish a connection with visitors and a way for them to connect with others virtually.
5. A REASON TO RETURN
Savvy retailers understand the power behind offering customers a promotional product such as a free item for bringing a card or coupon back into their store. Giving kids and families a reason to return offers visitors another opportunity to check out your ministry or programs and for you to minister to them with excellence.
- Community Giving — Making a visible difference in the community is a great way to get visitors to become involved in an easy way, according to Sheila Halasz, preschool director at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Crystal Lake, Illinois. After celebrating their VBS this summer, they’ll invite everyone to return for a day of “High C’s Adventure” or High Compassion. The church has teamed up with community agencies and people to compile a list of ways everyone can serve in the community for one afternoon. After projects are completed, everyone will return to the church for a celebration with music and food.
- Coming Together as Family — After their large outreach program, Hebron Baptist Church in Dacula, Georgia, distributes tickets to return for prize drawings at a family worship service. Melissa Guillebeau, director of children’s ministries, says they create a service that’s very family-friendly and serve doughnuts, juice, and coffee afterward. During the reception time after the service, they invite families who don’t have a church home for a brief meet-and-greet with one of the pastors. Then they pair church families with prospective families for the remainder of the reception. Visiting families receive a CD of one of the church’s choir performances as a gift along with information about the church and ministry programs.
- Say Cheese. Emily Snider, children’s pastor at Christ Community Church in Roseville, Michigan, sends customized cards to visitors that include a photo of the child or family at the outreach event. Snider includes the name of the event and the date on the front and the back includes worship service times.
- Say (Chuck-E) Cheese. Steve Young, children’s ministry director at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, capitalized on this mouse’s brand. Using the names collected for a prize drawing from an outreach event at their church, leaders sent coupons for a $10 Chuck-E-Cheese gift card redeemable at their next family service.
- Just for You — After kids visit or attend an event for the first time at his church, Hudson sends a letter to kids, thanking them for visiting and includes a coupon to turn in for a free gift the next time they return. Dale says families regularly return with the coupons and that this has been one of their most effective follow-up tools.
Excerpted from Children’s Ministry Magazine.