Ed. intro: When you host a special event or seasonal celebration, you'll have lots of visitors and you'll be collecting lots of visitor cards from them. But you've got to do more than just collect them if you want them to make a difference in your church. You'll learn what to do from this excerpt from the book: Connection Cards, connect with visitors, grow your church, pastor your people
It is critically important to respond to the connection cards received each Sunday and all special occasions, but not every card needs the same timeliness or intensity of response, but how do you decide what needs what? The concept of triage can help.
First, here is the history and definition of TRIAGE from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia:
The term [triage] comes from battlefield or natural disaster situations. When the wounded are brought in there are three categories in which the wounded are immediately placed:
Red / Immediate
They require immediate surgery or other life-saving intervention, and have first priority for surgical teams or transport to advanced facilities; they “cannot wait” but are likely to survive with immediate treatment.
Yellow / Observation
Their condition is stable for the moment but requires watching by trained persons and frequent re-triage, will need hospital care (and would receive immediate priority care under “normal” circumstances).
Green / Wait (walking wounded)
They will require a doctor’s care in several hours or days but not immediately, may wait for a number of hours or be told to go home and come back the next day (broken bones without compound fractures, many soft tissue injuries).
How to apply triage to connection cards
Though you aren’t dealing with actual battlefield situations, this model is useful in responding to the connection cards you will receive from those fighting spiritual battles each week. Following are suggestions for how to apply the three levels of triage in how you respond to the people turning in connection cards:
RED: those needing immediate follow-up or care
Some people will be in severe crisis—some weeks perhaps no one will be, but sometimes you will have a person teetering on the edge of suicidal despair. Because of that, if possible, it is recommended that someone go through the cards immediately after they are collected. In some large and well-staffed churches, immediately upon receiving the cards paid staff immediately screen the cards, enter information into a database; email responses, make necessary pastoral calls, and schedule more follow-up, all on Sunday afternoon.
Many churches cannot do this, but if a pastoral team member (volunteer or paid) could make it their responsibility to go through the cards looking for people who are in the “Red” category and honestly may not make it through the week without a contact, that would be excellent.
Other churches are not able to do all the data entry on Sunday, but do have hospitality or visitation teams either call or email visitors or those with pastoral needs on Sunday afternoons. Again, in even the smallest church, a dedicated and committed volunteer could make it their ministry to do this on Sunday.
For many churches, Monday is the soonest that a staff member can get to the cards, but if possible do make it a priority. Also, no matter what the time or day, sort the cards into the three levels and be sure as soon as possible someone responds to those in the RED category.
YELLOW: those who have real needs, but not in the emergency category
These situations often need a judgment call whether they are in the RED or YELLOW group, but though these folks communicate specific needs, they are ones that can be answered in the span of perhaps a few days to a week after the church service. It would be best to come up with guidelines in your church to help you make decisions about which group to place various needs.
Also in this category, place those who are responding to any call or request for volunteers. Volunteer requests should always be responded to within a week. If people volunteer and you don’t contact them, they may feel you don’t care, or their offer to volunteer didn’t matter and they may not volunteer in the future.
If you or the department asking for the volunteers will not be able to make personal contacts right away either a postcard or email could be sent out as soon as possible that says something like:
“Thanks so much for volunteering for (whatever the department is). We’ll be calling, emailing you later this week to work out the specifics. Our church is greatly blessed with people like you!”
In addition, be sure to follow-up with the department that asked to have the volunteer request put on the connection card to make certain they followed up to contact the potential volunteer.
If a pattern emerges where follow-up is not done for any variety of reasons, when that ministry leader asks to put out a call for volunteers into the bulletin or on the connection card in the future, gently ask and seek a commitment for follow-up. Remind the ministry leader that hurt, disappointment, and mistrust can result from a request for help that is not responded to when it is offered. If the pattern continues, it may be best to gently let the ministry leader know the church office can no longer post volunteer opportunities on the connection card if connections are not being made.
Sad, but true example
In a church the pastor at great length talked about the importance of prayer; how he was building a prayer team and wanted people to volunteer to be on it. He talked about a need to share his heart, a need for a team to pray together with him about the needs of the church.
A man who had been in the background, who had not volunteered in the church before, but who loved to pray, was deeply moved and decided to volunteer. Each day, he would check his email and the postal mail or a response. He often asked his wife if perhaps he had missed an email or phone message. Two months went by before his request received a response that turned out to be very different from what had been initially presented at the church.
Though still attending the church, it is doubtful the man will ever respond to a volunteer request from the pastor again.
There are so many reasons and most likely very valid ones why this happened—I can hear many pastors protesting that people must understand the demands on their time, the unexpected that comes up, and all the related reasons. All true, again all valid, but in spite of that:
Pastors, leaders, and teachers, please—remember how important you are to your people.
Remember you are in a place of great power to not only lead and teach, but to deeply hurt and disappoint. Remember that people put great faith and hope in what you say. If you ask for a response—no matter what, be sure you respond back to the people. Plan to do it; block out time for it; make it a priority or you may lose spiritual credibility and the hearts of your people. Even more tragically, you will probably never be told—if you could not be trusted to respond to a request you initiated, how can you be trusted to respond to a shared pain?
Information about ministries without a specific volunteer request
A subcategory of volunteer responses is where many church connection cards have a series of boxes that people can check for information about men’s, women’s, children’s, music, etc.
It is very important that if people check these boxes that they get a prompt response. Sometimes in churches that information is not passed on in a timely manner, or a list of people who checked the ministry box gets lost in a staff member or volunteer’s in box. Again, to not respond when someone has reached out and asked for information or an answer can have devastating consequences.
In both this instance and in the instance of someone volunteering, we never know how much personal courage it might have taken for a person to volunteer for something or ask for information about a ministry program. Perhaps they have never been involved in a church before, but feel they ought to do something; perhaps they were emotionally wounded in a another church, have been away a long time, but now feel they want to try some small volunteer task. Checking that box may have been a huge act of courage and hope. PLEASE do not disappoint by failing to respond in a timely manner.
Plan ahead in your response to specific ministry requests
One way to solve this challenge is for the church office to have on file basic information packets, brochures or forms that describe the ministry areas and then give information on who to contact for further information or how to become involved.
The brochure could be sent out with a follow-up letter. An electronic version could be forwarded to an email address.
GREEN: the cards that are more administrative in nature; change of address, new email, etc.
Though this is the third level in the triage model, in many instances it is the action that takes place first as the response on cards are entered into a data base or church management program. An immediate triage sort should have set aside those cards that needed action immediately; the rest can be entered later.
Though these cards may not need immediate pastoral action, it is very important that whoever does this be given a vision of the value of this ministry of recording. As stated earlier the Bible records many instances of the value of careful records, the entire book of Numbers being one of the primary examples.
With probably the most important record the one kept by the Lord, the “Lamb’s book of Life,” and it is not too much of a stretch to say that the first step in someone becoming a member of God’s forever family is a record of their visit to the church that will then be followed up in a timely and caring way.
With the value of this ministry in mind, the actual processing of the cards should be managed with the utmost care and prayer.
There is so much more to using Connection Cards effectively in ministry. They are a vital ministry tool and this, 8 1/2 x 11 book on connection cards has over 100 pages of instruction, samples and detailed how tos. It is for sale in both print and e-book download versions HERE.