For almost two months before Easter, the primary focus of most churches is on how to get the most people possible to the Easter service. With a tremendous amount of work and effort, for most churches, Easter is a fantastic success in terms of numbers of people attending. Also, however, for most churches, the following Sunday is often a big disappointment, with few of the new people at Easter coming back the following week. Following are 5 questions that will help you evaluate why that happened and to plan for next year.
After each question are links to articles that give practical solutions to the challenges presented. Download, file away and save these for next year and make next year's Easter return rate the best ever.
Question #1: Did you use a connection card at the Easter service?
If you didn’t use a connection card, where visitors were asked to give you their name and contact information, you don’t have any way to follow-up with them. Tangible follow-up is extremely important, because few visitors will come back without it. Our services are rarely as inspiring to completely unchurched visitors as they are to us and our people are often too excited greeting each other to be as friendly as we wish they would be to visitors. We need to reach out to visitors after the service to let them know we care that they spent time with us. We can’t do that if we don’t know they were there.
You must have a tangible way to get that information and a connection card is the best way to do it. A connection card for a special event Sunday can be very simple. Only ask for name and contact information: email and address, perhaps not even a phone number. In addition, you must clearly and specifically ask that people fill it out during the service. One way upbeat, positive way to do this, is for you to say something like, “We are delighted you are with us today and we’d consider it an honor to pray for you. Please let us know how we can pray for you on your connection card.”
On the card itself, have a line that says: “How can we pray for you?”
By adding the offer to pray (and sincerely following up and doing that) you are offering a gift to the guest beyond simply asking for information.
Question #2: Did you tell people what you regularly do?
Most churches don’t do the same things on a regular basis that they do for Easter and while on one level guests know that, many churches forget to share basic information such as the time the church regularly meets. If you assume “everybody knows” when the church regularly meets, a visitor may come back next week at 9 am to an empty church because the church regularly has services at 10:30 only, but didn’t mention the time difference at the 9 am Easter service.
Forgetting to tell people what you do can have even bigger consequences, as the following true story illustrates. After a huge amount of pre-Easter marketing and PR a small church plant that was meeting in a local grade school managed to get over 1500 people to the Easter service at the local high school gym they rented for Easter. They felt the service was a huge success and that people responded positively. The following week they were back at their regular location, several miles away and set up lots of extra chairs for the expected influx of new people. No new people came.
It wasn’t until then they realized that in all the work and focus leading up to Easter, they hadn’t given people anything at the Easter service itself that told them where they met regularly. Recounting it, the church leader told me, “I imagine if we’d driven over the to high school gym that Sunday there were probably dozens of folks milling around, wondering what happened to the church.”
Because they also didn’t think they had the time to create connection cards they didn’t have a way to reach the people who visited.
Question #3: Did you tell them what your church can do for them?
Of course visitors realize you don’t have a petting zoo and Easter Egg Hunt every week for their children, but did you tell them in your bulletin, on your website, or with an additional, upbeat publication, what you have for their children every week? Far too many churches assume that if children had a fun time at the Easter Egg Hunt, they will automatically get their parents up early the following Sunday and come back to Sunday School classes at 9 am.
In reality, most unchurched parents don’t even know Sunday School classes exist, and even less why they should get up early to bring their children to them. For them to respond you must tell them in an upbeat, clear bulletin insert what you have for kids, have links to a site that shows videos of your Sunday morning programs, or of parents sharing how the church helped them raise their children.
Other specialized ministries in your church, such as ones to Single Adults, teens, Seniors, Women, Mothers of Preschoolers, 12-Step Programs, Divorce Recovery, whatever else you might have, needs to be mentioned in the communications you give out during the Easter service. Even one sheet, titled “What We’ve Got for You” with ministries listed, URLs and social media links, and a contact name and info is information that is often saved after the service. When a need arises , if the visitor had a positive experience at your church, they may return for help in a specific area.
Question #4: Did you follow-up immediately?
There are many ways to follow-up today: email, phone calls, postcards, plus every form of social media. Whatever your church is comfortable using and is used by your visitors—use it to follow-up. Use several methods, repeat and use again.
The more personal you can make your follow-up, the better. This is where a prayer request on a connection card works well because it gives you a specific, personal message to share with a visitor. Consider recruiting a prayer team ahead of time to pray and to do the follow-up work. Nothing is worse than an ignored prayer request and few things more positive than a genuine response that showed a real person saw the request and honestly prayed.
A follow-up email, postcard, or social media connection within the week after Easter makes a powerful connection. Don’t even think about sending out a generic “we prayed for you” card without a personal note attached.
RESOURCES: Easter Follow up Postcards Templates
Question #5: Did you invite visitors to interact outside church?
It may be some time before a person who came to church only to please a parent or significant other returns to your Sunday church service, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t welcome an opportunity to interact with someone who is willing to answer questions, perhaps away from the church proper.
One of my favorite suggestions for this came from a church that hosted, “latte with the Pastor” times at a local coffee shop. They would send visitors (not just for the holidays, but through the year) a follow-up with two free coupons for lattes along with a note that said they could be used at any time, but at the same time invited people to join the Pastor at the local coffee shop any Thursday from 3-5 and invited them to come and ask “any question they wanted to about the Christian faith.” The response was tremendous.
A follow-up like this, again through any media your church uses, with or without the free latte coupon, tells a visitor you care about their spiritual welcome more than simply wanting bodies in the next church service.
Next year will come quickly
These questions weren’t designed to make you feel bad or guilty, but to help you plan for an even more effective Easter in the coming year. Take some time now to answer the questions and check out the links below for specific how-tos, publications, templates and communication pieces that you can download and save in a file for Easter. That way, next year, you’ll be ready not only for a fantastic Easter Sunday, but for the follow-up that is needed to make it a time of continuing growth for your church.