By David Dummitt
Easter is the best-attended weekend of church services, with Christmas being a close second. How can we strategically maximize our opportunity to connect with people during these weekends in ways that make first-time guests want to come back? The old adage says you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. But you can create environments and opportunities that sweeten the water.
When planning big-attendance weekends, we must think critically and creatively about how we can create exceptional environments and opportunities to which people will want to return.
‘Surprise and Delight’
For starters, we must be first-rate in everything we do, from parking to greeters to music to the message and calls to action. I cringe when I hear stories of people who don’t go back to church because a sour-faced greeter threw a program at them or there was some other “miss” that could have been avoided by thinking through details.
A phrase we use at 2|42 Community Church is “surprise and delight.” Details matter. Small things can make a big impact on how welcomed a first-time attender feels. For example, at Christmas last year, we shuttled people from their car to the front door in a (literal) one-horse open sleigh!
Throughout the worship service, make sure you provide clear and compelling reasons for people to come back. That might include having a video trailer for an upcoming teaching series focused on a felt need (“Healthy Marriages,” “Getting Past Your Past,” and “Forgiveness” are possibilities) or telling the stories of change and transformation that are happening within your church. People are hungry for a place that is real and where lives are being impacted.
Don’t forget about the kids! Create irresistible environments for kids on these big-attendance weekends—and remember, the language of kids is “fun.” One idea might be to pass out the first of four “collectible” items, like a slap bracelet, button, or sticker. Kids love these things and will insist that parents bring them back for the next three weekends! You might also consider holding a family-friendly event (family movie night, inflatables party, Nerf wars, etc.) the weekend after a high-attendance weekend to encourage people to come back.
Make a Difference in Your Community
People are drawn to organizations that make a difference locally. The church should regularly consider how to meet needs and engage the community. We should aim to be the type of organization that would be missed if we closed our doors. Here are a few ideas for how to leverage high-attendance weekends to engage with attendees while also reaching out to your community:
• During a big-attendance weekend like Easter, pass out grocery bags with the church logo printed on them and ask people to bring them back the following week with canned goods for a local food bank. Encourage people to take more than one bag and ask for food donations from their neighbors. Your church’s logo will permeate neighborhoods throughout your community, plus you’ll be meeting a real need!
• Take up an offering of one dollar from every person at the end of the service, with the promise it will collectively be given away. Invite people back to hear the story of how that money is making or will make a difference in someone’s life.
• Create relevant and practical applications to your teaching. A few years ago at 2|42, we did a series that started with an Easter lesson about Jesus as the greatest Savior. The next week focused on Jesus as the greatest servant. At the end of that week we challenged everyone to go out to lunch and leave the greatest tip for their server.
The next weekend we talked about Jesus as the greatest teacher. In the days leading up to the lesson, we presented and filmed an appreciation lunch at a local school where we transformed the teachers’ lounge into a spa with massage tables and free lunch. At our services, we encouraged everyone to give their children’s teacher a gift or a note.
Personally Follow Up
One of the most important ways to encourage people to come back is simply by following up. At 2|42, Derek Alonzi, our Ann Arbor campus pastor, oversees our assimilation process. Derek uses the phrase, “Do for one person what you wish you could do for all,” meaning our aim should be to treat each person like they are the only person. It is not OK to let anyone fall through the cracks because we fail to follow up with them.
During our weekend services, we invite people to take a no-strings-attached micro-step by filling out our connection card so we can provide additional information and answer any questions they have. It’s a high priority to follow up on every single card within a day or two of receiving it.
We empower our staff and volunteer leaders to be responsible for following up with 5 to 10 people with a personal phone call, not an email. This initial call takes approximately 15 minutes, and we simply ask, “How’d you hear about 2|42? What did you think? What do you think is your next step?” We also say, “You have my cell phone number; save it, and when you come back, shoot me a text message and we’ll connect!” If the person doesn’t answer the phone, we send them a text message that says something like, “This is Dave from 2|42. You probably screen your calls like I do! I just wanted to thank you for checking things out and see if you have any questions that I can answer.” Most of the time we get a fast response, and that individual now has a personal connection to the church. It’s not a complicated plan, but it requires simple systems and discipline to follow through.
We don’t lead our churches and simply hope for a bunch of one-hit-wonder weekends; we lead to see more people experience the transformative life change that happens by following Jesus and connecting with his people. Strategy, planning, and follow through are the keys to making high-attendance weekends great opportunities to get people to come back again and again, and ultimately to make our churches their churches.
David Dummitt is the lead pastor and planter of 2|42 Community Church in Michigan, one of the largest and fastest-growing churches in the country. He is also on the lead team of NewThing, a catalyst for reproducing churches worldwide.