by Nelson Searcy with Jennifer Dykes Henson
How many first-time guests enter your church, never to return? How are we valuing these gifts from God, these opportunities to share Jesus? In this book, Searcy shows his method for turning a first-time visitor into a second-time-visitor into a regular visitor into a member. He gives the specifics of his congregation’s approach, explains the reasoning behind it, and how to get such a program started. He walks through how to engineer positive first impressions, generate a willingness to be contacted, and how to help ensure that visitors join the community of the congregation. The book includes a helpful appendix that summarizes the various resources found in the book.
The book offers exactly what it says it offers: a method of follow-up that’s pretty good. Searcy backs up his reasoning well with various surveys and shows so many good examples, I feel I could replicate his method fairly accurately. His approach is very seeker-friendly, for better or worse. It has nothing to do with what a church teaches or what a congregation’s creed is; all he’s interested in here is getting visitors to come back.
And for that, it really is effective. His methods are great. I’ve seen them employed by several congregations, and I’m interested in trying at least some of this out. Relatively simple things like “follow-up within 36 hours of a visit” and “hand-written note by the end of the week” are pretty standard things I’ve been taught in the past. He talks about the use of surveys and Communication Cards. I loved his suggestion of a “Next Step Card,” with various goals that match the theme of the sermon that week. What’s the next step? Ask for information? Memorize a key Bible verse (suggested that matches the sermon)? Sign up for a class? This seemed like a great idea not just for visitors, but for members as well.
He encourages churches to keep track of first-time visitors. Look back – how many first-time visitors have returned? He encourages to aim to get that to a better percentage. I think it would be eye-opening for many congregations to evaluate how many first-time visitors never return. And then ask: why? Is it them… or is it us? Yes, the sinful nature will hate Christ, and if Christ is preached clearly, there’s going to be issues. But let Christ be what drives a first-time visitor away; not your coldness or over-eagerness or even your inability to do follow-up.
I also appreciated his approach: Every visitor is a gift from God. How are we stewarding this gift? He’s sending us opportunities to share Jesus. How are we, as a congregation, valuing the opportunities? He also makes sure that the goal is not “church membership” but “Sharing Jesus.” Well, he phrases it as “making a decision for Christ”…
And that’s a problem in this book. It’s written with a lot of assumptions. He seems to assume a megachurch with the need for lots of ushers to show the way around. (Some smaller churches could actually use that help just because of architecture…) He assumes no children in worship. He assumes making a decision for Christ. He assumes that non-members will be able to help out in a lot of levels that would make me, at the least, uncomfortable. Those assumptions hobble a lot of my ability to put to work what he suggests. Our size alone would conspire against some of the implementation, much less the theological problems!
That said, a lot of his methods to just get information and so on simply make sense. The book is practical, and I appreciated that a great amount. He teaches how to replicate a process, and for that, the book shines. For his theology, alas, not so much.