Last week I opined that many of the visitors who voluntarily find their way into your community are most likely "homeless Christians" in search of a home. These are not random seekers who just "happen" into your place of worship, but are folks on a journey, looking for a home. So why would they find a home with you?
In my ministry career so far, the congregations I have been a part of have welcomed over 150 new adult members (affirmation of faith, adult converts/baptisms, not including infant baptism) into their community. Thinking back over these folks, their conversations with me and their reasons for joining, I have come up with a few reasons why these "homeless Christians" found a home with us. In order of approximate % these are...
1) Invited/Referred by a friend/acquaintance, came here, the worship was good and I was genuinely welcomed (80%): These folks first darkened the door of our congregation because a friend, relation, former pastor, recommended they worship with us. After several invitations (some ranging into the 10-15 range or more) they attended and when they attended, the worship was good, the sermons relevant, the music done with quality and ultimately the welcome genuine. Someone took interest in them, got their name and invited them to return. On folks like this, if we get their contact info, we have a 60-70% retention rate. This is frankly the lowest financial cost (but significant personal investment), highest return way of growing. These folks quickly connected, found ways to contribute and made the church their home.
2) Came by invitation to a youth event, VBS, other outreach event (10%): A lower, but still effective way of inviting folks to be a part of the community. A youth attends an event with another youth, their parents get interested and they connect. The problem here is, that these are high cost (both financial and time commitment by members) for a much lower return. In Wisconsin, we grew our VBS from 10-15 students to 70-80 within 3 years. Great stuff, but ultimately the return of folks who were not DMLC members who became members as a result was fairly small. Still worth doing, but tough, and in the future they will expect significant programming and events.
The rest are a very small number, but they are...
3) Saw the Pastor at a Public Event: (3-5%) These folks are interested in finding a church, they go to a public event and see a Pastor praying or speaking and think "I could go to that church." Of course at the end of the day, this leads back into #1. If they don't find good worship and genuine preaching and teaching and welcome, they won't stay.
4) Googled "Lutheran Churches", saw your website and decided to visit or moved into the area and was looking for an ELCA congregation: (3-5%) These folks are looking for a new church home. They are ELCA Lutherans, they are at home with their worship. While it needs to be done well, these are really easy folks to make feel at home. But there are VERY few of them. So don't count on these folks to build your membership. They can be great members, but if you don't have #1, even these might not stick around very long.
So assuming that folks would even darken the door of your community, why would visitors find a home with you?
-Quality Worship & Relevant Preaching
-Genuine Welcome and Investment in knowing them
-Attention to their kids, and a connection to the community.
-Reasonable Level of Programming (but within reason, most of us can't afford the showy programming, so don't try to compete when you can't)
Ultimately, the connection to the community is the most important. It is the driver of visits and that of connection. If a visitor doesn't make a connection with members or a group within the parish soon, they will quickly drift. While programming is important, at the end of the deal I think quality worship and preaching is most important in driving return visits. But ultimately, connections is why visitors will find a home with you.