On a scale of 1 to 10, how stressful do you think it is to visit a congregation for the first time? What if it is a congregation you have lots of unanswered questions about?
Oh, that’d be about a 17!
It is my heartfelt opinion that people won’t visit a congregation until they can get their stress, anxiety and uncertainty down to a manageable 7 to 8.
The average congregation has a community of potential visitors actively researching them online trying to do this. They are trying to find enough information so they can visit with confidence and certainty.
This is the digital age! People expect to be able to find answers to anything and everything online. The more important the decision, the more information and confidence in the decision they want to have. And when there is a lack of relevant information, people become anxious and uncertain. More on that in my recent post 5 Ways Social Media is Changing How People Join Congregations.
People who are anxious and uncertain are less likely to visit congregations.
You can help them eliminate the anxiety and uncertainty by actively doing one thing — ANSWER ALL THEIR QUESTIONS. And you can do it online.
One of the students in my online course Church Social Media and Membership Growth asked:
“How do you know when you’ve provided enough information for your online visitors? I want to answer their questions so they’ll visit, but I have no idea if I’ve done this.”
This is easy once you understand that social media is designed for two way interaction. You use social media to interact with your community of online visitors to share answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and to ask if they have additional questions.
Doing so, and the relationships developed though this interaction, will help people move from following your congregation online to participating onsite.
Try working through the following process.
1. Answer All Questions
On your website share the information you think people need to know in order to decide your congregation is a match for them. Share everything they need to know in order to decide they are going to join.
That’s the new expectation, answers to ALL THE QUESTIONS people have before they visit.
Ask clergy, staff, dedicated members, longer time friends who aren’t members yet, and newcomers what questions need to be answered.
I recommend placing a summary of the top questions in a Frequently Asked Questions page. First time visitors and newcomers love FAQ pages! They are also easy to experiment with and to add content to without doing major website revisions.
2. Share Your FAQ Page
As you are working to ANSWER ALL QUESTIONS, share via social media that you are working on this. You can post to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels that you are working on this and include a link to your FAQ page.
For people who have questions, this gives them the cue to seek out answers. And most important, use social media to ask your community of online visitors what’s missing. That’s the next step.
3. Ask What’s Missing
As you are sharing your FAQ page and expressing your attempt to continually ANSWER ALL QUESTIONS, ask people what’s missing. Ask if they have questions. Ask people what they would add.
You can even include a simple form on your FAQ page inviting people to submit their remaining questions. You can include an optional name and email field.
If someone submits a question and includes their name and email, make sure to email them with the answer, or thank them and tell them you’ll have the answer for them shortly. Also make sure to keep an eye out for questions via social media comments and replies.
“This is a special invitation for all of our online friends and newcomers! We’re working on updating our visitor FAQ page. We know people like to get oriented online before visiting for the first time. We want to make sure we’re answering all your questions and making it easy to connect with our community. Can you take a look at our FAQ and let us know if you have additional questions? What do you need to know or affirm in order to move from following online to joining us onsite? You can submit your questions via the form on our FAQ page, comment here, or message me through our Facebook page. Thanks for your help! ~ First Name, role in congregation.”
4. Invite to Newcomer Event
After a round of sharing your FAQ page and answering peoples questions, invite online visitors to a specific event for newcomers. Make it clear that this is the perfect time for you to come if you’ve been waiting to visit.
Make it clear you’ll welcome them, there will be snacks, coffee, key staff and leaders will orient them to the congregation, additional questions will be answered, etc…
In your FAQ you might include a question “When is the best time to visit for the first time?” and say that you’re always welcome but your newcomer event on UPCOMING DATE (with link to details) is the ideal time and explain why.
Of course, you need to keep that event information and date updated, but your visitors will appreciate the clarity. Here are answers to all the questions and this is the date I should visit for the first time.
5. Pay Attention at Newcomer Event
At your newcomer event, pay close attention to how comfortable people are and the questions they have. Use your learning to ANSWER ALL THE QUESTIONS you can online.
As you you work through these steps multiple times — maybe quarterly — you should see more people coming to your newcomer events with greater comfort and confidence.
In fact, if you’re rocking this process, people will be coming with a sense that they already know people. You can use video, photos, and podcasts to clearly communicate who you are, what your congregation is like, and to connect with people before they ever step foot onsite. I share lots of strategies for doing this in my course Church Social Media and Membership Growth.
Over time these events will be increasingly focused on affirming what has already learned online and helping people quickly make connections and form friendships in the congregation.
Proactively answer all questions, share the answers, use social media to actively engage with and support your online visitors, and then invite them to join you.
I’m always looking for great examples of newcomer events and ways to help visitors build friendships. What have you done that’s worked well? Share your success story in a comment.