As you adapt to online sermons and ministry, you may find visitors to your church services come from both near and far. Connecting with these church visitors online is not so different from connecting with visitors in person, even if the tools you use are.
What’s important to keep in mind is that your online presence can attract and welcome visitors outside of your parish. These potential attendees are seeking connection, not letting geography dissuade them. So as you think about a strategy to connect, remember that some of these visitors may convert to regular attendees and never visit your physical church. They can still be an active part of your congregation.
How Does Your Church Welcome Visitors in Person?
When a new person enters your church for the first time, you recognise and welcome them. You may ask them to provide new visitor information, such as how they heard about your church and how you can contact them. In the days following your Sunday service, you follow up with recent visitors and encourage them to return or engage.
In your physical church, you might use a space specifically for visitors to collect information about your church. You probably display clear signage to help newcomers easily find where to go when they enter your building. Sign-in sheets, connection cards, and even volunteers who help welcome and guide visitors are all ways you greet and make these people feel welcome.
We can replicate these tactics digitally to allow you to connect with your church visitors online as well as in person.
Rethink the Definition of a Church Visitor
With online access, your church visitors are no longer just those who join you for the first time in a service. The digital church visitor is anyone who seeks out and engages with your online properties. This includes your website and social media. The first impression you make is likely one where you are not even present.
The goal, then, is to welcome visitors and make a connection alongside your regular efforts. The easiest way to connect directly with church visitors online is a “Welcome” section
1. Create a Welcome Section on your Website
A Welcome section should be easy to find from your home page. Some prefer to create a Welcome/New Visitors option from the Main Menu. Others use a button that says something like “Welcome New Visitors!” on the Home page itself. Whichever option you choose, the visitor should have a specific landing page that includes all the welcome information.
Much like your church signage, make it easy for a new visitor to view your materials and figure out what your church is all about and how they can join in your services and events.
How to Create a Great Visitor Welcome Page
Craft a Welcome Message
Think of this as an invitation to your church and an introduction to your leadership. You can use this page to point the visitor to resources such as recordings, upcoming services, and any small groups or Bible studies that are open to new visitors.
Let visitors know how you manage onsite attendance and if they can register to attend in person. A booking tool like the one we created at Faith Online can call attention to both in-person and online events in one.
Always remember to keep it simple. This is just the introduction, not a fully immersive experience.
Add a Virtual Connection Card
Encourage the visitor to share their information in a simple form. You can use this like you would a sign-in sheet in person. Send the visitor a personal welcome and offer to answer any questions. The basic connection card should ask for:
Include an option for the new visitor to subscribe to your newsletter. A newsletter is an essential communication device for physical and digital attendees.
When you get a new connection card sign up, take the time to follow up with a quick personalised message. Here’s an example:
Hello <Name of Visitor>,
Thank you for visiting our church website! We are looking forward to connecting with you at our next service. If you are joining us online, our next service is <enter direct information> please feel free to introduce yourself in the chat!
If you are joining us in person, please register using our booking system so we can make sure we have a space for you while we follow the latest NHS guidelines.
I will follow up with you after our next service, I hope you enjoy it!
2. Recruit Volunteers to Build a Welcome Committee
Your regular congregants are ideal volunteers for welcoming and receiving new visitors. Encourage volunteers to sign up as virtual greeters. As members of your church they are your greatest advocates for what it is like to be a part of your community.
What Does a Virtual Greeter Do?
Like they would every Sunday in person, virtual greeters send personalised welcome messages to your online church visitors. Volunteers check in with new visitors before and after services, and offer to connect and answer questions.
With so many feeling isolated and looking for an opportunity to connect, this volunteer role can also build a connection for your regular congregants.
Your volunteers extend your ability to meet new church visitors both online and in person. They can email, call or set up individual video conferences to welcome and get to know new attendees. They can also meet new visitors in person at a public space like a café.
Prior to any in-person meetings, make sure volunteers train to follow NHS safety guidelines.
Virtual greeters can also engage with new attendees in your online chat during your services. We will share tips for online moderation in an upcoming post.
3. Use a Newsletter to Strengthen Your Community
Newsletters work to keep both regular attendees and visitors engaged and up to date. A regular newsletter is the perfect space for:
- Updates on upcoming events
- Connection to church-wide devotionals or readings
- Sharing stories and introducing church members
- Offering guidance beyond your sermon
- Encouraging prayer requests and volunteer sign ups
- Reminding congregants about where and how to give
Encourage your regular attendees to forward your newsletter to their friends and even share your latest newsletter on your website and social media.
4. Use Social Media to Build a Deeper Community
Social media isn’t just where you post your upcoming events and share your latest sermons. It’s also useful for community building.
Every time an individual engages with your social media, it is an opportunity to create a connection. New visitors may respond to your post with questions or comments, opening up a new line of conversation where you can invite them to explore your website, point them in the direction of a past sermon, or connect them with a helpful volunteer.
Social media can also help visitors discover more about who you are by using your space to share the stories and thoughts of members within your church community. Do this by re-sharing the content of your parishioners on your church handle. Here are a few easy ways to do this:
- Re-share your local small businesses owners
- Celebrate life events
- Show off attendees who are making a positive impact in your community
- Invite your active social media members to “take over” your account for the day
- Give a “behind the scenes” look at how you prepare your sermons or set up for Sunday
5. Offer a Monthly New Visitor Small Group
Give visitors a chance to meet by hosting a monthly “getting to know you” small group. Invite new visitors and recent regulars to join in conversation alongside one or two of your more active attendees who feel comfortable leading a group.
While having an agenda and some leading questions can help keep the conversation going, this is the kind of small group meeting that doesn’t have to be a big production, but offers people the chance to get to know your church a little better.
While the hope is that many of these digital visitors convert into in-person attendees, your efforts to connect with church visitors online is community building and valuable, regardless of the end result. Both for your church and for the individuals who get to know you.