I remember eating dinner one time with a couple that first came to church at Christmas. After sharing their story with me, the wife looked at me sheepishly and said, “We were Chreasters.”
She continued, “For years we’d attend church on Christmas and Easter. Then on Christmas Eve, you said we should start attending every week, so we are.”
I couldn’t help but smile. This is what our church prays for twice a year!
8 Ways to Keep Them There
Chreasters are easy to reach and hard to keep. The easy part is getting them to one of your holiday services. They’re actually out there looking for a place to attend on those days. The difficult part is getting them to return regularly.
So, how do you persuade someone to come back to church who has no intention of doing so? You don’t. But God can. I’ve found that if you line up grace, truth and prayer, God can work miracles at Christmas and Easter. But here are some suggestions:
1) Concentrated prayer. At New Song, we spend two weeks in advance 24/7 prayer for our Christmas and Easter guests. We set up stations in our prayer room and ask members to fill their one-hour prayer slots five minutes at a time with prayers for the names of lost people submitted by other members, as well as for the city and other churches in town. We pray people will be drawn to the churches of our city on Easter, but our bigger prayer is that they’ll be drawn back in the weeks following.
2) A confident invitation to receive Christ. My message on Christmas Eve and Easter is always pointed toward an invitation to receive Christ. If you’re not going to present the gospel on the two days when the greatest number of lost people are in your church, what’s the point in being a church?
One year I went old school. Instead of asking people to respond to the Lord by raising their hands, I went a step further. While hands were up, I asked each one, “Are you serious about this?” After they each nodded in agreement, I said, “Then I’m going to invite you to come up here so I can pray with you.” What could they do? They had to come forward. After praying with them, I introduced them to someone who would take them through their first steps of faith.
3) An immediate follow-up. The person I introduced them to was holding a packet. It contained a copy of the New Testament, a spiritual birth certificate and the first lesson in a follow-up course called “Foundations.” Before returning to their seats, follow-up had already begun.
4) A free book. At the end of the service, I ask everyone to stand for the benediction. Before praying, I say, “I know some of you couldn’t pray that prayer with me a few minutes ago because you still have a lot of questions you need answered. I have a book here called The God Questions, which I’ll gladly give you if you’ll read it. I’ll be up here in front after the service if you’d like a copy.” Then I pray, grab a stack of books, and wait, pen in hand.
I ask each person who approaches me for a book, “So you have questions about God?”
They always say, “I do.”
After finding out their name, I hand them the book and say, “I hope we’ll see you back here next week.”
5) A volunteer phone call. Those who come forward to receive Christ that night begin one-on-one discipleship within a few days. But what about the Chreasters who don’t register a decision with us? We ask them to fill out a commitment card and place it in the offering. Those who do are called by a volunteer the next day.
We have found that Chreaster contacts grow cold quickly, so we make a huge effort to call within 24 hours. The call never lasts more than five minutes. Our callers thank the guest for attending and invite them to our next “R.U. New Cafe,” where they can meet the staff and learn more about the church.
6) A personal email. Also within 24 hours, I send a brief email to each guest, telling them how great it was to have them visit and asking how we can pray for them. I time my email for mid-morning, as I don’t want it to get lost in the load of emails everyone gets first thing in the morning.
7) A personal note. Within 48 hours, I also send all guests a handwritten note with a coupon in it. The coupon is for a free copy of a movie we made a few years ago. In 2010, New Song partnered with Sony Pictures to produce To Save a Life. The coupon is a pleasant surprise, and since they have to stop by our bookstore to pick up their copy, it’s an additional incentive to return soon.
8) A reason to return. Every year we try to offer a reason for the unchurched to return. One year it was to hear a comedian the following Friday night. Another year it was to be part of a family series. Another year we hosted a high-profile guest—professional surfer Bethany Hamilton of Soul Surfer fame—two weeks after Easter.
Prepping for Their Return
How much time does it take for a visitor to decide whether or not they will return to your church? Experts pose differing numbers on this. Some say as quickly as 90 seconds. Others say three minutes. Still others say visitors take as long as 12 minutes to decide. Whoever is right, making a good first impression is imperative if you are going to retain first-time visitors.
At New Song, I ask our core members to “LINE UP” every weekend:
L: Look for someone you don’t know.
I: Introduce yourself.
N: Never sit alone.
E: Engage in conversation after the service.
U: Use the R.U. New Cafe (our monthly lunch for newcomers).
P: Practice the 3/10 Rule (talk to three people you don’t know during the first 10 minutes after the service).
Churches with attendance under 150 can make a friendly first impression by stationing two or three outgoing volunteers at their front doors. In this size church, newcomers are able to look around the crowd and find the “people like me” pretty quickly. “People like me” is key to assimilating newcomers.
Once you get to 200 or more, the number of names and faces is large enough that you’ll need an exceptionally committed volunteer to be at the door at least 45 weekends a year. Since the average Sunday school teacher only attends church 39 weeks a year, you probably won’t find such a person. Hence, a staff member needs to assume this responsibility.
I know from Jesus’ attempts that not even He reached everyone He spoke to. But God is not willing that any should perish, and neither am I. So right now I’m mobilizing every resource at my disposal to attract and connect “Chreasters” to my church.
And the day after Easter, I’ll write my knuckles white with notes inviting them to return.
Hal Seed is the founding pastor of New Song Church in Oceanside, Calif.
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