9 Big Ways to Make the Most of a Guest Speaker

(Photo by Keagan Henman on Unsplash)

Guest speakers should be part of your regular strategy for growing your church.

It's like inviting people to a football game, or over to dinner or to a party. There's a specific time and a specific reason for people to come.

Going to church any weekend lacks that specific oomph for newcomers to get in the car and show up. They can go this weekend or next or the next—which turns into not interested and never.

A great guest speaker gives them a reason to come this weekend.

You may feel that a high-profile guest speaker is too risky and too expensive for your church. It is risky and expensive, but it's worth it.

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Years ago, after we hosted double amputee athlete Scott Rigsby, I wrote about the benefits of hosting a high-profile guest speaker. After we twice brought in Michael Franzese, the Mafia mobster turned believer, I shared how to grow your church with a great guest speaker.

I'm writing about it again because I believe if you don't invite guest speakers who will attract your community, you are missing a big opportunity to see your church grow. We call them Wow Weekends, because people say, "Wow, that person's coming to your church?" We have Wow Weekends once or twice a year.

In this article, I'll unpack our 2018 guest speaker learnings including postcard size, what to do with demonstrators and hate mail (yes, we had it), and how to interview a high-profile special guest speaker.

How to Make the Most of a Special Guest Speaker in Your Church

1. If the speaker is good, and attracts people the first time, invite them back for a second time.

Weekend before last, we hosted Dan Gordon for the second time. Dan Gordon is a reservist in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and an American screenwriter.

We invited him back because he was well received the first time, and I felt like he had more to say to us, and I thought people would more easily invite their friends since they knew he would be good.

We've had several of our speakers come twice, but usually we wait several years before the second engagement. Sooner or later. Either way works.

Lesson: Don't be afraid to have speakers come twice.

2. Oversized postcards reap an oversized return.

I noticed in the last political election that candidates were mailing 8 1/2 by 11-inch postcards.

Their research must tell them what I suspect: Normal-size postcards are ubiquitous and becoming less effective.

I still believe in the value of showing up in your community's mailboxes, so we mailed oversized cards this time.

Since we had Dan Gordon twice in one year, and we mailed postcards to neighborhoods around the church both times, we had an unusual opportunity to compare the effectiveness of the cards.

It was an interesting test, and no surprise, the full-sized cards attracted more attention.

We knew we attracted more attention because we had about 10 hate calls to the church, and one vitriolic email calling me the spawn of hell. It could have been the picture of Dan with an Israeli assault rifle, but we live in a military community, so we thought they'd relate to a soldier holding a gun.

Full-size cards cost 30 - 40 percent more, but the attention was worth it for us.

Never underestimate the long-term value of postcards in the mail. They raise awareness of your church that will pay off in the coming months.

You want people in your community to know you exist, and to think of you when they feel the Spirit nudge them to pursue God.

Lesson: These days, spring for full-sized postcards when you do a mailer.

3. Negative press can be used for good.

Along with the hate mail, our oversized mailer attracted protesters. They warned us they were coming, so we upped our security plan and stood ready.

They came to the Saturday evening service and followed Dan into the lobby when he went to get in place to sign books. They surrounded him, and with phones filming, tried to provoke him to get a soundbite to use against him. He's a pro, though, and knows how to handle protesters.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is quoted as saying, "Wherever the apostle Paul went, there were riots. Wherever I go, they serve tea."

Dan wasn't fazed by the protesters, and I'm glad we raised a little rabble. It was good for us to be ready for opposition. It was good for the congregation to hear the story during the Sunday services.

The only people it doesn't seem to have been good for was the protesters. They didn't bother to come back on Sunday.

Lessons: Don't be afraid of attracting attention. God will use it. When you see opposition coming, prepare for it.

4. Try to match your speaker to the profile of your community.

Since Dan Gordon is a member of the IDF, he appeals to a military community. One member of our church saw his coming as such a tremendous opportunity, he personally handed out 300 invitations on Camp Pendleton.

We look for speakers who are known in some segment in our community. We don't bring in pastors or Christian leaders because this isn't about attracting Christians from other churches. We want people who have never heard of the Christian leaders we admire, but want to hear mob bosses, and Navy Seals, and amputee athletes, and NFL stars.

The best source for Christian speakers is our friends at Outreach. They will facilitate finding and booking the perfect speaker for your church. Find out more about Outreach Speakers here.

Lesson: Don't hire people who are famous because they are good Christian speakers. Bring in people who have done amazing things and have a testimony to go with it.

5. Use a video clip to raise excitement before the weekend.

Most speakers will have an interesting two- to three-minute video clip you can play in the weeks leading up to their coming.

This raises the interest and excitement of your people which is key to their inviting others.

In the case of Dan Gordon, there wasn't a good CNN or CBN clip of him, so we pruned a great three-minute segment from the video of his first visit and played that. It worked superbly.

Lesson: Find and show a good video clip to encourage your congregation to invite their friends.

6. Pour prayer over the weekend and your property.

Knowing the opportunity and the opposition, I prayer walked our auditorium and lobby and circled the building in prayer.

We are always dependent on God's power and blessing, but we feel a particular need to be covered before we bring in a guest speaker and invite our community.

I prayed daily for God's presence to be felt and for salvations to occur. We prayed at staff meetings. Our prayer groups prayed. Our prayer warriors interceded.

That's why it went so well.

Lesson: Cover everything in prayer.

7. Facilitate book sales for the guest speaker.

Speakers worth their salt will have a book to sell.

High-profile guests can expect $1,000, $2,000 or even $5,000 in a speaking fee. But what really makes it worth their while is signing books afterward.

Not only does the speaker make more money, but this is where they have the opportunity to interact with your people personally.

You can make a booking worthwhile by asking them to tell you about their book during their stage time, and by providing volunteers to sell the books and set up a signing line, so the speaker can concentrate on meeting each person as they sign the book.

Lesson: Book sales are good for everyone, so see that it happens.

8. Never let a guest speaker preach.

Wait, what?

I spent many years introducing the speaker, then letting them step into the pulpit (or behind my music stand) to have at it.

The problems were that they always went really long, they weren't always great at giving a gospel invitation, and the newcomers didn't have a chance to get to know me.

It makes it less appealing for guests to return.

The purpose of having a high-profile guest speaker is to expose newcomers to your church.

The solution? Interview them. These days, I interview every guest speaker.

The No. 1 reason people return to a church is if they connect with the pastor. By interviewing your guest, you are exposing people to his/her message, while simultaneously exposing them to you.

I prepare for these interviews as diligently as I prepare a sermon. I read the person's book and spend time on the phone with them.

I craft softball, but interesting questions, then order the questions to elicit interest at the beginning and application at the end. Just like in a sermon.

I also create a time budget for the questions, so I don't try to ask too many and rush through them.

Generally, with an articulate speaker, I can pitch them three to four questions before I transition to "And tell us about your book. I read it and it's fantastic."

Lesson: Interview the guest speaker; don't let them preach.

9. Present the gospel yourself.

My most important thinking goes into how I will transition to a salvation invitation, and what need or topic I can leverage from my interview that will dovetail seamlessly with what we have covered together.

I budget five to seven minutes for the invitation.

I always do the invitation myself. Early on, I asked one of my guests to present the gospel, and he wasn't able to do it as well as I would have.

I invite people to Christ regularly. I know my community. So I'm more effective at drawing the net than all but the most evangelistically polished guest speaker.

You, too.

This last weekend I could not find a hook or point of leverage from my guest to the gospel, so as he exited the stage, I stood and boldly moved into a straight, no-introduction explanation of salvation.

It didn't go as well as I would like at the Saturday-night service, but by the last Sunday service, the Holy Spirit and I were in sync with a concise and moving invitation. No one registered a commitment to Christ in the Saturday service, but one did in the first Sunday service, and 12 in the second Sunday service.

There may have been more lost people in the crowd at an 11:00 a.m. Sunday service. Or maybe I did a better job.

Lesson: Present the gospel at the end of every service when you have a guest speaker.

Hal Seed is the founding and lead pastor of New Song Community Church in Oceanside, California. He mentors pastors who want to lead healthy, growing churches with resources at pastormentor.com.

This article originally appeared at pastormentor.com.

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