I get questions. A lot of questions. Sometimes they come in a comment here on the blog. Other times a reader will simply reply to one of my blog posts. And still other times questions come at a workshop or conference session I'm leading.
Here's a recent version of a frequently asked question about designing a great first step out of the auditorium:
I serve in a more traditional environment that doesn't currently have a first step out of the auditorium. What is typically covered in this first step at other churches?
We hold a membership class 2-3 times per year and launch new life groups twice a year. Otherwise, we have many open groups and service opportunities each week that we point people to through our announcements and bulletin.
Is this first step something that would be (should be) happening more frequently? We do receive guests every week, but not a large number. Our average worship attendance is 320.
Here's my answer:
Essentially, a first step out of the auditorium should seem reasonable and doable to the people that need to take it. And reasonable and doable are definitely in the eye of the beholder (i.e., Design it with the people who need to take it in mind).
What are some things we must keep in mind about the people who need to take the first step?
First, the people who need to take the first step are infrequent attenders.
Isn't it true that the least connected people are the most infrequent attenders?
If you want infrequent attenders to take the first step you've designed, it should be talked about frequently enough to hit their radar when they're ready to respond.
And, since they are infrequent attenders your first step should also be offered often enough to be available when they're ready to respond.
An important litmus test of the any step you design is, "Is it easy, obvious and strategic for the people who need to take it."
The priorities of the crowd and community
Second, the people who need to take the first step have the priorities of the crowd and community (i.e., not of the congregation, committed and core).
If you want unconnected and infrequent attenders to take the first step you've designed, it should be designed with their priorities (and their commitment level) in mind.
- It should be convenient. If your first step is inconvenient (i.e., wrong day, time, place, length, etc.), it will be put off. Remember, they have the priorities of the crowd and community.
- It should feel like a reasonable exchange for their time. What's reasonable? Think in terms of what they are giving up to take the first step you are offering (i.e., several hours of their day off, watching their team, an afternoon in the pool, etc.). Remember, they have the priorities of the crowd and community.
- It should offer a taste, not a 5 course meal. A taste requires only a willingness to try something out. I may choose to do that if even it is something I've never tried before. However, a 5 course meal of strange and foreign will probably not be selected.
Don't need to know there is a built-in next step
Third, the people who need to take the first step don't need to know there is a built-in next step that follows.
If your first step is designed with their interests and preferences in mind, taking it will almost be an afterthought. And the carefully designed next step that you offer at the end of the first step will seem like the natural thing to do next.
A better first step
In churches your size, a better first step is probably a nearby room or a booth or kiosk in the lobby staffed by really outgoing and helpful volunteers right after every service. A quick overview of selected next steps could be offered, and maybe a small gift of some kind, in exchange for a simple contact form completed (name, best phone, best email, check boxes for interest).
Our first step
We have a very conveniently situated space called "Guest Central" that is 20 feet outside our auditorium. We mention it every service in the welcome (i.e., "Hey, if you are joining us for the very first time, welcome! We'd love to get to know you and say ‘Thanks’ for being a part of our weekend experience with a really nice cold beverage cup, so make sure to fill out the Connect Card in the weekend program and take it to Guest Central. There are some great people there who are more than willing to answer any questions you might have."
Something like Guest Central provides an appropriate first step for unconnected people who are ready TODAY to take that step. If your membership class happens infrequently, you need something that is designed with their interests and priorities in mind. And whatever you design should always have the right next step embedded in it.
Our next step
We offer an experience called NEXT Steps about 8 or 9 times a year. It is the closest thing we offer to a "membership class." It is actually a next step in many ways.
- We offer it during our 4 p.m. service on Saturday and during our 9 and 11 a.m. services on Sunday.
- It lasts about an hour.
- Participants are seated at round tables with a table host.
- NEXT Steps features a short welcome and "here's our vision" video from our lead pastor.
- The balance of the hour includes three short videos that cast vision for connecting in a Life Group, serving, and being baptized. Each video is followed by a short discussion led by the table host.
- Next steps for (1) connecting with a Life Group, (2) participating in a "back stage tour" (a behind-the-scenes look at serving opportunities on the weekend), or (3) committing to a baptism opportunity are scheduled in the following weeks.
- Participants fill out a card during the hour indicating what their next step(s) will be.
- Next Step commitments are followed up with email and phone call reminders.