What we did wrong about guest follow up and how we started over

Relationships have to be at the heart of how we handle follow-up with guests.

NewSpring learned this lesson the hard way.

In the past, it was, perhaps, good enough to collect all of the first timer cards, Care Team notes, and prayer requests on Sunday night, wrap a rubber band around the stack, and let a team of weekday volunteers make dozens of cold calls on Monday to follow up.  

Task accomplished. To-do list checked off. Process complete. 

People cared for? Not so much. 

We had a process that was efficient, streamlined, and ensured each person was contacted within 24 hours. However, we started to see that a weekday volunteer calling someone they didn’t know (or, more than likely, leaving a voicemail) was yielding little to no fruit. 

We knew we needed to make the process more personal. We knew the volunteer who interacted with the guest needed to own the follow-up. 

But how? Would our volunteers revolt and call us crazy? We had never asked them to carry this level of shepherding weight. 

Volunteers had been equipped to have a 10-minute care conversation with a guest, pray with them, and give them a Bible if necessary. Then their role was done. No skin in the game when it came to follow-up.

It took us 15 years to develop this culture, and it wasn’t going to change overnight. But our passion is to create a church that cares for people, so we developed a plan and got to work. 

Our follow-up process is still a work in progress, but we identified four main culture changes to ensure our follow-up was effective and our people felt cared for:

1. Follow-up starts with a broken heart for people  

We want our volunteers to pursue people. Good follow-up can only flow out of a volunteer’s heart for hands-on ministry.

This sounds intuitive for a church, but we found our culture had led many to sit back with folded arms, frustrated that they were wearing a Care Team lanyard but not getting approached by anyone who wanted care and prayer. 

We are casting a different vision these days. We tell our volunteers, “Go meet someone new! Let’s not wait for new, hurting, or lost people to find us.”  

We encourage volunteers to step out in faith and anticipate that God is ordaining a conversation with a person who needs their pursuit.

2. Start with a name, work toward connection

You can’t follow-up in a way that feels human and natural if you don’t know someone. We coach volunteers to take a simple, three-step approach to meeting guests. After saying “hello”:

  • Discover their name.
  • Ask for their story.
  • Discern their need. 

If a guest is willing to give a volunteer their name, their story and their need, volunteers then are responsible to shepherd that person toward connection with a next step or another individual who is better placed to help them. 

We coach volunteers to be patient, have fun, and draw satisfaction in developing a relationship. A guest who is skeptical at first may need a third or fourth conversation before they are able to confide in someone and step enthusiastically toward connection.

3. Hosts walk the longer distance 

Guests should never feel robotically passed from one computer to the next as a volunteer signs them up for a group or event, only to receive an automated email. 

We want each volunteer to feel empowered to walk a longer distance with the guest until they take their next step and land in a relationship that can carry them the rest of the way. 

Walking this longer distance doesn’t require volunteers to study copious amounts of theology, know the answers to life’s deepest questions, or to counsel guests through life’s toughest situations. The longer distance simply requires a volunteer’s willingness to be a thoughtful presence in the life of a guest for a short time. 

Volunteers typically reach out to their guest a couple of times over the following week until they reach their next step. At our monthly Connect event, hosts reach out to their guest several times over the following month looking for opportunities to serve them.

Our hunch is that people feel cared for when we focus on two key elements: 

  • Prayer. Praying consistently for those we serve allows us to be more thoughtful, stirring our desire to reach out to them to see how they are doing. We don't care for someone we don’t think about! 
  • Encouragement. When hosts are encouraging a next step, they likely will discover more things to pray for. Together, this communicates that we want to know our guests, and that we care about what is going on in their lives.

When we consistently pray for someone and encourage their next step, something profound will happen: Relationships will form, trust will build, people will feel cared for, and people will feel more confident in the next step they are taking. 

Isn’t this the way we would all want to be cared for if we were new to church?

We want our volunteers to see our guests as sheep they are called to shepherd. Each sheep we interact with needs to be considered the sheep that will remain on our shoulder until they find long-term community. 

Of course, NewSpring continues to use a robust people management system that makes sure there’s a safety net of information, checks, and balances. But the system and its processes are guided by our desire for one volunteer to care well for one guest as we take next steps together. 

The best follow-up doesn’t feel like follow-up. It feels like someone truly cares.

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