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How to Exponentially Increase your First-time Visitor Return Rate

Recently, Mike Lovato of Magnolia Church shared the following story with us in our PastorsLine Facebook group.


It was about how his use of personalized, automated texting made a HUGE difference in the responses he got to a message he sent out. We will also share the exact templates he used and why it worked really well.

Before we dive deeper into what he did and why it worked, let’s set the scene…

Your church’s welcome and welcome center are both huge parts of your guest services package, but they are not going to produce results unless your ministry also has The 4Cs – Connect, Capture, Communicate and Convert.


It’s simple: your first-time guests are coming to your church to make a connection with people who have already connected with God.

How many ways is your church offering them connective experiences with your congregation, with Jesus?

Why this connection step is so important

Pastor mentor Hal Seed explains this connection in terms of dating. He says: “on average, 6-10% of your guests come back for a ‘second date’, 25% of those will go on to date #3, and 35% of those will join your church family. Then they tell others, and the cycle repeats.”

Getting second and then third dates make the connections that are going to grow your ministry.


Connect and capture are not the same.

Here’s why: you can connect with your first-time guests and not capture any of the personal data. Conversely, you can capture their personal information without making any real connection.

Neither is the most effective.

In our experience from the 100s of churches we have attended, worked in, and worked with, your communication package should be based on an ‘AND’ strategy rather than an ‘either/or’ strategy.

Basically, an ‘AND’ strategy means using anything and everything that fits your church culture and gets your guests returning to your church. In other words, all tools have their place.

Also, keep in mind that a guest-focused strategy (rather than an administrative-focused strategy) is going to get you the best results.

One of the keys to a guest-focused strategy is using popular forms of communication.

Did you know that a mobile phone number is now the most valuable form of contact with 90% of texts being read within the first 3 minutes?

Setting up an automated data capture conversation for the mobile phone is a win-win: you get the information you need to start connecting in a real, human way, and your first-time guests get an unintrusive way to opt-in when and where they like.


You’ve made an authentic connection and captured the minimum amount of information—hopefully, the mobile phone number as it is the single, most important and effective item of contact data.

What’s next

Now, you need to stay in touch in a genuine, friendly way without going overboard and sending too many communications.

This is all going to take time…and budget. We know how both of these resources are often in short supply for many churches.

Personalized Automation

Including a bulk texting app with a human feel can help you stay in touch with your first-time guests, taking them to the next steps and hopefully, to the 4th C: conversion.

As a church, you are already producing content and engaging with the community. You likely have some staff or volunteers, but imagine adding simple automation which extends beyond their time and ensures no one falls through the cracks.

We are not speaking about robocalls, blasting, or impersonal texts. We are speaking about automated chat conversations that still have real, live humans behind them.

Before we speak about the 4th C (Convert), let’s take that deep dive we promised you into our example to see how this all works.

A quick reminder of our example:

How did Mike handle the 4 C’s?

He connected via their Block Party event on Halloween. He made sure that he captured the mobile phones of everyone who attended.

As you can see, Mike opted for ‘old school’ paper connect cards. That’s a great example of the ‘AND’ strategy we talked about earlier.

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He communicated via automation to increase the spread of his message.

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Mike began his conversation on Friday after the Block Party event on Halloween.

Hi [First Name], thanks for coming to the Magnolia Block Party!
My name’s Mike and I’m one of the pastors there.
I’m going to send a handful of texts over the next few weeks to let you know a little more about our church.
Feel free to text back with any questions. See you soon!

This message is important for several reasons. First, it lets people know that the messages they are going to see in the future are reliable, from their church. Second, it tells people that there is a real person behind this conversation

On Sat at 3:15 pm (same week), Mike sent this out.

Hope your weekend’s going great and that you’ll join us at Magnolia Church tomorrow morning at 9:30 or 11:00!
Pastor Montia will be sharing a message called “How to Start Over.”
Programs available for
Birth-12th grade at 9:30 and Birth-6th grade at 11:00.
Hope to see you there!

Then, he waited a week and on Monday of the following week, his contacts received this message.

Hey [First Name], our staff will be praying together tomorrow morning.
Anything we can pray for you or your family about?

Notice the personalization with ‘first name’. Gives the human touch.

Notice, too, how Mike is varying the days and the times, just like real people do…not a text at the same time on the same day of each week.

This third text message got amazing results.

Instead of just one or two reply texts, as usual, Mike got 12 in the first few minutes. That’s a 600 percent increase.

Mike’s initial contact got him everyone’s mobile phone number so he could text them. His first two messages started the conversation and the relationship so that the third message could make a powerful impact.

Mike continued the conversation.

The following Tuesday at 1:30 pm, everyone got:

Have your kids checked out Wednesdays at Magnolia Church yet?
We’ve got incredible programs for kids and students
from 6:30p-8:00p. Hope to see you there!

And then the following Wednesday at 4:15 pm, they received:

[First Name] – Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving tomorrow!
Join us Sunday at Magnolia Church at 9:30 or 11:00
As we kick off “Christmas at the Movies”!

In other words, he maximized his time and reached out to EVERYONE who attended the block party with an automated messages campaign.

(And now that he has that automation, he can use it again as is whenever he wants to or copy and tweak it for new events.)

Future next steps with this group?

Mike is well set up for the 4th C: Conversion—the step-by-step process which takes guests on a journey from guests, to friends, to family.

Mike sent quite a few texts. He can track who responded, who turned up to invitations, who didn’t. From there, Mike can decide to keep the group together or split them into two or more groups, depending upon the type of nurture that each contact needs.

Since PastorsLine has put Mike’s contacts into a segmented list (or group), he can circle back to these contacts whenever he likes, inviting them personally to his church’s upcoming events.

What’s the AI – personal touch balance?

Some churches want only the personal touch. Unfortunately, this tends to burn out or doesn’t reach everyone.

Others want to set up AI systems and think they will work effectively without some personal interaction. However, at the moment, complete AI lacks the human touch and thus, is not the most practical.

The most effective combination is automated communication to reach everyone, with human follow-up as needed.

For the majority, the automated message will be enough. So, human follow-up can be used for maximum effectiveness as needed.

We can see that in Mike’s example: The people who replied were the people who needed the human touch. Now, Mike had enough time to get back to each person and engage with them personally.


To read more about the 4 C’s, click here.

Are you interested in seeing an exponential increase in your first-time guest response rate?
Yes, take me to the free, $0 for 30 days trial.
Not yet, but I’d like to know more about texting in churches.

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