Connecting with “Prospects”

Church Wellness

Now, in this series on “Rethinking Membership Development,” we come to “Prospects.”

These are a critical stage between “Touches” and “Leads.” (To refresh your memory, here are links to parts One and Two.)

First, a reminder: we are pursuing these concepts because the old paradigm — people walking through the church door on Sunday morning looking for a place to worship — stopped working fifty years ago. You simply cannot count on a sufficient flow of visitors to replace members lost to normal attrition. And you certainly cannot grow.

If “touches” are the many thousands whom your church touches in any way, “prospects” are touches whom you stimulate to take some interest in who you are as a faith community and what you do, especially in mission and ministering to people. Take it as a given that, at this point, they aren’t the least interested in how you worship, the traditions you observe, who presides at your altar, the quality of your facilities, or your history. If that’s all you have to tell them, you are lost.

Touches knows you exist, perhaps as the place where their children attend preschool. Those connections have little overtly to do with God. Your next step is to make the connection between what they know of you and your mission and ministry. This isn’t a time to go straight to faith commitments. Rather, they need to know that you offer, say, a preschool because you value children. The school isn’t just a tenant; it is integral to your mission.

You also want to convey that you value the community you serve. You aren’t trying to drive people to Sunday worship, where you will score with them. Rather, you want them to know that this community is your home, it’s where your pastor lives and your members are volunteer firefighters, Red Cross donors, and school teachers. If schools are in need, you will be there. If a fire happens, your people will be there with food and shelter. If homeless or indigent needs emerge, you will respond.

In your communications with touches, you avoid the temptation to announce upcoming worship events or church business — what do they care? Instead you tell stories about small examples of grace. You ask touches to help, perhaps by bringing a pair of socks to a collection point. It’s low-key, authentic, and human.

It requires a delicate touch and cannot be institutional or prideful. Your goal is to provide numerous ways to connect without any risk of being pressured to join. Bring lasagna to thank firefighters, or ask for a copy of the white paper you just published on raising kids in a two-income family.

You are building connections but not trying prematurely to close the sale. Prospects aren’t “trying you out.” They are discovering their own interest in caring.

For any of this to work, your church must be doing things that matter. Not just gathering for Sunday worship, but actively serving the community, showing faith in action. If your church is active only one day a week, your first challenge is to do more — a lot more.

Remember: people who eventually come close to you won’t be drawn by worship. Get used to that. Worship has faded as the congregation’s attractor.

About the Author Tom Ehrich

Tom is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the publisher of Fresh Day online magazine, author of On a Journey and two national newspaper columns. His website is Church Wellness – Morning Walk Media

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