Two big days a year dominate the church calendar. Of course, every service matters. Eternities hang in the balance every week. But attendance spikes on Christmas and Easter. Casual church attendees (your “Lily and Poinsettia Christians”) are more likely to fill your pews for those services than others.
For years, I’ve heard church leaders call Easter and Christmas the “Superbowls” of the church year. But it’s not true. Sure, those two days are incredibly important for any church that wants to engage new people with the gospel message. But it’s what happens after these services that really changes eternities—and eventually entire communities.
You can fill up your church on Christmas. Many make important spiritual decisions. But if they never show back up at your church, lasting life change likely won’t happen.
That’s why you need a follow-up strategy for Christmas this year. Of course, a good follow-up strategy has many layers to it, but marketing/communications has to be a big part of any plan.
How the Game Is Changing for Churches
The problem with most church follow-up communication plans is that they don’t take into consideration how people make decisions in today’s digital era. A generation or two ago, when people showed up at your church, they gave you the benefit of the doubt. You were the church. They may not have believed what you believed, but they generally thought you had their best interests in mind. Today 41 percent of Americans simply don’t trust organized religion. That’s a huge chunk of the unchurched crowd you want to reach.
Also, with the explosion of digital content available today, your post-Christmas messages tend to get pushed aside. People encountered five times as much information daily in 2011 as they did in 1986, just 25 years later. The month just after Christmas is particularly packed with all sorts of messages flying into minds of the people you want to engage. They’re trying to get the kids readjusted to school. They’re taking their first shots at New Year’s resolutions (like getting fit and dealing with debt). Your messages often go to the end of line.
That’s where inbound marketing can help.
Inbound marketing, which is used by many of the most profitable companies in the world, is designed to break through the noise that crowds out your messaging and gradually build trust with your community. I won’t go into all the details about how inbound marketing can impact your church and how you can implement it. I did all of that in my free ebook: The Definitive Guide to Inbound Marketing for Churches.
But I believe the inbound marketing principles I described in that ebook can particularly help you develop a relationship with your community as you follow up with them for Christmas. Here are four steps to a Christmas follow-up strategy that will help you turn more of your visitors into regular attendees:
1. Determine Your Goal
You may have multiple goals for your Christmas follow-up inbound marketing plan. Maybe you want people to return to your worship service. Maybe you want to get people plugged into your small groups. Maybe you want to grow generosity. Any of those—or frankly, all of those—are worthy marketing goals. But you need to clearly lay them out before you start creating content. Your goal will determine which persona and which call to action you’ll focus on.
This post will assume you’re trying to assimilate new visitors from Christmas into the life of your church, but remember you have many other options to choose from. Don’t be afraid to try multiple goals. Realize you’ll need different campaigns for each goal.
2. Clarify the Persona(s) You’re Engaging
A persona is simply a marketing term that describes the kind of people you’re trying to reach. Sure, you want to reach everyone. But if you target no one specifically, you’ll reach no one. Think about the people your church would reach most effectively. If you need help honing in on this, check out our free worksheets designed to help churches develop personas.
3. Create a Compelling Offer
This part of the process will likely take you the most time, but it’s important. Take your time on it. Get started now. Your offer is something valuable you provide in an exchange for email addresses. You want an offer that’s helpful (or even entertaining) to whatever persona you’re trying to reach. It takes a lot these days for people to give you their email addresses. According to a Barna survey, the only piece of information a sizable majority of Millennials want to give your church is their first name!
Many churches have been subtly doing this for years. They’ve given away a coffee mug or a Bible or a packet with a variety of trinkets to guests who turn in contact info at a welcome desk. We’ve called them welcome gifts, but we give them out in exchange for contact information.
If that’s working for you, keep it going. If not, look for something new to entice people to give you contact information. Tie it to your Christmas offering since that’s your connection with your guests. Create an ebook that takes attendees deeper into the topic. Create a list of 100 ways for attendees to apply the message to their everyday lives.
Be creative. Be helpful. Be engaging. Remember, people are less likely than ever to give you contact information.
4. Write and Automate a Series of Emails
Now take those email addresses you’ve collected and build a series of emails designed to introduce your Christmas guests to other aspects of your church. Prepare a series of four emails that your guests would find helpful and engaging. Make sure each email has a call to action (and only one call to action). Send them out weekly.
Use a conversational tone in your writing. To test this, read each email to yourself when you finish. If it doesn’t sound like something you’d say to a friend, it’s probably not conversational enough. Also, make sure each email is addressed to the person’s name and comes from a specific person at the church. Keep your persona (or personas) in front of you as you write the emails so you make sure you have those people in mind first.
You could take a few different angles with the topics of these emails, but try a set of four like this:
- Welcome them. Make this email as simple and basic as possible. Express your appreciation for the person attending the service, introduce yourself, tell them you’ll send them additional information about the church, and let them know they can reply to the email with any questions. Make sure, in just a sentence or two, that you assure them you won’t spam their email. They’ll get three emails from you and can choose whether they want any additional contact from you. Then, as a call to action, provide a link to a video of your pastor inviting them to return to the church for the start of your next series. You’ll want this email to go out just a couple of days after the Christmas service.
- Tell the story and vision of the church. Your church has a story, vision, and a set of beliefs that likely make it distinct from others. Tell this story in a quick and conversational manner. Share your vision for engaging the community. Then, send your readers to your website for a simple and friendly description of your church’s basic beliefs.
- Share about your church’s opportunities for service and community. Briefly describe your most significant entry points into service and community. For many churches, that’s your small groups. Provide a link at the end of the email that sends people to a place where they can register or sign up for one of these small groups or ministries.
- Invite them into a long-term relationship. A fourth email can then tell them about your weekly email newsletter. Let them know what kind of information they can expect in your newsletter and give them a chance to sign up. Make sure they know that if they don’t sign up for the newsletter, you won’t send them any more emails. This lets them know you value the trust they put in you when they gave you their address.
Use a free email automation software like MailChimp to automate the email distribution process.
Your follow up with your Christmas guests will make or break your effectiveness during the holidays. Like I mentioned earlier, a follow-up strategy is about more than marketing and communications.