Connecting the Invitation and the Response

By Allen White

What if the difference between success and failure lies in the few steps between the auditorium and the lobby? That’s what I witnessed about a year ago. The much beloved responsefounding pastor of a multi-site, megachurch invited his congregation to open their homes and invite their friends to join them for a six week study the church had produced. The curriculum was awesome. The pastor did the teaching. The topic was relevant. It was a sure thing, but don’t be so sure.

At the close of the service, the pastor made an impassioned appeal for his members to take the next step and start their own group. But, it wasn’t just one next step, it was 20-30 next steps out to the lobby. That evening a crowd of 1,000 adults netted 18 groups. All of our hearts sank.

The pastor had said the right words. He was presenting the right offering at the right time. The church was familiar with small groups. Why the poor result?

Over the years, I’ve seen great messaging become ineffective simply by the distance between the invitation and the response. The best curriculum, the strongest leadership or even the most carefully crafted appeal can all unravel in a matter of minutes if the wrong step is given in recruiting group leaders. A few simple nuances can net a profound effect.

At that church, we made a quick change. Rather than prospective group hosts responding by signing up in the church lobby after the service, the new next step involved no steps at all. The response was simply to take out a card and sign up right there in the service. The cards were collected at the end of the service. The result went from 18 groups to 248 groups in less than 24 hours. The final result over the next three weeks was 1,100 new groups across all of their campuses.

I am convinced most people only think about church when they are sitting in church. Any effort to send people to the lobby or God forbid send them home to sign up on a website simply does not work. By the time well intended church members hit the threshold on Sunday morning, their stomachs have raced to lunch and their minds have raced to evacuating the premises as soon as possible. The moment has gone.

The closer you connect the invitation to the response, the better the response. If the invitation is made in a service, then collect the response in a service. If the same invitation is made by a video email at midweek, then collect the response in the email. By simply providing a link in the email, a willing member can click the link and sign up to start a group right on the spot.

In a perfect world, church members would go home, login to the church’s website, and sign up electronically. No fuss. No sign up cards. No data entry. Simple. That world does not exist. To send someone from the service to the lobby or to their computer to sign up is equal to making no invitation at all. The reverse is also true. To send an email midweek asking for a response the following Sunday is just wasted megabits.

Think like the people who sit in your rows.

  • What’s available to them in their row?
  • Is there a response card or do you create a card?
  • Do they have a pen?
  • Who will collect the cards? Are they placed in the offering, collected at the end of the service, or handed to an usher on the way out?
  • Maybe pen and paper doesn’t cut it. What else do they have? What about their cellphones? Can they send a text to a designated number (not yours!)?
  • When you send an email invitaiton, can they fill out a survey or a web form?

Missed opportunities occur when you can’t adequately collect the response. These thoughts may seem elementary. They may seem unnecessary. You may feel you are getting a good enough result from how your collecting responses now. Or are you?

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  1. #1 by Carolyn Taketa on November 6, 2013 - 11:57 pm

    Allen, I agree with your principle in making the response as easy and direct as possible. However, we used to collect signup cards in the service but found that the “stick rate” of people who actually followed through by showing up in a group was low. So we intentionally moved sign ups to the lobby in order to give people a small step (or 20-30 steps) to increase ownership of their process…plus they get to talk to a smiling face who can answer Qs and address concerns. This has definitely increased the yield of people actually following through but we would still like to see that number increase. Any other suggestions?

  2. #2 by Allen White on November 7, 2013 - 8:25 pm

    Carolyn, I agreed. This is what happens when I go all “Ben Reed” and try to write a blog post in 15 minutes. I have updated this post. My point was about invitation and responses for recruiting group leaders/hosts, not group members. I am strongly AGAINST sign up cards for connecting members to groups. Read more here: http://allenwhite.org/2011/09/20/the-case-against-sign-up-cards/

  3. #3 by Carolyn Taketa on November 7, 2013 - 11:51 pm

    Ahhh… The perils of “going ben reed” when you are not actually Ben. 🙂 thanks for the clarification Allen!

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