3 Reasons Visitors Never Come Back

Have you ever wondered why someone who visits your church one Sunday doesn’t come back the next Sunday?

You walk in to the sanctuary after Sunday school Sunday morning. Half way down the left side there is a family you’ve never seen before sitting in a pew intently studying the weekly bulletin. No other church member is sitting with them. You wonder who they are and why they’ve come to church this morning. Finally you decide that maybe pastor invited them. So, you continue on to your unofficially assigned pew.

During the time of fellowship you walk over, shake hands, and say good morning to the visitors. You notice that they are still sitting alone. However, you don’t ask their name, why they’re there, or if someone invited them. You don’t want to run them off on their first time visiting.

Next Sunday you notice they aren’t there. You ask your deacon if they know who the are. He didn’t. He assumed they were visiting someone. 

After asking a few more members you discover no one knows who they were or why they attended your church last Sunday, and you’re left wondering why they didn’t come back for a second visit.

Have you ever been in that situation?

Wondering why the visitors don’t come back?

It can be very uncomfortable to walk into a church on a cold call. And yet that is exactly what a lot of people searching for a church do. They walk in the doors of churches they haven’t been invited to, where no one is expecting them, and where they have no idea what to expect of the service itself.

Since my family has been visiting churches, on cold calls, I’ve found some valuable insight to how newcomers feel and why many of them don’t come back.


1. No One Connects With Them Personally

Now I know that most churches have greeters. It is nice to be greeted at the door with a smile, handshake and bulletin. However, while that may seem welcoming, it is still impersonal. 

I have been greeted many times in the past three months, and yet I can count how many times I’ve been asked my name or told someone else’s name. Even less than that number is the number of people who have asked why we are visiting. I’m not even sure if anyone has…maybe one.

No one has asked for our phone number or to take us to lunch after the service. 

Love God and love people. Jesus is a personal Savior. John 4 finds him meeting a Samaritan woman at a well. That conversation was a bit personal. He even bypassed the name exchange. He shared salvation, asked her to go get her husband, and then the conversation got real.

So, why do we sneak peaks from under our eyelashes at visitors in pews across the sanctuary? Offer them some water, discover their needs, and be the church!

2. No One Sits By Them During Service

Let’s be honest. Every church is different. Some congregations sit through the whole service. Some stand for all of worship. Some do an up and down thing cued by music. 

Most, have unofficial assigned pews. 

Then there are those special things, like offering and communion. Every church is different. 

No visitor wants to do the wrong thing and offend the church. Who is responsible for making sure your visitors have someone to coach them through the service. Be a Barnabas (Acts 9:27) to someone!

3. No One Follows Up With Them

You know those people who didn’t ask for my phone number? Well, they also didn’t invite me back for Sunday night service, Wednesday night Bible study, Sunday school next week, or to visit a small group. And since they didn’t get my contact information, well, they won’t be following up with me anytime this week, either.

Sure, many churches ask visitors to fill out a contact card and place it in the offering plate. Typically that results in a mailing of some kind thanking you for visiting and offering contact information if you’d like any other information about the church. Again, like the greeter, this is somewhat impersonal, and only a few will actually reach out to you for more information. 

There’s no face, no voice, no human to this contact. You acknowledged my presence, but you didn’t truly invite me into a community. I don’t feel welcome, I feel like a potential number.

If you want the visitors to come back, you have to ask them.

We might walk in your door by chance once or twice, but after that, the ball’s in your court. 

What can you do to ensure that a cold call visitor doesn’t leave cold?

Make sure someone actually talks to visitors the first Sunday they show up. There is someone in your congregation that has the gift of hospitality. Let them shine in this position. This person can find out how a visitor came to walk through your doors. They can introduce the newcomers to the way your particular church worships, make sure they are personally invited to the very next service, and follow-up at lunch or later that week to see if they had any questions or just find out what they thought about your church service. 

In all reality, what do you have to lose? 

Linking up with Fellowship Fridays

photo credit: disparkys via photopin cc


16 responses to this post.

  1. Hi,

    I have not been churchgoer for most of my adult life but since 2007, when I met my current husband, and his mother is a retired minister from the Salvation Army, I've realized how different is the Salvation Army in the UK with regards visitors. They truly ask them and they make them feel special.

    I married on that Church, my wedding was part of the Sunday Church service and my guests, felt so great and all loved the service as always includes children.

    That is so different from the Catholic Church I was used until the end of my teens.

    You are so right, make them feel welcome and sit with them!


  2. I think you're right and can be applied to many new group settings. I find it really hard to attend something new let alone come back a second time if no one made the time to say hello.


  3. True indeed. We have to be more welcoming to our visitors. One thing we try to emphasize at our church is putting yourself in the shoes of a visitor. Are we the kind of church that we would want to come back to visit and eventually join? That is a crucial question, because if the answer is no, then there is some work that needs to be done. You made good points throught. Thanks for this. Blessings to you!

    In Christ,


  4. Carrie, we are church 'shopping” too! Great points – every single one of them.

    A couple more I would add:

    4. Make sure your church website is up to date and that you HAVE a website. Seriously, I'm looking for key things (Youth ministry, active Women's Ministry, Youth Pastor) and if I don't see them we won't visit. If it's clearly out-dated that is cause for concern too.

    5. ALWAYS assume there are visitors in the crowd – take the time to explain things they may need to know. We went to a church a couple weeks ago that was having some kind of special weekend event with a visiting team – we still have no idea what exactly was taking place. Unfortunately they chose to use the sermon time to “thank” those who helped….no Word from God…though they clearly cared for one another and had a sweet spirit…

    May God clearly guide you in your church search, Cyndee


  5. Wow I found is very confronting, but thank you!
    I'll often say hello to new families but I don't usually get a number or ask to catch up with them during the week. I really need to get so much better than that. Thank you xx


  6. Liliana,

    I am so encouraged to hear that there are churches out there doing it “right”. It makes me sick to think of how many actually walk in a door once and then never come back because we dropped the ball.

    Thank you so much for dropping in again!!!


  7. Annaleis,

    You are exactly right! These same ideas could be applied to any group setting. I typically won't attend a group that I wasn't invited to. Church is different. My invitation is implied. However, a second invitation should actually be offered.

    Thank you so much for stopping by to chat! Please come back!


  8. John,

    Yay! I am encouraged to hear that churches are being intentional in their response to visitors. Thank you so much for adding your voice to our conversations! Please drop in again!!!!


  9. Cyndee,

    Welcome to my musings! I had to chuckle when I read your comment. I think I blogged about using websites, facebook, and google to find church start times earlier this month. 🙂

    And then your number 5, well, the church we attended this past Sunday did a Skype service with a missionary. However, they did fully explain what was going on! And there was reading from the word and at the end there was a time of testimony.

    We actually didn't intend to go looking for a “new” church. I was actually just taking a break from service. God has spoken something different to our family during this time of sabbatical, though.

    Praying that God leads you to the church He has already prepared for your family to serve in! Please come back to chat again! I'd love to hear how your search goes.


  10. Jess,

    I'm glad to hear God spoke to you as you read. I had a friend at my home church who was gifted in this area. She could meet a stranger and within minutes make them feel at home and have all of their pertinent information without seeming nosy.

    What I've learned from our experience is that once we settle somewhere I will make a specific effort to connect to visitors on a personal level. The first time they show up. That's what our walk is about. Learning and growing. I'm not there…but I'm willing to take some steps to get closer!

    Please come back to chat with us again soon!


  11. Something not mentioned is a common complaint I've heard: the same person greeting you Sunday after Sunday and they don't remember you. The first or second time is understandable- but if you've attended several times, their warm welcome ends up being insincere…and really leaves a bad impression.


  12. April,

    Ooohhh. Yuck. I haven't had that happen. Yet. But that would very much turn us off as a family. That really does show lack of care and concern for those who enter your doors. I would definitely take that as a sign that the church wasn't interested as having us as members.

    Please come back and chat again!!!


  13. 100% agreed – and with the comments as well. I always make a concentrated effort to make new comers (and old timers as well) feel welcome. I know this is difficult for some people and because it is a 'gift' we need to be sure that someone in your church makes a point of doing it. I grew up in a pastors home and it was a policy to invite the new family or families to lunch right after church. We still do that and believe me — people remember that! What better way to make someone feel welcome than to break bread together.


  14. Posted by Anonymous on February 3, 2014 at 9:12 PM

    This is Donna
    My home church has grown so much I don't even know who is new or visiting. We do have a fellowship time after church and I do try to talk to someone who seems alone or uncomfortable each Sunday. Sometimes I have found out they have been coming for 6 months but I still think it is worth the effort. Better me an oldtimer being uncomfortable that a visitor. Thanks for the tips.


  15. Donna,

    I have been a member of two churches in my life and both have been small rural churches. Everyone knows everyone. However, since we have set out on our journey, we have been visiting churches of all sizes. I will say that no one has noticed us in a big church. That is not encouraging at all. So, I think for you to talk to people each Sunday is a GREAT thing. 🙂


  16. I'm not sure that I have the “gift”, but I do know if/when we settle into a church again that I will make a point to personally reach out to people in a way other than simply shaking their hands and smiling at them.

    Sometimes when we put ourselves in the literal shoes of someone else we can learn a lot. That's what we have been learning.


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