Increasing First-Time Guests: 3 Questions To Expand The Front Door Of Your Church


Back door

Today’s post is written by Tony Morgan, Founder of The Unstuck Group.

By Tony Morgan:

Nearly every church leader I know is concerned with “closing the back door” at his or her church. But I’ve found the “front door” is usually the bigger issue.

A few years ago, Connexus Church invited me to lead the team through the Unstuck Process

Carey was in the middle of handing off the lead pastor role to Jeff Brodie and working through a well-prepared succession plan. 

There was a light bulb moment during our time together I can’t get out of my mind. The Connexus team was sharing the number of new guests they were seeing on average, and it became clear: 

There weren’t enough.

The church was seeing growth, but not at the pace they wanted. 

Jeff said they came into that planning time thinking they had a “back door” problem. One simple metric helped them see it was the opposite:

To see growth, you’ll need more new guests each year than your total average attendance on a Sunday.

To see growth, you’ll need more new guests each year than your total average attendance on a Sunday. -@tonymorganlive Click To Tweet

Jeff says they probably needed twice as many new guests as they were seeing.

The reason this interaction sticks with me isn’t about that metric. I’ve had a similar conversation with many pastors. 

It’s about what Jeff and the team at Connexus did next.

They went all-in on becoming a church that’s passionate about seeing their friends, neighbors, and colleagues experience the regeneration and redemption Jesus brings. 

Few are willing to do the heart work they did to cast a new vision for loving their neighbor—and a few years later, they’ve seen their number of new guests sky-rocket. 

(You can listen to a conversation I had with Jeff about everything they did in Episode 97 of The Unstuck Church Podcast. I’ll go out on a limb and promise that it will inspire you.) 

It takes intentionality to reach people outside the church and outside the faith. The natural tendency of every church is to become inward-focused over time.

Does your church have a front door problem? If so, I’d encourage you to process these three questions together with your leadership team.

It takes intentionality to reach people outside the church and outside the faith. -@tonymorganlive Click To Tweet

1. Who should we be reaching?

You need a clear picture in your mind of who in your community God has called you to reach. You may find it helpful to liken this process to becoming an overseas missionary. 

Who is in your mission field?

If we entered a foreign land, we would want to determine who is in the region, their needs and then design a ministry strategy to reach those people with the Gospel. 

With this in mind, I’d encourage you to engage a conversation with your leadership team to identify who your church should be focused on reaching. 

To navigate this conversation, you can ask these key questions:

  • Who is in our community? Use available demographic information to identify who lives in your region and what trends are shaping your community.
  • Of those people, who are we trying to reach? How old are they? What’s their spiritual background? What’s their current life stage? You can also gain focus by identifying their primary occupation, ethnicity or education level.
  • What’s important to them? Put yourselves in their shoes. What are the key questions they’re asking? What are their primary needs? What do they value?
  • How does our strategy approach address what’s most important to them? Does what your church offers help address these priorities?

This is the same exercise any missionary of Jesus would engage. I’m challenging you to become that missionary in your community.

At The Unstuck Group, we’ve learned that the more clarity churches have about who they are trying to reach, and the more intentionality in ministry strategy churches have to reach them, the more likely the church is to reach a broad cross-section of their community. 

The reverse is not true. 

When there’s no intentionality or, in some cases, total disregard for who the church should be reaching, the church struggles to reach its community and very few people are saved.

You need a clear picture in your mind of who in your community God has called you to reach. -@tonymorganlive Click To Tweet

2. How do we reach them?

I wish there were an easy answer to that question. 

What I’ve learned, though, is that you can’t program your way to health and the ability to reach new people. In other words, starting an evangelism program and conducting evangelism training won’t fix this issue. 

Instead, the church must focus its entire ministry strategy on reaching people outside the church and then helping people become disciples of Jesus.

If, for example, you want to reach a diverse group of dechurched, millennial, young adults in your community, then everything you do must reflect that focus.

  • Your worship services must be designed with that person in mind. 
  • Your discipleship strategy must be designed with that person in mind. 
  • Your nursery environment must be designed with that person in mind. 
  • Your physical space and your online strategy have to be designed with that person in mind.

In other words, you have to become a church for diverse, dechurched, millennial young adults to reach diverse, dechurched, millennial young adults. 

You can’t create a program or a separate class or separate worship service, especially if it’s not at a prime-time hour, and expect to reach them. Most people don’t like to be segregated like that.

By the way, I do think a compelling weekend service is critical to reaching whoever you identify in your community. 

The primary way people will end up connected to your church is if those in your church invite their friends and family members. Creating compelling environments, including worship services, will help fuel those invites. 

The primary way people will end up connected to your church is if those in your church invite their friends and family members. -@tonymorganlive Click To Tweet

3. Are we winning or not?

Let me share some data from Gary McIntosh and Charles Arn in their book What Every Pastor Should Know: 101 Indispensable Rules of Thumb for Leading Your Church. These are some key metrics you can track to determine whether or not you have a healthy front door:

  • If the church is growing, you’ll need more first-time guests each year than you have people in your total average attendance. In other words, a growing church of 500 will need more than 500 first-time guests in a year.
  • The typical growing church sees 20% of first-time guests become part of the church.
  • Growing churches see nearly 40% of second-time guests become part of the church.
  • Close to 60% of people will become part of the church after their third visit.

As you can see, the odds of someone becoming part of the church increase dramatically if we can encourage them to come back for a second and third visit. 

The first thing we should be inviting every first-time guest to do is to come back next Sunday.

The first thing we should be inviting every first-time guest to do is to come back next Sunday. -@tonymorganlive Click To Tweet

One of the reasons why you may have a front-door problem is that you’ve never tracked the number of first-time guests to know if you’re winning or not. 

Setting a target and then monitoring your progress will challenge your team to become more intentional about developing a comprehensive strategy for reaching people outside the church and outside the faith.

After getting clear about the front door problem at Connexus Church and rolling out a compelling vision and engaging the congregation, Jeff and team have seen the number of new guests grow by 70% several years in a row.

I talked at length with Jeff in Episode 97 of The Unstuck Church Podcast about the creative approach Connexus took, and he shared a number of books he read and stories of seeing his church come alive as they began investing in relationships with their neighbors like never before. 

I encourage you to listen. 

That story re-energized our whole team at The Unstuck Group. We love seeing more people encounter the love of Jesus as the Great Commission is carried out through unstuck churches.

First-time guests are just the start


Getting a church growing or helping a church that’s reaching new people grow even further can seem daunting.

It doesn’t have to be.

Whether you’re a church that isn’t growing, has plateaued, or whether you wish your church was growing faster than it is, I’d love to help you breakthrough. That’s why I created the Church Growth Masterclass.

The Church Growth Masterclass is everything I wish I knew about church growth when I got into ministry more than 20 years ago.

The Masterclass includes a complete set of videos that you can play with your team, board or staff, PDF workbooks that will help you tackle the issues you’re facing, and bonus materials that will help you navigate the most pressing issues facing churches that want to reach their cities today.

You can learn more and gain instant access to the course today.

What about your team?

Are you willing to go all-in on becoming a church that treats your community like your mission field? 

Increasing First-Time Guests: 3 Questions To Expand The Front Door Of Your Church


  1. Phillip A. Baker on September 21, 2019 at 7:10 pm

    If you want an organization, seek his wisdom.
    If you want a church that reflects the missio Dei, seek His wisdom.

  2. Vince David on September 18, 2019 at 11:11 pm

    Some rather eye opening insights that are worth pondering and emulating. Thank you so much.

  3. David Johnson on September 18, 2019 at 10:07 am

    We know our demographics. We have both baby boomers and SUV families. Our problem is how do we reach them?
    I read your article about designing around your target. But even our targets have changing attitudes. But it is difficult to know how to structure for two diverse groups. Particularly when you live in a once rural now suburban area where baseball beginning at the age of 5 is governing the lives of these families. Tournaments fill weekends. Including Sunday mornings.
    We have two worship services. One traditional and one Blended that has elements of traditional Methodist worship and contemporary songs. Even taking the hymns and updating them. We just can’t discover the strategy that works.

    • Chris on September 19, 2019 at 11:02 am

      Baby boomers and Suv families are two completely different targets. Baby boomers are heading toward retirement fast. Suv families are changing diapers and heading to soccer practice with kids. When the post referenced being focused on a target such as being the diverse millennial church to reach the diverse millennials.. You have to choose one focus and lean into it with all your methods. Having traditional and blended ( a little less tradtional) sounds like your focus is keeping the old methodist happy not putting 100% into trying to reach a new demographic. You have to pick if your church is going to meet the target group’s culture or are you going to be the church that reaches less due to being a church that tries to on-ramp people into a past church style type of culture.

      For the SUV families: Are you willing to have smaller services at all different times to work around sports calendars? Are you going to have sermons that help people feel like your giving them something to live out this week at work and in their family life? Are you willing to make the kids programs so engaging that the kids demand they go to church? Are you going to help them build friend groups in similar stages of life? Are you willing to change all methods to make sure this group of people feels like this is a perfect place for them to keep investigating if faith? Is the music they hear going to be the type of music they would want stuck in their head later in the week? Is the teaching going to sound like a Bible class at college or a TED talk?

  4. Trudy on September 18, 2019 at 6:55 am

    Our church seems to be in a chronic pattern of growth and decline, growth and decline, but the bigger issue seems to be that even when we are growing we are seeing conversions to Christ merely conversions to our flavor of Christianity. Any thoughts on what the root cause of this might be.

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