Mary Deckert

Mary Deckert has over 40 years’ experience in multiple communications and strategic functions including leadership, marketing, crisis management, creative and problem-solving roles in government and business (both private and public sectors); for-profit and ... read more


Plan Your Visit: More Than a Button on Your Website

At its core, Plan Your Visit is not just a button or an App you put on your website.  

It’s a ministry that’s an extension of your Guest Services. PYV is a strategic system for ensuring your church gets new visitors each and every week – and helps those visitors connect and become active members of your congregation.

The Impact of Plan Your Visit

Why is Plan Your Visit such a strong tool? It gives people the opportunity to schedule an appointment to visit your church ahead of time.  Plus, it eases first-time anxiety and the awkwardness of attending church for the first time in years – or even a lifetime.

But it does so much more than that – Plan Your Visit has the potential to have a huge impact on helping people assimilate into your church.  However, you must begin with the end in mind and reverse engineer the whole process.

The whole reason we do Plan Your Visit is assimilation and discipleship. At Chris’ church, 80% of people who planned their visit joined the church in three weeks rather than months or longer and they got plugged into systems and discipleship processes. 

That’s the power of Plan Your Visit – it gets people connected and speeds up the assimilation process! However, you need to implement the whole system for it to work.  It needs to be intentional.

What Does a Church Need to Start a Plan Your Visit Program?

Plan Your Visit is not a huge program that requires a lot of planning, training, or strategy. 

Basically, all you need are a couple of friendly people to meet guests at the front door.  If they’re truly “people people,” they know what to do. Extroverts love to meet new people – you don’t need to train them at all; just tell them to treat guests like they’d treat their new best friend who just showed up at church.

You can literally start it THIS WEEK without a lot of effort. All you need is intentionality.

How Do I Start Plan Your Visit at My Church?

The best way to launch Plan Your Visit at your church is legitimately to do it NOW! Ready, fire, aim! 

You’ll learn more from actually launching Plan Your Visit than you ever would by planning & studying it.

As Mark Twain once said, “The man who grabs the cat by the tail knows 80% more about the cat than the man who doesn’t.” 

Launch it this Sunday and figure it out as you go – you’ll be far more effective.

Here’s all you need to start:

  • Put Plan Your Visit on your website
  • Start running traffic to it (through Facebook ads, Google Ads)
  • Every time you have someone sign up for PYV, have one of your friendly members host them on Sunday morning
    • Grab someone who’s naturally friendly
    • Smiles all the time
    • Never met a stranger

And that’s it!  You’re set to start!

4 Stages of Plan Your Visit: The Framework

At its core, Plan Your Visit involves four parts – 

  • your website Landing Page, 
  • targeted Facebook ads,
  • the visit itself,
  • and a systematized extended follow-up. 

The basic components of each step are outlined below:

Step 1: Plan Your Visit Landing Page

Your Plan Your Visit Landing Page is, hands down, the most important part of the whole Plan Your Visit system. 

If you don’t have a landing page that converts, the whole thing will fail. How do you get a landing page that makes people take action?  Conversion psychology.

What do we mean by Conversion Psychology?

Basically, you speak directly to one person – get it into your head who that person is – a young mother, a single parent, an empty nester, etc. Who is your church’s target audience?

Let’s be real, your church is not for everyone, there’s no such thing as one size fits all, especially in 2022. Be specific about who you are targeting and connect with that profile on your landing page.

Just as important as focusing on one person, make sure you’re only saying one thing, one call to action only, and that is to get someone to plan their visit to your church.

Write in a style that creates an emotional connection with people so they take the next step to plan their visit.

How do you do that? Well, start by answering the questions everyone has about a church, namely, 

  • Who’s the pastor?
  • Who are the people? Will I fit in?
  • Will my kids be safe?

Remember, your Plan Your Visit Landing Page should be a place where people can go to learn more about your church. Be sure to include lots of pictures of smiling, happy people and a couple of videos of the pastor inviting them to check you out. 

Introduce people to your church and invite them to plan a visit and schedule an appointment by clicking below.  Make it a long page with at least 4 PYV buttons – so they see “Plan Your Visit Now” as they keep scrolling down – this reinforces that’s the way they visit your church.

Here’s another psychological tip: speak through people rather than to people.  Use pictures to describe what kind of church you are.

Here’s an example CMU created for Belief Church.

Keep in mind that on average, it takes 200-300 clicks on your landing page to get one Plan Your Visit.  That’s true for any organization, not just churches. You need to drive traffic to your website for this to be successful.

For other practical ways to increase the level of traffic to your website, check out the CMU Grow Program– it’s everything your church needs to Grow, including step-by-step instructions on how to build out a Plan Your Visit system!

Step 2: Targeted Facebook Ad

Once you’ve got your Landing Page up and running, it’s time to create a targeted Facebook ad.  (Hint: this is not a boosted post.) 

Create your ad using geotargeting only and put a pin on your church’s location. Then, extend it out to what you consider the local acceptable driving distance – most churches will be within 10-15 miles, rural churches may be 20-30 miles while urban churches (like New York City) may be just 1-2 miles.

Point being, select whatever is acceptable in your community. Then, extend your ad to everyone 18-65+ years old within your driving distance. Leave it wide open, do not do any more targeting.

Then, shoot a walking selfie video.  This video will become your invite ad.  Shoot it in vertical format – it’s five times more effective than horizontal formats.

The beauty of this system is that Facebook will optimize your ad to send as many people from your Facebook ad to your Plan Your Visit page!

Step 3: Plan Your Visit System/Framework

 It can be scary going to a new place and feeling like you’re an outsider! It’s our job to eliminate any anxiety a guest may have. We need to design the hosted experience we give them to be SIMPLE, EASY, and PERSONAL

The first thing is to make sure you answer the questions most first-time guests have in their minds. Things like: 

  • What time should I arrive?
  • Where do I park when I get there?
  • Where do I go when I get inside?
  • Can I trust them with my kids?
  • Do I feel welcome here?
  • Is there anyone like me here or do I feel like an outsider? (Diversity matters!)

It’s also important to understand that someone who schedules a visit is looking for an exceptional experience. Anyone can just show up to a new church. Someone who does research beforehand and plans their visit does so because they want to get the most they can out of their experience. 

It’s up to us to sweep them off their feet! This is our opportunity to lower the barrier of entry for people coming to church for the very first time.

So, easy and unintimidating is the name of the game. That means when you collect information from someone, only collect what you truly need – just their name and phone number, and possibly email.

Once they plan their visit, you need to reach out to them within 15 minutes of them filling out the form. And, send out a reminder text the night before the visit – that will result in 50% more people actually showing up because they know someone will be waiting for them the next day. 

Assign a host, again, one of your “people people” for each person or family that plans a visit.  Bonus points if you find someone in a similar season of life to be their host- you can look the visitor up on Facebook if you need to figure that out.

Have the host wait for them at the front door and help get their kids checked in. Give them a tour of the building pointing out all the major items – bathrooms, where to hang up coats, nursing mother’s room, sanctuary, coffee/fellowship area, etc.

Give them a free cup of coffee- you can even identify first-time visitors by giving them a specific color coffee cup – maybe red – so all your regular attendees can be friendly towards them.

Be sure to introduce them to key staff and volunteer leaders and make sure the Senior Pastor is one of them. Eight out of 10 people who meet the pastor on their first visit will come back for a second visit even if they had an awkward experience. Finally, save seats for them and sit with them in the service so they don’t feel like outsiders.

Whatever you do, DO NOT TREAT THEM LIKE VIPs – they are not Rock Stars. Instead, treat them like family or your best friend. 

Think of it like this – if someone you’ve spent years praying for finally comes to church, how excited would you be? Use that passion for Plan Your Visit folks.

Step 4: Follow Up System

If you’re getting visitors every single week but few of them come back for a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th visit, it’s probably because your follow-up system needs to be tweaked – or you need to automate one to make sure it actually happens. Most churches fail when it comes to following up with new visitors after their first visit.

It’s all about the follow-up – it is by far the MOST critical component. Make sure no one falls through the cracks no matter where they fall in the follow-up process. 

The most effective follow-up systems are set up for 8-12 weeks.

Pre-pandemic, the average person went to church 1.2 times per month (by comparison, the average person visits Starbucks 6 times/month).  

Church attendance is even less Post-pandemic; it’s really just a law of averages. You need to follow up for 12 weeks just to get them back in the door – and then continually invite them back.

If it sounds overwhelming, remember you can automate a system to do it for you, our top choice is Text in Church, but any system that automatically texts and emails will work. Don’t give up on guests – they will respond if you hang in there.

In a nutshell, your first follow-up is the day after they attended, is what we call the “Monday morning selfie video.”

Yes, a video – it gives them a personal connection and is best coming from the senior pastor.

Say something like, “Hey (name), thank you for coming, I hope you had a great time, we sure had a fun time getting to know you! It meant the world to us that you would take the time to visit us. We’d love to see you again, we have the same thing next Sunday, can you make it?”  Then have a second touch within 24 hours.

Always end the video with a question – it forces the continuation of the conversation. 

And make it as personal as you can.  Use their names at a minimum, that will create a connection. 

And a pro tip: hide a message to the kids, something like, hey, I’ve got some free candy and extra kids bucks for you next week – they will watch it multiple times!

Then, plug them into a long-term follow-up system. Text in Church has a great system for doing that automatically, but there are other options as well. Just make sure you automate it or it won’t happen. 

Don’t give up on your visitors – if you keep at it, they will respond eventually even if it’s months or a year later!!!

Ready to have us help you build your Plan A Visit System?

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