For most pastors it’s no secret that focusing your outreach efforts on a single Sunday can lead to a large turnout for that specific event. For as long as I can remember, special days like ‘Friend Day’ (or what I recall them calling it when I was a little kid, ‘Fill a Pew Day’) always meant there were a lot of new faces at church. There are a variety ways to really engage your people and have a great crowd when you are emphasizing one day for everyone to go all out and invite their neighbors, chat up their co-workers and strongly encourage their reluctant family members to join them at church. That special day is full of energy as your church is buzzing with excitement over a full parking lot, extra babies in the nursery and guests joining in the worship gathering. But what happens the following week, when your big Sunday is over? How can you sustain the energy and growth your church just experienced? With some careful planning and preparation, a big day focused on inviting others can catapult your church into even bigger, lasting relationships. Following are three practical ideas that you and your team can implement to help your special Sunday lead into dynamic growth.

  1. Make Prayer the Foundation. Seeking God together as a church helps us align with what He is already doing in our community and leads us to act with clarity and boldness. However, one of the missteps often made when it comes to prayer and special events is to make the prayers about the event itself. When you are leading your church to focus their prayers, help them to look both before and beyond the big day. Remind them that the special day you are planning is one link in a long chain of what God desires to do in the lives of people in your neighborhood and in the life of your church.Here are three encouraging ways to help your people focus their prayers. Prayers like these will lead them to begin seeing the bigger picture of what God is doing:
    • “Give us your eyes, Lord” – Long before your special invitation event, ask God to help you see what He sees in your community and in your relationships. This helps create an attitude of expectation and the Spirit will begin to help you identify opportunities to share God’s love and extend an invitation.
    • “Give us your courage, Lord” – Many times we do not engage in a spiritual conversation with a friend or classmate because we are uncomfortable. Praying for boldness will lead us to speak in those moments when our eyes have been opened.
    • “Give us your heart, Lord” – God’s desire is not for people to show up on a particular Sunday to your church. God’s desire is to for people who are far from Him enter into a personal relationship with Him where they can experience true peace, unmatched love and grace-filled forgiveness. One of the great ways God has chosen to help people come to Jesus and grow in Jesus is through personal relationships with friends. Pray that God will lead you into new friendships with those who are new to your church, encouraging them to return and become a part of your church family. Ask God to help you and the rest of your church step into disciple-making relationships as the opportunities arise.
  2. Prepare for Guests. Keep in mind that you are not just having visitors show up on your special day, you are having guests join you. There’s a big difference. The young woman who knocks on your door to share with you the newest internet offering from your local cable company is a visitor. The family you invite from your office to a Saturday barbecue in your backyard are guests. How do you prepare for guests at your home? Likely you make sure your home is tidy and presentable. You hang those special towels in the hall bathroom that no one in your family are ever allowed to use. You put fresh sheets on the guest bed. You have stopped by the store earlier in the week to pick up extra ice, drinks and food so no one misses out. Laundry is not spilling out of the clothes hamper. The kitchen sink is empty of dirty dishes. You have given your guests clear directions to find your home. You are ready to greet them with a smile when they arrive, in spite of the argument you refereed between your 13 year old daughter and 9 year old son just minutes before.Your church should be prepare for guests as well. Clear signage to provide direction, both outside and inside the church. Pleasant people greeting guests as they enter. A tidy and presentable place where the feel welcomed. A nursery and children’s area that gives them confidence their kids will be well cared for and safe. Guests should feel as if you were expecting them, not as if they are intruding. By helping your team prepare to welcome new guests to your church—mentally, emotionally and physically—you will help ensure a positive experience and earn the opportunity to invite them into a deeper relationship with your faith community.
  3. Invite them to Experience More. This may seem obvious but I have been surprised over the years at how often this is overlooked. Pastors, church leaders and volunteers invest so much time and energy into the big day that they begin treating it as the destination, when it truly is just the first step of a long journey. You should never host a Big Day event at your church without having a variety of opportunities to which you can invite your guests. These encourage your guests to take their next step and experience something more. This definitely includes introducing them to the hope of Jesus through songs, shared practices and the Gospel message, but a wise church will provide additional ways for newcomers to connect. Consider including some of these opportunities for your guests: 
    • Invite Guests to a New Sermon Series – Make time to share about a new sermon series that you have prayerfully planned which will really connect with your guests. For many, this might be the first time ever, or at least the first time in a long time they have been to church. Give them a taste of what is coming up in a way that encourages them to want to learn more. Even better, let your special day be the first day of your series and invite them to come back the next week for part two.
    • Highlight Upcoming Ministry Activities for Different Groups – Think of the distinct groups of people that will be attending your special day. They might be women, men, parents, married couples, singles, children, teenagers, Boomers, Millennials… the list could go on. Now, what events or activities are coming up in the life of your church that would provide these specific groups a place to connect? Do you have a marriage retreat scheduled? A mission trip? An event for kids? A father-son campout? Do you have a weekly gathering for college-aged students? Do you have a ministry for parents of preschoolers? Make sure these are well promoted so that your guests can naturally see a place for them to begin getting better acquainted with the people who call your church their home. Keep in mind that some of your regular ministry activities might be obvious to you but not even be on the radar of someone visiting for the first time. Spell it out, over communicate and help them find a place where they can begin to build relationships.
    • Provide Opportunities for Prayer – I have seldom run into anyone who does not appreciate having their needs lifted to God in prayer. I have friends who have never stepped foot into a church ask me to pray for an issue or need someone in their family is struggling over. Provide a safe place where guests can talk with someone about their prayer needs. This is a perfect way to get to know them better and demonstrate your church cares for them. It is a wonderful way to bless them by listening to their heart and sharing time with them as, together, you connect to God. It is also a wonderful blessing to you!
    • Guide Guests to Take Their Next Steps – When guests have come to your special day and have genuinely sensed the goodness of God’s presence and God’s people, they often want to learn more. Each of the three opportunities above give them a great way to take their next step, but growing churches take this concept further by providing a single point of contact to help newcomers hone in on what that next step specifically looks like. Invite guests to visit a designated area where they will be welcomed at the close of your big day. Let guests know this is a place where church leadership will be present to meet them, hear their story, answer any questions they might have and help them find a meaningful next step. This could be a spot in the lobby of your church that is well marked and easy to find. Have leaders there that are friendly, encouraging and helpful. You might consider giving them a gift in appreciation of them coming to your special day. Definitely connect them to upcoming ministry activities that align with their stage in life, interests and needs. A great practice is to invite each guest to a ‘get-to-know-you’ event you have planned in advance. At this event, they can get a better understanding of the vision, leadership and culture of your church.

Big days are so much fun and can be so powerful for your church. But if you really want to make a lasting impact on your community for Christ, you need to allow your big day to become a catalyst for an even bigger year. Working with your leadership team and your entire church body, intentional planning and heartfelt focus can make this a reality. Don’t just have a big day, but lead your people to create an environment where they are ready to journey with newcomers when God makes a big, lasting difference in their lives.