Having a low number of first-time guests may be evidence that your current attenders are not healthy, either. Tony Morgan, founder of The Unstuck Group has been studying and teaching churches about metrics for years. Here are a few practical steps to determine whether you have a front-door or a back-door problem at your church.

What numbers should we track?

First of all, 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 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 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.
Based on that information, your primary goal for first-time guests should be to get them to come back.


You don’t need them to jump all-in by connecting them to a group or a serving team or a Bible study after the very first visit. The odds of them making those connections substantially increase, though, after a second or third visit.

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How do you measure first-time guests?

I encourage churches to be proactively engaging guests as soon as they walk up to the building before services. Many churches have kiosks set up at their main entrances with signage that asks simply, “First time here?” That makes it obvious for first-time guests that they should start at the kiosk. That creates an opportunity to help point them in the right direction, and track the number of guests showing up.

Additionally, you can track guests by encouraging them to submit a connection card. Savvy churches will offer gifts in exchange for guests submitting a card. You can also track guests through kid’s check-in, giving, event sign-ups, etc. Simply thank them for taking that step and ask, When did you first connect with the church?

If that’s too difficult or too intrusive, at a minimum, start tracking new people in your database each month that make some sort of next step beyond your email list.

Is it really a back door problem?

Again, you want the total numbers of guests, including kids, over 12 months to exceed your weekly average attendance. If you can only get an adult count, you can extrapolate to a total guests count by adding a percentage for kids and/or students that reflects your weekly average.

I can tell you that I’ve worked with many churches that complain that they have a backdoor problem. They see new people every Sunday, and they assume people are coming to worship but they’re not taking next steps and they’re not sticking. Therefore, they assume they have a backdoor problem.

The reality, in many of these instances, is that their number of first-time guests as a percentage of total attendance is very low.

The reason why the church isn’t growing is because it has a front door problem. There aren’t enough first-time guests.

Are people inviting their friends?

And that brings me to another important statistic to remember. The number one reason people give for showing up to a service for the first time is because a friend invited them. In fact, when I’ve done the research, I’ve found that between 75 and 80 percent of people visit a church for the first time because of an invitation from a friend.

If your first-time guest numbers are lower than they should be, the obvious question you need to ask is this: Why have people stopped inviting their friends?

The easy thing to do, of course, would be to point the finger at people in your church and blame them for not being intentional about developing relationship and inviting friends to worship. What I’ve found, though, is that invitations happen naturally in churches that are very intentional about their weekend services. They create environments with teaching that produces life-change, engaging worship, creative service elements, intentional guest services, captivating children’s ministry and more. These churches couldn’t stop people from inviting friends if they tried.

If your church has plateaued or declined in attendance, do you know if you have a front door or back door problem? If your first-time guest numbers are much higher than your overall attendance but your attendance is still not growing, that’s a great indication that you have a back door challenge. If that’s the case, your first step is to consider your discipleship path. If you have a front door challenge, though, it’s time to focus on creating service environments that compel people to invite their friends.

Your first goal is to get your first-time guests to return. After they return, then - and only then - you want to help them get plugged into the life of your church. Use intentional steps to help your new guests become engaged attendees. Continue learning with a free copy of 7 Ways to Reach More People.Get Your FREE Book!

Find the original article "Does Your Church Have a Front Door or Back Door Challenge?" by Tony Morgan.