Bobby Williams on Leveraging Email to Follow Up with First Time Guests [replay]




Today’s podcast is a replay of one of our very first episodes because I think it’s important for leaders to wrestle with what this leader has to say. We’re launching a brand new course in unSeminary Premium called Email 201 … it’s all about leveraging email as a marketing and communications tool for your church. This interview is with a church leader who is already doing a lot on this front … listen up and learn!

Bobby Williams is the pastor of Ridge Community Church in Oak Ridge, TN. In this episode Bobby gives us insight into a new way of following up with First Time Guests at his church. He talks us through how he’s strategically using email to make sure guests at this church continue to feel welcome and keeps them coming back! This episode is über practical and is packed full is practical tips for churches of any size! Listen in for ideas you can put into action this week!

Bobby Williams // [twitter] [web]

Interview Highlights

01:35 // Bobby gives a history of Ridge Church.  How the last game of Chubby Bunny lead to the birth of a church.

02:50 // A recent problem Bobby faced in his ministry.

03:49 // A response to the problem of church shoppers.

04:40 // How the first time guest connection has changed at Ridge Church in the recent months.

05:39 // Ridge Church’s most personal step in the process of connecting with first time guests.

07:00 // How ‘InfusionSoft’ can help churches.

07:20 //  Bobby explains email sequencing.

07:40 // Ridge Church uses a 30 day email sequence to stay in front of first time guest.

08:30 //  Another email tool recommended by Bobby.

08:59 // What to say in the emails you send to first time guests (beside begging them to return.)

09:33 // The first point of contact email come directly from Bobby.

10:20 // A link to a short survey is included in the second email from Ridge Church.

10:51 // Bobby explains their goal of adding value to any email sent to a first time guest.

11:05 // Learn connection between Ridge Church and the atomic bomb

12:07 // The final emails in the sequence are designed to be valuable to people who have returned to church, or may have not yet returned.

12:50 // Rich recaps and reminds to be helpful in emails, not just spam people.

13:28 // What links get the most clicks….about ministries or meet the pastor?

13:52 // Best days to send emails.

14:30 // Other areas to apply email sequencing.

Lightning Round Highlights

Helpful Online Resource // Glassboard App

Books That are Having an Impact // Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church by Matt Chandler, Eric Geiger, Josh Patterson

Inspiring Leader // Matt Chandler

What does he do for fun? // Play with bug zappers, trout fish in waders, relax.

Check This Out // Free Resources from The Rocket Company to increasing giving at your church and improve your preaching.


First Time Guest Email Sequence [download PDF]
Bobby provided the 7 email sequence that Ridge Church uses with people who are new to their church. Feel free to edit it and use it at your church. We’d love to hear your feedback in the comment section!

Interview Transcript //

Rich – Alright, well welcome to the unSeminary podcast.  We’ve got a real treat today.  I think this is going to be one of those podcasts, that there’s going to be church leaders listening to this and you’re not even quite sure what you are going to learn today but you’re going to walk out saying ‘Man, we should totally do that in our church.”  Um, it’s a really simple tactic, but I think can have huge impact.  So I’m excited to have on the line today Bobby Williams from Ridge Church in Tennessee.  So thanks so much Bobby, for being on the show!

Bobby – Thanks Rich.  I really appreciate it man.  Love reading the blog and just excited to be here.

Rich – So glad.  So why don’t you tell us a little bit about Ridge Church, give us a sense of your role there, history of the church, all that sort of stuff.

Bobby – Sure, ya, we started Ridge Church in 2009 in Oakridge TN, which is right outside of Knoxville TN, a town of about 30 thousand or so people so medium sized town but we started 2009. I was about 12 years into student ministry and God told me to quit playing chubby bunny and start preaching the gospel to adults.  And I sorta wrestled with that for a while and finally told myself I needed to be obedient go God and so we planted Ridge Church in 2009 and it’s been a wild, fun, crazy ride ever since and I’m just really excited to see what continues to happen there.

Rich – Well all the best guys come out of student ministry, ya know.

Bobby – (laughing) That’s what I say.

Rich – We all just eventually sometime we think maybe we should do something different besides play chubby bunny.  So that’s great! Plus you and I, we seem to have the same barber.  The bald guys gotta stick together ya know. (laughing)

Bobby – That’s right man, I mean, I love it.

Rich – Nice, well why don’t you give us a sense, what’s been happening in your church that spurred a bit of change and made you say “Hey, we gotta make a difference here.”  What’s a problem that you’ve faced recently in your church?

Bobby – Sure, um, man we really had a tough time for a long time really, our church is about 4 years old, so for a good bit of 3 years we just could not figure out how to connect with first time guests that visited our church for the first time and connect with them in a way that would be beneficial to them, but also be beneficial to us, and that we just wanted to be able to stay in front of them, because a lot of people, especially in the south, and I’m sure it’s the up in NJ as well and all over the country, but people just, they church hop you know, they shop around, they church shop and we wanted to, and not only for them, but also for the unchurched, want to get in front of them, and keep Ridge Church on their minds after they came for the first time and so we couldn’t figure out how to do that, we struggled.  We did the first time guest gifts, we did hand written letters, email, a personalized email right to  them and that whole thing.  So we’ve done all of that and up until the last two or three months, had not found an effective way to stay in front of those people.

Rich – Ya, you know, we face that at our church, you know.  I’ve often said, our problem, I realize it’s not a high quality problem.  We don’t really have a problem getting people to come to church, that really isn’t our problem.  Our problem is getting them to stay, or to stick, ya know, we’ll have a lot of first time guests through.  We’ve done the, first time guest gift as well, a free T-shirt, we spend a lot of money on T-shirts every year.  What doest hat process look like?  How have you gathered information?  And tell us what you’ve done.  What’s happened in the last couple of months that has changed for you?

Bobby – Sure, we, again, we tried a lot of things, so one of the things that has helped us is that, we do, like a lot of churches do, we try to get as many people as possible to fill out a connect card, you know just to get their information from them, and so one of the things we’ve done to get that card from them is that we had them bring it to what we call “Ridge Central Information Area”.  And they drop that off there and pick up their gift there.  I think now we are giving away a Ridge Church coffee mug with some “Land of a Thousand Hills” coffee, that they can take with them and brew themselves. And so, we are giving that way to them now to our guests, and that seems to be going really well.  We’re having a great response from that, and so what we do after that is that we, I personally will hand write a thank you note to those guests and say “Hey, thank you for coming, so glad that you were here, I just wanted to let you know that I would love to meet you if I didn’t get a chance to on Sunday”.  And so, I’ll send those out on Monday, so those get to them on Tuesday, Wednesday, maybe Thursday at the latest. And then we wait for them to come back.  And so, it’s kind of like, that’s it, we don’t call people unless they put on their connect card that they want someone to call them or we’re following up with them for baptism or some other decision that they’ve made in the service.  And so we just kind of, you know, we’re like you, we don’t have a problem having guests show up.  We get first time guests all the time, every single week.  It’s getting them to come back, or getting them to stay.  What we did, I talked to a guy by the name of Michael Lukaszewski…… I probably butchered his last name

Rich – was going to say, I’m glad you said it, you know Michael the preaching rocket guy.

Bobby – Michael and i are friends so I can butcher his last name, and he’ll just make fun of me so that’s ok. (laughing)  So we talked to him.  He did a conference call for about 5 churches on a program called “Infusion Soft”.  Infusion Soft is a marketing software company that really helps out a lot of smaller companies and they’re trying to figure out how Infusion Soft can help churches.  And what they do is, they do a lot of different things, but one of the main things they do is, email sequencing.  And email sequencing, if you are in marketing, you know how this works, but in the church world I had no idea how this works really but it’s a simple as, a sequence of emails over a period of time that people will get to their email box.  And as I got to thinking about that, and talking to Michael and other church guys, we were like, man, what if we used this to get in front of our first time guests after they leave on Sunday.  And so we put together an email sequence that goes out over about a 30 day period to help us stay in front of those guests.

Rich – Wow, that’s cool.  Now that’s a fantastic idea.  Now give me a sense of what’s in those emails, you know, when’s the first one arrive, you know what are you saying beyond “Please come back, please come back”?

Bobby – (laughing) Ya, beside begging, we just, they get their first email Sunday afternoon.  We get their email address into the system, we use, we don’t use Infusion Soft.  It’s a great program but we use something that we are more familiar with so we use Mail Chimp.  It’s super inexpensive, I think we spend maybe $10 a month right now for Mail Chimp.  Infusion Soft, at this point is going to cost you around $200 a month which isn’t bad if you are sending a ton of emails Infusion Soft is fantastic, but for us, we use Mail Chimp. So, they’ll get that first email about 2 hours after we put them into the system, so probably somewhere around Sunday evening is when they’ll get that email and that’s just a “Hey, we’re so glad that you were here today.  Thank you for being at Ridge Church.”  And at the bottom of that we put, “If the message spoke to you in some way and you have a question”, we put a bottom on the bottom of that email, click this, and send us a email.  And it will give them an opportunity to send us an email.  So that’s the first email, and after that….

Rich – Just one second, so does the email come from a generic Ridge Church, or does it come from you specifically? I realize it’s not you, but does it look like it comes from you, or does it come from like an info@ email address?

Bobby – No it comes from my email address.

Rich – Great.

Bobby – I’ve got my email address on there, I put my name on it and it comes directly from me, and it’s personalized.  So it’ll say, you know at the beginning that person’s name, you know, at the beginning of the email.

Rich – Cool.

Bobby – Much like the ones that I get from you, every Friday (laughing).

Rich – Great, I send those to you personally Bobby.  Just you.

Bobby – I know. (laughing) Ya so, they’ll get that email and once they get that email, you know its just a short “Thanks for being here”.  About 2 days later, I think it is, maybe it’s a day later, but they’ll get an email that’s a link to a survey.  A really short 5 question survey that you know, just asks them to let us know what they thought about the service and how we can improve and those kinds of things and so they won’t get the next email until the very next week.  We don’t want to flood their inbox so they’ll get 5 more emails over the course of the next 30 days.  You can make those email whatever you want to make them out to be.  Ours are pretty simple.  We try to to put a lot of, we try to add value to the people in the content that we send them, I we’re going to send them, I think they second one it says, I think, ‘The Story of Oakridge and Ridge Church’.

Rich – Ahh, ok, right, right.

Bobby – So it’s just a really short email that says, OK here’s, Oakridge has an interesting story. Oakridge has only been a city since about 1945 and so Oakridge was a part of helping develop and putting together the atomic bomb that ended WW2 and so a lot of people that are from this area know that, but if you are not from here, you may not know that so we put that in there.  We put just a short blurb in there about how the church started in 2009, and then they’ll get another several emails.  They’ll get an email that says, here’s some ministries in our church that could benefit you and sort of gives them a little about that ministry.  Another email that tells them how to get involved in a community group.  And then, I think the very last email that they get, the very last two emails that they get, one will be me, again a personal email from me that says “hey, I just wanted to make sure that I’ve introduced myself to you if we have not met at church”.  And so we kind of take those emails and approach them in a general way that says maybe this person has come back, and if they’ve come back these emails will still be valuable to the.  Then even if they’ve not come back then these emails are also valuable to them as well because it’s giving them more information about our church.  And the very last email that they get is a simple, “Would you like to talk to a pastor at Ridge Church” and gives them and opportunity to hit reply and they can send us an email.

Rich – Cool. A couple things I pulled out there, you know the idea of trying to provide value in each of those emails, like that thing, here’s a history of our town, you know that’s kind of cool. I had remembered, in the recess of my brain, how do I know the name Oakridge TN?  ‘Cause of the atomic bomb!

Bobby – (laughing) Right, we blow things up.

Rich – But even that, that’s a nice way to position rather than just spam.   We always want to be helpful, how can I help you, you know, right now?  So that’s cool.  So now I realize it’s just new, I love this because it is something you have just been doing for a couple months really, which  has been fantastic.  Any little things you’ve learned, stories or interactions with people?

Bobby – Ya we’re learning, we’re learning what content gets the most clicks and the most opens. Ah, it seems like people want to know about the ministries of the church, that one seems to get the most clicks.  Um, they don’t really click on the one that says meet Pastor Bobby, so I don’t know what that says about me but (laughing) so,

Rich – It’s the hair cut. (laughing)

Bobby – Must be, I’m intimidating I know.  But ah, so we’re learning about what content is best to send people.  We’re learning about, you know, you schedule the email to go out  at a certain time of day, on certain days, so we are learning what days are best to send those emails, you know, don’t send anybody anything on Friday because they are probably not going to open in, you know, Friday, Saturday they’re probably not going to open it.  So we try to keep everything between a Monday and Thursday, you know, and so, we are learning quite a bit and we are learning enough information I think to actually take this system and use it in other ways, not just for first time guests.

Rich – Ya, so I was going to ask you that, what’s the future look.  So obviously you keep tweaking this.  I’m assuming you’ll figure it out, ya know this is the content and we will keep trying to make it work.  Are there other areas where you can see applying this kind of thinking?

Bobby – Ya, absolutely, we’re currently working on ways to apply this to our kids ministry.  Anytime a kid shows up for the first time in our kids ministry we want their parents to be able to get 3 or 4 at least very valuable, value adding type of content email sent to them.  Not necessarily inviting them back to the church, ’cause we’ll handle that on the other end but, you know, get them stuff that will be able to help them be able to minister to their kids at home, through some of the stuff our kids ministry.  You know, we are developing a way to use it for people who give their life to Christ.  You know a series of emails.  Also for people who sign up for baptism and those kinds of things and so you could really use this for absolutely anything in your church, any ministry in your church, new volunteers, you know, you could just really do anything that you want with it.

Rich – That’s really cool.  I think there’s huge potential there for churches as they think through, you know, how to we automate this kind of stuff, how do we think about it once and have it repeat time and time again with people as they come through.

Bobby – Ya, it’s really cool.


1 Comment

  1. Great podcast! What you guys are talking about is exactly what our company Text In Church does for churches. We have a guest follow up system that is customizable that reaches out for up to 6 weeks. It also will gather information from your guests when they text into a specific number we supply. Please check us out at !

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.