By Tim Massengale
Mark North carefully leaned backwards with his fishing pole – double checking to make sure his hook and sinker were clear – and cast the line just short of the cattails growing beside the bank. The small red bobber danced gently on the surface. He settled back with a satisfied smile and glanced at the elderly gentleman sitting across the boat from him. Brother Vernon Baker wore a battered straw hat decorated with half a dozen hooks and lures.
“So, Elder, how was that for a cast?”
Brother Baker glanced up from baiting his hook. “Not bad. But there is a nasty tangle of branches just below the surface in that spot. Good place to lose a line.”
“What? Why didn’t you tell me?
Brother Baker flashed a wide grin. “You didn’t ask.”
Mark slowly shook his head and then smiled back. “Oh well. Perhaps it won’t get tangled. I’ll catch that big one yet – you’ll see.”
“What I’ll see is you losing your bait,” Elder Baker replied. “If you do hook one, he’ll dive straight into those branches and that’ll be the end of it. If you’re smart you’ll reel that line in and recast.”
Mark pondered this, then sighed. He knew the aged pastor was right. Carefully he began to reel his line in.
After casting a second time, Mark slowly clicked in the slack. “Thanks again, Elder, for inviting me to go fishing today. I needed to get away.”
“Glad you could come. I hate fishing alone. I also enjoy our talks. Is everything still going well with your growth plan?”
“Couldn’t be better,” Mark exclaimed. It’s been a little over a year since we started and we had 112 in Sunday school last Sunday. You remember we started with seventy-seven. We are also doing well with our evangelism goals – exceeded all of them except one.”
“Great! What area did you fall short in?”
“Visitors. Our goal was to have nine first-time visitor addresses last quarter. We had eight.”
Elder Baker nodded. “How’s your prospect file looking? How many addresses do you have in your database?”
“Database? What database?”
“Hmm…I take it I haven’t yet talked to you about setting up a prospect file on your church computer?”
“No – not that I remember,” Mark said. “We’ve talked about so many things. Forgive me if I forgot.”
“No, I most likely neglected to mention it. You have accomplished so much this past year. Starting your computerized prospect file is just one more step in the growth process. But it will help you increase your visitors. It will also get you more home Bible studies.”
Mark grinned. “I like it already. So where do these prospects come from?”
“We gather names and addresses from dozens of places. As a result we are constantly adding to our prospect file. Got your notebook?”
Mark laughed. “Elder, I always come prepared!” He set his pole down carefully and reached in his daypack for a notepad and pen. “I’m ready!”
Building Your File
Brother Baker nodded. “Okay. The first step is to set up your prospect file on your computer. We use an Excel spreadsheet. But you can also purchase a programmable database that allows you to define your categories and then output that information in various ways, such as mailing labels. There are also pre-designed church management programs that have excellent outreach modules built into them. You want to be able to enter in standard contact information: name, address, phone numbers, email, and so on. But you also need to enter what event or method brought you this contact, who gave you the contact, the contact date, has the contact visited your church, and more.”
Mark nodded. “Right. Now, where do these contacts come from?”
Elder Baker reeled in his hook, checked his bait and cast again before answering.
“Like I said – lots of places. The first are visitors to any church service. All guest cards are copied and one of the copies goes to the lady who maintains our prospect file. We also get prospects from all church social activities: potlucks, picnics, dramas, songfests, youth activities, you name it. If a visitor comes, we ask for their information. Hostesses are assigned to these events just like church services.”
Mark stopped writing and held up his hand. “Question – what do we do if someone refuses to give their address? We have had this happen a few times.”
Elder Baker nodded. “We occasionally have it happen too. We find it helps if we explain why we want the information. Our hostesses are trained to ask for only names first. They say, ‘Our pastor would love to greet you properly. Do you mind if we got your names?’ Then, after they have written down the names she will say, ‘we would also love to add you to our church mailing list so we can notify you of future church activities. May we get your address?’ We find that 95% have no problem giving this information. We also ask how they heard about us and if they know anyone that attends our church. All these facts go into the prospect file.
“The next major source for prospects is family and friends of church members. At least once a year I preach a message on the need to be an Ambassador for Christ. Each of us has contacts that no one else has: family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors, acquaintances, and more. At the conclusion of this sermon I hand out a Prospect Search Form and ask all who are willing to please make a list of their family and friends and turn it into the church office.”
Mark interrupted. “But why? Why put such an emphasis on the family and friends of your church members?”
“Because,” Brother Baker explained, “research shows that 90% of all your new converts will come from the family, friends, or acquaintances of your church members. So if you can encourage your members’ family and friends to attend, you will increase your number of converts. We send flyers and invitations to this list several times a year.”
Mark nodded. “Okay, I’ll buy that. I’ve heard of this statistic before. Thinking back, it’s mostly true in our church also.”
Brother Baker continued. “We also get lots of prospects from our new converts. One of the lessons in our new convert course is about the need to be a good witness. We explain to our converts that God has brought them into the truth so they can in turn reach their family and friends. We help them make a list of people they know to ask for a home Bible study. When they get one, we supply the teacher and they assist in teaching. But we also ask them for a larger group of names for our prospect file. New converts have many more unsaved contacts than those who have been in church several years.
“Finally, we glean prospects from all our various outreach programs: bus ministry, rest home, street evangelism, fair booths, block parties, door knocking, you name it. We are always looking for a hungry soul. When we find one, we ask for their address so we can add them on our mailing list. Some refuse, but most don’t mind. We have done this for years and our prospect file has grown to over 8,000 names. When someone is saved, more often than not we find them in our database.”
Using Your File
Mark chewed on the end of his pen for a moment, letting everything sink in. “Okay, I see where you’re going. You are building a database of your best evangelism prospects. Now, what do you do with it?”
“Mostly we use it to mail out invitations and flyers. We have a bulk-rate permit at the post office so we can send cards and flyers out at a fraction of normal cost. We try to send something out for most of our special events. But at least twice a year we send the invitation via first-class mail. This way we get an address correction if they move. As long as they live within driving distance of the church, we keep them on our mailing list.
“You see, Mark, these are our best prospects. They all have had some kind of contact with our church or they know a church member. Before we try to reach for the complete stranger, we should reach for our prime prospects. I think we see more of the seed we sow sprout precisely because we are more selective about where we sow it.”
Mark paused and looked up. “That makes a whole lot of sense, Elder. I can see how, over time, a church can build a great resource that can be used a number of ways. You could even sort the list by zip code and give it to those members who live nearby. They could make a personal visit to these homes and drop something off – like free tickets to your Easter drama or something.”
Elder Baker nodded. “Exactly. We also have good success in printing out lists grouped by the contact name. You see, every person in our database also has the name of the individual who gave us that name. So we will print a list of all names provided by John Smith. Before a revival we will give this list to John and ask him to call those on his list and invite them to the meetings. Using this method we see lots of guests come to our revivals. This list also makes a great prayer list.”
“I love it!” Mark exclaimed. “This is so cool! I’m going…”
Just then Mark’s pole gave a sharp tug, almost going over the side. Dropping his pad and pen, he scooped the pole up before it was pulled in.
“Hey – I got a strike!” He quickly set the hook and within minutes a nice large-mouth bass flopped gently in the net.
“What do you think, Elder? Is this a keeper?” Mark asked.
Elder Baker arched an eyebrow. “Seeing that’s the first one you caught all morning, I would say so. That should go nicely with the six I’ve already caught.”
“Not fair!” Mark replied with feigned hurt. “You’ve been fishing here for years. This is my first time. Your ‘prospect file’ is bigger than mine.”
The old pastor only grinned and reached for the fish basket.