Connecting With Visitors at the Virtual Fireplace

Connecting With Visitors at the Virtual Fireplace

October 21, 2015 by

As my church went into the Christmas season in December 2014, we wanted to be more intentional about connecting with visitors.

The Challenge

In a church our size (weekend attendance of about 4,500) it is easy for first-time guests to feel invisible, and/or overwhelmed by our size and all our offerings.

For many years we have had a newcomers’ reception area called The Fireplace, centrally located in front of our fireplace (brilliant!) in the main lobby.

It’s staffed by dedicated volunteers from our Connections ministry who answer questions, get to know our visitors and gather their information. We typically have 20-30 visitors come to the Fireplace each weekend.

But, we asked, what about the visitors we miss?

What about the young families who don’t have time because they need to get their kids from Sunday school, or those who need to leave promptly after services for other reasons? What about those who, frankly, just want to stay anonymous as they get a feel for our big church?

The Objective

2015_09 Virtual Fireplace 1Our objective was to engage with a greater number of newcomers through an additional connection point. Ideally one that would require little or no additional staff time or budget.

Our data and communications teams teamed up with the Connections ministry to come up with a solution. The Virtual Fireplace was born, and launched the weekend of Dec. 6.

How It Works

The Virtual Fireplace makes use of opt-in texting technology. When someone texts the keyword ‘fireplace’ to our shortcode ‘55000,’ it triggers a series of text messages, spread out over the course of three weeks:

  • Text #1 (sent upon opt-in): Welcome, and thank you for visiting our Virtual Fireplace! You might find this information helpful: [link to a unique landing page we set up for this purpose].
  • Text #2 (sent three days later): Tell us a little about yourself so we can help you navigate to some possible next steps! [link to a questionnaire form where we gather demographics]
  • Text #3 (sent five days later): We hope you can join us for services this weekend! Sat. 5 pm, Sun. 8, 9:30, or 11 am. [link to our unique landing page]
  • Text #4 (sent 12 days later): Is there something we can do for you? Stop by the Fireplace and let us know! [link to our unique landing page]
  • Text #5 (sent 20 days later): Last text! Want to keep hearing from us? Be sure to click here and get on our email list. [link to our Constant Contact email newsletter opt-in page]

The messages are intended to gradually invite people into conversation and/or provide their email.

How It’s Promoted

  • 2015_09 Virtual Fireplace 2At the end of each service, the platform pastor includes it in his closing messaging. After they say “visitors, stop by the Fireplace” they include an invitation to visit our Virtual Fireplace if they don’t have time to stop in person.
  • A slide shows between each service with the information: “Visit our Virtual Fireplace. Text ‘fireplace’ on your smartphone to 55000.”


  • We’ve had 412 visits to the unique landing page set up for this project (click-throughs on the links in our texts).
  • 153 people have opted-in over the last 35 weeks to receive Virtual Fireplace texts.
  • Of those opt-ins, 10% have “converted” by opting in to our all-church email list in Constant Contact.


We pay approximately $50/month for a texting package from a local phone carrier. It took about five hours of staff time to set up the various components.


Our objective—to engage with more newcomers—was met. The five-person-per-week average opt-in rate is an increase in the number of connections by at least 20% over the in-person Fireplace visits already taking place.

I am happy with the 10% conversion rate to opt-in to our email list, but would like to tweak the system to see if we can improve it in the coming months.

How is your church using texting technology? I’d love to hear from you.

Post By:

Karen Shay-Kubiak

Karen Shay-Kubiak is director of communications for Elmbrook Church, a single-campus megachurch located in Southeast Wisconsin. She is also a closet tech geek who loves things like Evernote, online forms, project management systems and anything else that promises to help her squeeze more out of a day's 24 hours.
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One Response to “Connecting With Visitors at the Virtual Fireplace”

  • Marilyn Draper
    June 29, 2016

    This article is very helpful in helping us to consider way to make our congregation grow.

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