3 Ways to Get People to Register Early for Your… | UMC YoungPeople
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March 2024

3 Ways to Get People to Register Early for Your Event

By Jeremy Steele

You know what’s horrible? (I mean, the list of horrible things that can happen in youth ministry is extensive, isn’t it?) I was thinking of when we try to plan for an event without knowing who (if any) of your church members will show up. People are continually registering later and later for church events across the country (this comes from my own scientific study of complaining to/with a bunch of youth pastors from all over the place). Is it FOMO (fear of missing out? Still to be determined!)? So, what do you do about it? How do you fix it? These three strategies will actually help.

1. Cancel a big event

This one is simple. Set a deadline for your event, send out one or two million reminders; make announcements in church; and when no one registers by the deadline, cancel it. This may sound dramatic, but it’s proven to be an incredibly effective strategy for many youth workers to let people know that registration matters.

This is not something you need to choose to do without a lot of prep. Before you walk down this path, talk to your supervisor about what you are about to do. Something like, “We are losing a bunch of money by making plans for people who don’t show and/or adding people at the last minute to our events. T-shirts cost a lot more when we order them on rush; retreat centers don’t give us the early-bird discount, etc.” Let supervisors and other ministry area leaders know what you are going to do to communicate, how many people will be needed for the event to “make,” and when you are going to make the call to cancel.

In your communication plan with the wider congregation, make sure you add communication pieces that let parents know that the event may be canceled due to low registration. Then, when you cancel it, don’t back down. You can back down in the future, but for this to work, you have to actually cancel it and have the support of your supervisors or ministry team in the process.

2. Do all the extra work upfront

When no one is registering, and it’s three days before you have to pay for the entire event, what do you do? You start contacting people individually, sending emails, texting links, getting on people’s Facebook messenger accounts, and trying every other mode of communication known to humankind. As it turns out, people are completely swamped with emails and registration requests for their kids’ school schedules, sports physical screenings, PTA, and so on. It is easier than ever for communication to get missed. It may be time to bite the bullet and realize that sending out a mass email just isn’t working anymore and start your communication plan with the last-minute panic strategy at the beginning.

3. Deeply incentivize early registration

An interesting study was done at a preschool several years ago. They were trying to get people to stop showing up late to pick up their kids. To do this, they contacted all the parents to let them know that if they showed up late, there would be a $10 late fee added to their bill for each late pickup. Guess what happened? They saw late pickups skyrocket. It turns out that when they told parents that being late was worth $10, the parents said, “Oh, I won’t rush right now, it’s only $10.”

When you try to incentivize early registration, you need to think about this because your “early bird” pricing might actually be making people choose to wait. To encourage people to register early, you need to make it seem worth their while. One way to do that is to subtract from early birds and add to latecomers. Let’s imagine a retreat you are doing that costs $200, and last year you had twenty students attend. You might decide to give 25% of them an early bird discount and a couple of them a late rate. What do you think would happen if you did this:

  • $100 for the first five people
  • $225 for everyone by X early deadline
  • $300 for everyone after the deadline until the event is full

All of a sudden, the early rate looks worth it, but you haven’t changed anything. For this to work, all you need is sixteen people to register at the new middle rate or fourteen at the middle rate and one at the late rate.

The key is making it seem REALLY worth it to register early. Once you break people of the late registration habit, you can go back to something more normal, or you can keep it as is!

The key to all these strategies is change. If you keep doing things the way you have, you will get the same results. Whether it’s changing the financial incentives, changing the communication, or letting your families feel the pain of cancellation, these strategies are sure to help you break free of the never-ending cycle of late registrations.

When he's not playing with his four children with his wonderful wife, Jeremy is the associate pastor at Los Altos UMC in Los Altos, CA. Jeremy has spent over twenty years working in youth and children's ministry and continues to train children and youth workers as well as writing and speaking extensively in that field. His most recent book is the "All the Best Questions." You can find a list of all his books, articles, and resources for churches at JeremyWords.com.