Church Assimilation Strategy
Solidly Connect People or Die as a Church
Christianity is about both believing and belonging. The church assimilation plan solidly connects visitors and current members to the church. The process begins when visitors arrive at the church and concludes when they join the church, its mission-driven ministries, and small groups.
One study showed that 75 percent of members who left didn’t feel a part of the church. Only 12 percent of first-time church visitors return the following Sunday and eventually join the church. It’s unusual for a church to surpass 30 percent.
Nine Principles to Solidly Connect Visitors and Current Members to the Church
Solidly connecting people is a process. You need a solid connection strategy to make it happen. The process begins with a person’s awareness of the church.
It progresses to attending it. It ends in membership, ownership, and participation. Here are nine characteristics of solidly connected biblical believers:
1) They own the church’s mission.
2) They attend worship services regularly.
3) They seek God intently and are growing more like Jesus.
4) They have joined the church.
5) They have at least six friends in the church.
6) They regularly participate in one or more small groups.
7) They have a ministry task or role that fits giftedness.
8) They give regularly and generously to the church’s work.
9) They tell others about Jesus and invite them to church/small groups.
Increase Church Health
Healthy churches draw newcomers and members more effectively than unhealthy churches do. Leith Anderson believes adding newcomers is an important sign of a healthy church.
Church assimilation is highest when church energy and enthusiasm are high. When conflict is low. Welcoming arms are open to all. And mission drives church life.
Christian Schwarz identified eight things healthy churches shared. Becoming an Enthusiastic Church is a practical and comprehensive guidebook to strengthen these eight areas.
Healthy churches have people who are excited about them. There is a close connection between being a healthy church and meeting the felt needs of church people.
Healthy churches excel at meeting the needs of their members. That makes those members excited about their church. They also excel at meeting the needs of newcomers and unchurched people.
Churches that excel at drawing newcomers don’t speak in religious code. If they use difficult biblical terms, they explain them. They know newcomers, and many church members have limited spiritual understanding. They teach spiritual concepts with simple words.
Mobilize Need-Meeting Ministries
Rick Warren said, “What really attracts large numbers of unchurched people is changed lives—a lot of changed lives. People want to go where lives are being changed, where hurts are being healed, and where hope is being restored.”
People go to churches where God is at work. The church’s reputation either attracts or repels. Churches that change lives attract newcomers.
But that glue, like the glue on a post-it note, will only hold so much weight. For the long haul, we need a stronger bond to bind folks to the church.
Newcomers attend church because someone invites them. They come because they think it will benefit them. We must share with our friends, relatives, and neighbors how the church benefits us and how it could help them.
If the church isn’t doing much to benefit us, we must change it, so it does! It needs to become healthier.
Inviters can ask newcomers, “What did you think of the meeting?” “Is there anything that didn’t make sense to you?”
Other non-personal invitations can reach people. They include an attractive building. A visible sign. An ad in the Yellow Pages/newspaper. A webpage. Or direct mail invitations.
Still, they’re rarely as effective as a personal invitation from a trusted friend/relative.
We need practical need-meeting ministries. Meeting people's needs brings a steady stream of newcomers to the church. We also need practical ministries that meet their needs when they arrive.
Christian Schwarz said that churches must answer outsiders' questions. They must meet their needs. When they do, more newcomers will enter the church. That's when the effectiveness of the church assimilation procedure becomes critical.
Doubling visitors who stay from the average of 12 percent to 24 percent could double the growth rate. It gives us the capacity to reach more and more people through those retained.
Develop three ministries that meet the needs of people in the community and continue to expand the number of ministries as resources allow.
a. Ministry 1
b. Ministry 2
c. Ministry 3
Prepare for Company
Gary McIntosh believes guests are vital. They should be 4-5 percent of our worship attendance. We need to prepare for them.
We must make our property as attractive as possible. We must offer quality childcare. We should have clear direction signs. We should graciously welcome our guests.
We must make our worship service as inspiring as possible. We must preach practical and encouraging messages. We must follow up with our visitors.
Open Your Arms Wide
We can offer a warm, inviting, accepting atmosphere through the following:
1. Training friendly, outgoing greeters, ushers, and parking lot attendants.
2. Adopting the “3-meter-greeter” rule. We should say “Hi” to anyone we don’t know when we’re within ten feet of them. We should introduce ourselves.
3. Modeling warmth in the pulpit by pastor greeting visitors but not putting them on the spot.
4. Training lay leaders to greet those who sit near them and accompany them to the welcome center.
5. Scheduling greeting time both during the service and after the service.
6. Supplying coffee and refreshments after the service.
7. Providing name tags for members, so guests know their names.
8. Inviting guests to an event held in their honor at which they can share their ideas and interests.
9. Providing the best possible nursery care.
10. Posting signs that give directions to the nursery, restrooms, classrooms, etc. (church floorplan).
11. By members inviting newcomers to their homes or out for lunch. Invitation to Return.
12. Calling first-time visitors.
13. Reserving the best parking for visitors.
14. Having music playing when people enter the building.
15. Allowing visitors to remain anonymous.
16. Offering a gift to guests who sign in at the welcome table. 3-question survey. Invitation to return.
17. Letter from pastor to visitors.
Develop and Implement a Follow-up Strategy
What can we do to maximize the chance that visitors will return? A letter from the pastor and a telephone call communicates caring but can’t replace a quick, personal visit.
Laypeople are the most effective visitors. They should make a 15-minute visit to build a personal relationship. It should happen no later than Tuesday evening after a Sunday visit.
They could deliver a fresh loaf of bread or a cake. They could get acquainted and answer questions about the church. They could explore any religious needs and give the invitation to return.
Herb Miller says that when laypeople make such visits, 85 percent of visitors return the following week. If a pastor visits, the chance of a return visit is down to 40-45 percent. If laypeople wait a week to visit, only 15 percent will return.
To get visitor feedback about the church, including a three-question first impression survey at the welcome desk:
1. What did you notice first?
2. What did you like about your experience?
3. What did you not like about your experience?
A follow-up welcome letter could invite guests to a Newcomers’ Dessert to meet the pastoral staff and spouses. The church could offer a class for newcomers. Give the visitors' names to small group/Sunday school leaders. They could invite them to attend their groups.
Pair a small group or Sunday school teacher with a visitor who seems to fit their groups. Have that leader do a follow-up visit.
Suppose someone comes to the church through the invitation of a friend. That friend is already in a small group. Recruit the person to the same small group.
Assimilate New Members
Assigning sponsors to new members helps bond them to the congregation. This sponsorship lasts for three months to a year. Sponsors pray for the new member.
They develop a relationship. They introduce the new member to other members. They encourage the new member’s involvement in church life.
Develop a system to track new members. Pay attention to attendance, participation, and follow-up. This prevents people from “falling through the cracks” without anyone’s noticing.
Raise Membership Requirements
High membership standards help churches grow. What might such a membership standard look like? It could include:
1. Completing an introduction to the church class.
2. Signing the Ten Commitments of membership form:
a. I will treat other church members as Jesus treats me.
b. I will not talk negatively about other people in the church.
c. I will follow my church’s leaders.
d. I will pray for my church to make more and better disciples.
e. I will invite unchurched people to attend.
f. I will welcome new people who visit the church.
g. I will use my gifts and talents to serve my church and Lord.
h. I will attend worship services faithfully, give generously, and live like a believer.
i. I will regularly participate in a Sunday school class or small group.
j. I will regularly pray, meditate and reflect on Scripture.
Develop a Discipleship Track
People decide to follow Christ. There are four stages of discipleship through which they pass on the way to spiritual maturity:
1. The “feed me” stage of development. Very young believers depend on others for loving care and information to help them become more like Jesus.
Use the ABC of Christian Growth to help new believers. Then take them through an introduction to the church class.
2. The “teach me” stage of development. Use 31 Steps Toward Spiritual Maturity. Spend time each lesson sharing personal applications and commitments from the personal devotional journal during the previous week.
It will take about 12 months to read through the New Testament and to complete the 31 lessons. Pastors in Malawi (Africa) use His Power for Your Weakness for this stage.
3. The “Show me” stage of development. The next step is an Old Testament survey. Focus on extracting life principles. That will enable victory over sin and an obedient lifestyle.
This will take about 18- months. Target of at least 50% of each lesson being life application.
4. The “Follow me” development stage. Mature believers use their gifts to minister to and train others. The Holy Spirit produces the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.
One’s small group at this stage could be a ministry team. Each person should recruit and train at least one other person on how to do their ministry.
Ongoing leadership training takes place once each month through this small group. Group leaders gather once a month for leadership training. They then train others in their group. Suggested yearly goals for small group/Sunday school class members in the church:
1) Daily reflect on Scripture
2) Daily pray for your small group members and leader
3) Weekly share personal Scripture application in your group
4) Weekly pray in your group for its ministry
5) Monthly serve others together through gift-driven ministry
6) Monthly share updates on redemptive relationships with pre-Christians
7) Monthly do leadership training
8) Annually develop an apprentice leader
9) Annually add two new people to the group (through conversion)
10) Biennially multiply the group.
Leading People to faith in Christ without follow-up is good news with a bad ending. Discipleship happens when disciples study together.
When they reflect on the Bible. When they apply God’s Word. When they serve Him together.
That’s what small group life is all about. Small group leaders should promote attendance in worship. The pastor should encourage involvement in a small group.
Strategies to Improve the Church Assimilation Process
1. Measure the “belonging pulse” at least every six months. Use a 10-question survey. Mark each statement as follows: 0 = “Very great extent”; 1 = “Great extent”; 2 = “Hardly”; 3 = “Not at all”
a. __ I know and agree with where our church is headed in the future.
b. __ I attend the worship service at least three Sundays a month.
c. __ I set aside time daily to seek God intently.
d. __ My life is becoming more like Jesus' life.
e. __ The ministries of our church meet my needs.
f. __ The people in our church accept me despite my weaknesses.
g. __ I regularly participate in a small group/Sunday school class.
h. __ I have a regular ministry to others that I enjoy.
i. __ I give regularly and generously to our church.
j. __ I invite others to attend our church.
2. Keep improving church health.
3. Ask ten people to evaluate the worship service once/month using this survey and improve weak elements:
Worship Service Evaluation
Mark each statement as follows: 0 = “Very great extent”; 1 = “Great extent”; 2 = “Hardly”; 3 = “Not at all”
___ 1. The worship service was an inspiring experience.
___ 2. I enjoyed listening to the sermon.
___ 3. The service had a positive influence on me.
___ 4. The sermon spoke to my life needs.
___ 5. The music helped me worship God.
___ 6. Optimal care was given to children during the service.
___ 7. The worship service was enjoyable.
___ 8. The worship leader(s) led me into God’s presence.
___ 9. I enjoy bringing visitors to the worship service.
___ 10. In our services, new faces are familiar.
___ 11. The service had a clear theme.
___ 12. The parts of the service were connected smoothly.
___ 13. The service was God-centered and Bible-based.
___ 14. I was challenged to respond to God in some way.
___ 15. Reflection and celebration were balanced.
___ 16. Many people were involved in leading the service.
___ 17. I sensed God’s presence during the service.
___ 18. The service motivated me to live for God.
4. Use a three-question first impression survey at the welcome desk and make necessary improvements:
a. What did you notice first?
b. What did you like about your experience?
c. What did you not like about your experience?
5. Do a “Prepare for Company” survey of the facilities and ministries.
a. Use all the channels to invite guests. That includes the phone book, yellow pages, and church signs. It includes newspaper articles and ads.
Use the welcome wagon and real estate agents. Use a website and Facebook. Employ mailings, special events flyers and listings in nearby hotels.
b. Are we providing essential information items through these channels that people look for, including:
1. Times of church services
2. Location of church
3. Sunday School
4. Child Care
6. Access for people with disabilities
7. Phone number
c. Other essential information:
i. On our answering machine – Is the information up to date? Are service times listed? Is an emergency number included? Can people understand the speaker?
ii. On our signs/message boards – Are they located where people can see them, whether walking or driving? Is the printing large enough?
iii. Are our website and Facebook page attractive and frequently updated?
iv. Is a floor plan of the church displayed to guide visitors?
d. Is the outside of the church attractive to visitors? Is the paint peeling? Has the grass been cut? Is there a sign outside with the name of the church?
e. Is the interior of the church attractive to visitors?
f. Are the locations of the restrooms marked, and are they clean? Do they have changing areas?
g. Are Sunday school and childcare areas marked?
h. How do newcomers find out about childcare?
i. Do ushers, greeters, and congregants wear name tags?
j. Do warm, mature believers greet newcomers? Are ushers and greeters trained?
k. Does the pastor welcome guests during the announcements and invite them to return? Do others do the same before guests leave?
l. Is safe and adequate childcare available with clean, well-stocked facilities?
m. Do we need to evaluate the content of the visitor packets?
n. Do greeters and church leaders funnel newcomers to the welcome center?
o. Do we read Scripture publicly in a contemporary translation?
p. How can our worship service be more inspiring?
q. Are the pastor’s messages practical and encouraging?
r. Is our follow-up of visitors timely and consistent?
i. What should church members do when they visit newcomers?
ii. Who’s involved?
iii. What’s said to the visitor? By whom?
iv. What materials are provided to the visitor? Who distributes them? Where are they?
v. How long has it been since the materials we give visitors were updated or the practices reviewed?
6. Track the attendance of all members weekly and send a bulletin and note to absentees.
7. Conduct leadership training classes once a month.
8. Small groups/ministries each develop annual goals. Suggested goals for small group/Sunday school class members in the church:
a. Daily reflection on Scripture.
b. Daily pray for your small group members and leader.
c. Weekly share personal Scripture application in your group.
d. Weekly pray in your group for its ministry.
e. Monthly serve others together through gift-driven ministry.
f. Monthly share updates on redemptive relationships with pre-Christians.
g. Monthly leadership training.
h. Annually develop an apprentice leader.
i. Annually add two new people to the group (through conversion).
j. Biennially multiply the group.
13. Help small groups and ministries cooperate to achieve the church’s mission.
When small groups work together, the whole church benefits.
9. Help small groups and ministries cooperate to achieve the church’s mission.
When small groups work together, the whole church benefits.
We must provide small groups and new members with the resources they need to grow spiritually.
Discipleship Books Free Download provides free books that small groups can use for ministries and discipleship.
ABC of Evangelism prepares small groups for spreading the gospel.
ABC of Christian Growth helps small groups grow spiritually.
Shelley, Marshall. “From the Editors.” Leadership 11.4 (1990): 3.
Miller, Herb. How to Build A Magnetic Church. Nashville: Abingdon, 1987.
Anderson, Leith. A Church for the 21st Century. Minneapolis: Bethany, 1992.
Selcher, John W. Becoming an Enthusiastic Church. Tate Publishing, 2007.
Warren, Rick. The Purposed Driven Church: Growing Without Compromising Your Message and Mission. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995.
Schwarz, Christian A. Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches. Carol Stream, IL: ChurchSmart, 1998.
Miller, Herb. How to Build A Magnetic Church. Nashville: Abingdon, 1987.
Appel, James, et al. “Helping Guests Feel at Home” Leadership 19.3 (1998): 53-56.
Adsit, Christopher B. Personal Disciple-Making: A Step-by-Step Guide for Leading a Christian from New Birth to Maturity. San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life, 1988.
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