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Assimilation System: NEXT STEPS

Assimilation focuses on connecting with guests and newcomers. The overarching goal of assimilation is to help unbelievers become functioning followers of Jesus Christ. It is having a system that helps people become increasingly connected to Jesus and His church. We must seek to help people make various connection points such as classes, ministry opportunities, small groups, friendships, discipleship opportunities, and other relationships. The blessing of church systems is developing clear next steps so that you will assimilate people that you might otherwise not connect with and possibly even lose.

All of your systems need constant attention. Entropy will naturally set in as time goes on and they will need to be reenergized. Most systems need a new dose of energy every three to five years through some restructuring. Also, new ideas and new team members are good to give fresh and creative ideas. Attend a conference, read a book, or talk to another church about how they assimilate and connect with their guests. Always remain flexible and ready to make changes that will put new energy into your systems.

Dynamic Church Planting International describes these steps as demonstrating to first time guests that you want them to become second time guests. Demonstrating to second time guests that you want them to become third time guests. Demonstrating to third time guests that you want them to become regular attenders and then demonstrating to regular attenders that you want them to become fully functioning members. It is developing a systematic approach that will increase guest retention and connect newcomers into your discipleship process.

Last week’s article on assimilation focused on first impressions, which are very important, but you must think through the next steps.

  • Do you have a plan, a system, in place to focus on follow up after the initial connections?
  • How will you communicate to your guests what those next steps are?
  • How will you or will you get their contact information?
  • If you do get their contact information, how and who will follow up on them?
  • Do you have a card for them to fill out or a welcome center where they can receive a packet and/or gift for attending?

1.  Realize that if they do give you their information they will expect you to get in contact with them. Consider sending an email, a personal note, and giving them a call over the next week. It is best to connect with them within 48 hours and let them know how thankful and honored you are that they came. You can also send a letter from the church letting them know you are praying for them and desire to be a blessing to them and their family. In the first week you can touch them three or four ways through email, texting, a letter, and or a call.

2.  Consider giving their contact information to your small group leaders and/or your small group leaders. If you have multiple groups allow all of them to reach out to them inviting them into their group. It speaks volumes to guests that there are several options. Even if you only have one class or group be sure they reach out to the guests and invite to be a part of their group.

3.  Invite them to a newcomer’s meal. If you are having guests on a regular basis plan a time to invite all of them and be prepared to share the vision statement of your church, the discipleship pathway you have, and how they can become more involved. Be ready to answer any questions they might have. You do not have a big group but can train couples to take guests out to lunch and accomplish this on a more personal level. This can be a time to find out where they are spiritually in their walk with Christ or if they are even a believer yet.

If you are able to offer a luncheon Dynamic Church Planting International offers these suggestions, “Churches should consider a monthly mechanism that allows newcomers to get to know the pastor and other church leaders. Some churches hold this in the pastor’s home. Others do it at the church property or some other location. It usually includes food, often an entire meal. New guests are greeted, asked to sign-in, and given a nametag as they enter the area.”

“One place setting at each table says, “Reserved for Host.” A long-term volunteer or staff member will sit there and get to know everyone. Place information request sheets at each table. The table hosts encourage guests to use them. The hosts should also encourage guests to sign up for a class on basic Christianity. Between the meal and desert, one of the pastors gets up and talks for 3 or 4 minutes about the church’s history, introduces the staff, and encourages everyone to attend an Introduction to Christianity class.”

4.  Decide how you will handle membership and if you will require them to attend a membership class. The length and depth is up to you but there are five basic areas that are good to be covered including salvation, the ordinances, doctrine, what they can expect from your church, and what your church expects from them. This is a time to head off a lot of misunderstandings upfront because they are joining you, not the opposite. Someone has said it well, “The best time to lose a bad church member is before they join.”

5.  And most importantly, find out what works for you in your context. There are a lot of different ways to reach out and follow up on your guests. Think it through and be creative. There will be many ideas that you might want to implement but are not able to, yet. That is ok. The solution is to do what you can at your current size, ability, and stage of development. Do not focus on what you cannot do. Focus on what you can do and do it!

Assimilation System


Every church needs to take a hard look at developing systems that enable them to be more effective in caring for the people God has given them while remaining focused on reaching those who are far from God. There is no system where this truth is more important then in the area of assimilation. This is where you develop a clear process of next steps that help and enable unbelievers to become fully functioning followers of Jesus. How will you or will you follow up on the first time guest? Do you have a plan to help a first time guest to attend again?

It has been well said, “When we lose our why we lose our way!” If your church forgets that you exist to welcome sinners then you will lose your primary purpose for being there. It is natural to begin overly focusing on maintaining and servicing what is already there while ignoring Jesus’ call to seek and to save those who are lost. The older your church is the easier it becomes to drift from its mission. Are you a welcoming church? Are you friendly to those who decide to visit or are you only friendly to those who are already there?

Dynamic Church Planting International says this, “When a person visits your church for the first time, they are a gift from God. Likely, someone prayed diligently for this to happen. God himself has probably been tugging at them to attend. What did Jesus do with sinners who came to learn about spiritual truth? He welcomed them warmly. The ones who opposed truth-seeking sinners were the self-righteous religious leaders. Share with them what a wonderful gift it is to welcome sinners. Some church members will be tempted to act like the Pharisees.”

In U-Turn Church the authors say, “The gravitational pull of the church naturally pulls us inward, toward each other. If we are going to move outward toward those who are lost, it will take more energy than most of us dream.” Many church members are focused on their personal needs and their family’s needs. New people can be seen as a potential threat to their power and/or position. Assimilation is warmly welcoming those who come to our churches. You want to do all you can to help them to be touched by God and have the desire to return.

Those who attend your church can be described in four categories.

  1. Those who visit and are looking for something to connect with.
  2. Those who are beginning to take the necessary baby steps required to follow Christ.
  3. Those who have developed into mature disciples and are serving others. The reality is that once you begin to grow in your personal walk with Jesus, serving is the natural by-product.
  4. The ones who think they are mature but are unengaged and serving no one. This must be challenged the most!

As we focus on the first group (guests and seekers) you must develop a clear system of showing them how glad you are they came. They are not looking for a friendly church as much as they are looking for friends. What will you do with them when they do come? God has been working on their hearts and through people in their lives to get them there, so don’t blow it. Have a system that welcomes them and follows up on them because your desire should be for a first time guest to become a second time guest. What clear path do you have to reach out to them?

If your church forgets why you are there then you will begin to lose your passion and zeal for the unbeliever and those who are far from God. How can you tell that is happening? It did not happen overnight but occurred slowly and quietly. No one can really point to a specific time or day when you were overly focused on those inside the church and unconcerned about those outside. Somewhere along the way you naturally began to focus on maintaining and serving everyone that was already there. Internal ministries tend to overwhelm outward mission.

Follow-up is crucial but just as important is how they are received when they arrive.

  • Are there greeters ready to welcome them and show them where they need to go?
  • Do you have people in the parking lot to help them in that process? Train and empower your people to realize that they should all be welcoming hosts and hostesses. Train them to welcome guests into your church the same way they would welcome them into their homes. Tell them to always be on the outlook for someone they do not know, introduce themself, and engage them in conversation.
  • Are you creating a positive first impression? Some guests determine if they will ever come back in the first three, seven, or fifteen minutes. By then they will been either been greeted or not, lost in the building or guided to where they need to go, and have sensed whether people are truly glad they have come. The one thing that has not happened yet is the sermon, which has not even been preached. Some seem to discourage thinking about this and say we should not worry so much about first impressions but what happened to “given to hospitality?” Jesus welcomed sinners.

First impressions should never be left to chance.

Every leader and greeter should know how to make people feel welcomed. Be looking for those you do not recognize and make sure you introduce yourself to them and tell them how glad you are they came. Every aspect of the facility should be viewed through the lens of a first time guest. It has taken an unbelievable amount of courage to come into an environment that is completely foreign and uncomfortable to them. Do your best to make sure everyone is friendly, the place is clean, and they know they are loved.

Sunday is Coming

Welcome

 

     The biggest Sunday of the year is here and hopefully you have prepared and are ready for the largest attended day of the year. It has been referred to as the Super Bowl of the church where many will attend who will not usually come. It is a great day to celebrate the risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The question you need to be able to answer is, “What will you do if everyone you invited shows up?”

Do not underestimate the importance of having a plan for every ministry from the parking lot to the nursery and overflow, if needed. Then you must also have a plan in place to follow up on those who do visit. Consider how you can show your guests how thankful you are they came and how much you appreciate their presence. People will come where they are invited but they will stay where they are loved.

Here are some ideas for Easter Sunday:

First, be careful what you say! Some make the mistake of offending the ones who show up by actually calling them names like, “Welcome to you CEOs!” (Those who attend Christmas and Easter only) One pastor shared with me that as he was inviting a lady for Easter services said she would love to come but did not want to be referred to as a “Chreaster” (Christmas/Easter). He knew he had done that before but made an inward commitment to never do that again. Sarcasm is not appropriate for your guests!

Second, give them a gift for attending! Let them know you appreciate their efforts and want to give them something for their spiritual journey. There are some excellent resources such as The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, and The God Questions by Hal Seed (Gift Edition). You can get The God Questions gift edition from Outreach for $2.00 each. That is a small investment in the journey they are on in the search for the truth.

Third, have greeters in the parking lot! You never get another chance at a first impression. Many people decide whether they want to come back to a church in the first 3-7 minutes. Having someone in the parking lot to welcome and direct them to where they need to go makes an excellent first impression. You are saying to your guests, “We were expecting you and we are so glad you came!” A friendly face and a big smile help those who are already nervous to relax and know they are welcome!

Fourth, make sure you have good signage! When people arrive the two most important locations they need to know about immediately are the bathrooms and where to take their children. Simple signs can be made on the computer and displayed easily to help people find what they are looking for. Always try to look at your church plant through the eyes of a guest. Have greeters ready to make your guests aware of where to go and to take them there if necessary. Think of greeters as tour directors.

Fifth, be ready to help seat people! Train your people to be prepared to make room for your guests. They may not want to scoot into the middle but they can step out and allow guests to the seats that are available. Your greeters can lead them in and then your guests will not feel like they are making the journey into the unknown alone. You could also save some seats for your guests. You roll out the red carpet for guests at your home and we should do even more for those who decide to come to our services.

Sixth, have a packet ready for everyone! This could include a bulletin, connection card, sermon note card, and a pen with the name of the church on it. This enables everyone to know the important announcements, take notes while the sermon is being delivered, and to fill out a connection card for follow-up. The connection cards can be used by everyone and handed in during the offering. They enable people to make their prayer requests known and to give important information that you as a church need to know.

Seventh, make good use of the connection cards. Have these handed out to everyone when they enter the worship area. This makes it much more convenient and easier for everyone to fill them out with the pen provided. When you welcome your guests assure them you will not be hounding them nor giving out their information but that you would love to connect with them at whatever level they are comfortable with. You are hoping that they will attend again and you want to help them any way that you as a church can.

Eighth, follow up on the connection cards! Make an initial contact within the first 48 hours. Send them a letter and send them an email. Then have someone call them that week and thank them for attending. Pastor, on Wednesday send them a hand-written note thanking them for attending and that you look forward to seeing them again. If they turned in a card then they are expecting you to connect with them. If God trusts us enough to send them our way then we must embrace our responsibility to connect with them!

Ninth, make sure your building is ready for guests! This probably should have been sooner but have everything cleaned up bright and shiny. We all clean and tidy up our homes when we know guests are coming. Well, guests are coming this Easter! Take a look at your church plant through their eyes and make sure everything is extra clean. Get rid of the clutter, make sure everything smells wonderful, and that people are glad to be in such an inviting and welcoming environment.

     Healthy churches are friendly churches and treat their guests well!