Over the past few weeks we have been making our way through a series on Church Systems. Last week, we covered the Sunday Service and Evangelism. Today we will be looking at my personal favourite system, and the one I probably have the most experience in, the Assimilation and Discipleship System.
This is the process by which we take people from their first visit to being fully developing members of our church. Some churches have a problem with their Evangelism System, it is very hard for them to attract guests to their church, but many have an assimilation problem.
What does it mean to assimilate? The dictionary defines it in a number of ways but these two definitions best apply to the type of assimilation we are referring to:
to take into the mind and thoroughly understand
to absorb into the cultural tradition of a population or groupMerriam-Webster Dictionary
When people are properly assimilated into our churches they are able to thoroughly understand what we believe and they have been absorbed into the culture of the church. That is the purpose of assimilation and biblical discipleship.
Before we dive too deep into this (and we can get very deep) I want to mention a subtle word choice that I believe makes a huge difference in the way that we treat people who visit our church for the first time. It is using the word guest instead of visitor. Why does it make a difference? Because when you use the word visitor you are referring to a person who visits but when you use guest the inference is that this is someone we are expecting, someone we are going to serve.
Andy Stanley said it best when he said that, “The Church is a family expecting guests.” This is not someone who drops by the house for a visit but this is someone that the family has been preparing for. We should love and care for our guests as we would love and care for ourselves thus we are doing our best to follow the two greatest commands that Jesus highlighted – Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbour as yourself.
So if we are going to treat them like guests, we need to have a process in place for them to feel welcomed and loved before they ever set foot in our church. Research tells us that a guest has decided how they feel about a church after 7 minutes. Which means they have made a decision about your church before your Pastor has even had an opportunity to minister and likely before a song has even been sung.
This is why we must value our First Impressions teams! They are the first person a guest meets that officially represents your church besides the person who may have invited them. Studies have found that an initial decision is made about who you are as a church when a guest first makes contact with a representative of the church and contact is defined as within 9 to 12 feet of the Greeter. We need to make sure that our Greeters are trained to best represent our church because that initial contact is when the assimilation system begins.
Try to look at your church through a guest’s eyes. What are some things that they might value? You might be surprised but parking and restrooms are pretty important to guests. Is it easy for a guest to navigate your church building? Are you clear with your communication throughout the service? Do we keep them in mind when we make our announcements or even altar calls?
At the POS, we try to explain the things that members might take for granted. For example, we explain what is taking place during the offering – why do we give and what is the giving going towards (we’ll talk about this more in the Giving System). When we dismiss our Sunday School and Crechè we inform the church what the age range is for each of those classes as ell as where they are located. Before Pastor starts his sermon, he will mention that we traditionally have an altar call at the conclusion of the message where people can respond to the Word that was preached and receive prayer.
Now that we are mindful of our guests, how do we ensure that we make a meaningful connection with them on their first visit? We noticed this issue for a number of years that we would have plenty of guests but we weren’t connecting with them in a meaningful way before they left. We addressed it by offering a gift to first time guests as a way of thanking them for worshipping with us. Not only that, but we established a Guest Area where they would receive their gift, along with Morning Tea and leaders within our church would go out of their way to greet them in that area.
That exact system may not fit your church but it is important that we make a meaningful connection with our guests and who doesn’t like a gift? It also communicates to your guest that you are a giving church.
Within the process of greeting and connecting with our guests, we need to introduce some type of Guest Card. This is a simple card where you ask your guests for their basic contact details – Name, Email, Mobile Number, Mailing Address. It is important that your guest fills out this card because without it, follow-up is very difficult.
After the initial visit, we need to have a follow-up plan in place. This could include a text message, phone call or email thanking them for their visit. We include on our Guest Card a question about whether they desire to learn more about the Bible and if they are interested we have our Discipleship leader contact them to organise a Bible Study. One last thing we do in our initial follow-up of first-time guests is send them a hand written card from one of our Pastors thanking them for their visit and we include another small gift.
All of this is done to try and ensure that they come back. If they do we can continue the assimilation process. So, let’s say that they return – do we make their next step clear? We have struggled in this area at the POS and we are trying our best to rectify it. We have plenty of next steps for our guests – New Life Journey, Bible Studies, Konnect Groups – but the process has not been communicated as effectively as we would like over the years. We are trying to solve this by creating a Next Steps class and establishing a well known Growth Track. In the class, people who are new to the POS are taught about our history, what we believe and the plan we have for them to help them on their spiritual journey. The Growth Track is the plan.
By making the next step clear for people who are new to your church, the assimilation process can more easily take place. This is where they can get plugged into all the great discipleship classes and Bible studies that you already have for them. They can join a group and make those all important friendship that are necessary to keep them connected to the body of Christ. They begin to learn and absorb the culture of the church.
Obviously when it comes to discipleship we need to have trained Bible study teachers who are able to effectively teach the Word of God. Most churches already have a new members type class where basic doctrine and Christian disciplines are taught, we call ours New Life Journey. Both of these are essential for the beginning stages of discipleship.
So to recap, the reason this system is so important is because it includes so many different people working together to help assimilate guests. It should include the First Impressions team (Greeters, Ushers, Hospitality), the guest card and follow-up process as well as discipleship (Bible studies, Membership classes, small groups). Without the assimilation system consistent growth is not possible.
I hope this has been helpful to you and if you have any questions or suggestions please do not hesitate to leave a comment below or reach out. Next week, we will be looking at the Volunteer System and the Giving System.