Every church would love to see more growth. By following the four keys to assimilation, growth isn’t just something to wish for anymore.
These keys are fairly straightforward, but it may take some practice to master them. After all, every church and visitor are different.
The overall key to remember is to continue to tweak your strategy until you find what works for assimilating new members and retaining existing members.
1. Focus On Hospitality
Hospitality is one of the most important keys to assimilation. Think of hospitality as the first impression you make on visitors. It’s important to note that this goes beyond just saying “hello” to new visitors.
First of all, are there directional signs in place to guide visitors on where to park, enter and then go when they enter your church? If visitors feel lost from the moment they arrive, your church might not feel like a welcoming, hospitable environment.
The next step is engaging with new visitors. Have people in place to greet them, answer questions and make them feel like a part of the family. A warm greeting, along with a little guidance for first-time visitors, goes a long way towards making that first visit not only a memorable one, but a great one.
Focus on creating a welcoming environment that includes every aspect of your church. Make a good first impression and the rest becomes easier.
2. Get To Know More About Visitors
Obviously, you want to be able to get to know more about your new visitors and help them learn more about your church. However, don’t overwhelm them.
For instance, asking them to fill out a lengthy questionnaire as they’re leaving and going to spend the rest of the day with family might turn them off from your church. Keep it simple and they’ll be more likely to provide some contact details
Ideally, offer a few options to fit all types of visitors. For instance, you might have a simple contact card that asks for name, number, address and email. Let visitors know that you only need one contact method. This makes it quick and easy for them to fill out.
Another option is to ask them to fill out a form online when they get home. Provide them with a card with your church’s name, website and email address. Ensure you have a page or section for new visitors. When you hand out these cards, tell visitors what to look for on your site.
Finally, have a visible booth as new visitors exit. This booth is to provide information and request information. This will also make your visitors feel less intimidated than if strangers are walking up and asking for information.
3. Reach Out To Visitors
While it’s one of the major keys to assimilation, it’s often skipped. You gathered the contact details. Now, it’s time to use them to reach out.
This goes back to hospitality. Reach out to your first-time visitors to let them know you appreciated their visit. All you need is a short email, postcard or call to make your visitors feel like they already belong.
A few things you might want to include are:
- A thank you for attending
- Ask if they have any questions
- Ask if they enjoyed their visit
- Give them details to connect, such as your website, email address, social media group and/or next service hours
- Ask if there is anything they didn’t like (show you’re humble enough to ask for their opinion)
While you don’t have to include all of this, these are just a few ideas to start building a relationship and assimilating visitors into your church.
4. Be Available
Now that you’ve completed the first three keys of assimilation, it’s time to round out your strategy by being available. Reach out not just to get visitors to come back, but to guide them in their faith.
Recruit volunteers or assign a few church leaders to answer questions, send out Bible studies, share scripture and engage with visitors as they check out your social media groups.
It’s important when you’re contacting visitors not to sound pushy. Be friendly and let visitors come to you. The idea is to build a real relationship and not come off like you’re marketing your church. Finding this balance can be tricky, but once you do, you’ll see your church start to grow.
Understand The Assimilation Rectangle
Chuck Lawless, guesting on Thom S. Rainer’s site, helps explain the keys to assimilation as a rectangle. This is yet another great way to understand the process. According to Lawless, effective assimilation includes:
- Expectations – Helping them to see what both God and the church expects of them.
- Involvement – Giving visitors a place in the church to start getting involved.
- Relationships – Continuing to build relationships with visitors who then build relationships with others.
- Convictional teaching and preaching – Giving new visitors the guidance they need to grow in their faith.
These four elements coincide well with the four main keys of assimilation. Not only do these work for new visitors, but existing members.
Look At Your Current Strategy
Now that you understand the four keys to assimilation, it’s time to see how your current strategy stacks up. As busy as you probably are, it might not seem like it’s worth it to reevaluate your process and make changes, but this is how your church will grow.
The last thing you want to do is work hard to bring in new visitors, but not have anyone stick around. Besides, the effort you put into keeping new visitors will also help you in your membership engagement strategy as well.
If you’re not really sure what your process is, spend a few weeks looking at how you welcome and connect with visitors. You’ll either find you have a process in place or you need a clear plan of action.
Either way, if you don’t feel your church is growing as it should, it’s definitely time to look more closely at your current strategy and find ways to improve it.
Identify Lacking Areas
Next, where does your assimilation process fall short? Perhaps when it comes to the keys of assimilation, you’ve mastered one or two, but not the rest. Or, maybe you’re reaching out, but giving too much or too little information.
A few common areas where churches might be lacking include:
- Clear signs
- Dedicated welcome volunteers
- Offering more information
- Collecting too much, too little or no information at all
- Assuming new visitors should just fit in
- Not reaching out
- Reaching out too much, such as bombarding a new visitor with multiple emails each week asking them to come back
Everything on this list is a chance to lose new visitors. Even if they loved the service itself, they still want a place they can call home. If they don’t feel like they’re welcome, they won’t come back.
Look At Your Numbers
Before you get comfortable with your assimilation and growth process, you have to measure your results. It’s not enough to count how many visitors come back for a second time.
Take a look back at your numbers over six months, a year, two years and so on. If you’ve assimilated 50 new visitors, but regular attendance is only up by 20 people, something’s not quite right.
First of all, see how many visitors have become members and how frequently they attend. If they’ve stopped attending on a regular schedule, reach out to find out why. It could be someone has a new job and they can only attend once a month. Make sure they know about any online resources your church offers to continue attending on their schedule.
Of course, your assimilation process might be great, but you’re losing existing members. While there are some things you can’t help, such as people moving away or a long-term illness, the issue could be your engagement levels.
It’s always important to work on engaging your members. After all, they’re the ones who keep your church running and growing.
Knowing your numbers and measuring results helps your church to see whether it’s your assimilation or retainment strategy that needs work.
Create A New Assimilation Strategy
Now that you know the keys to assimilation and you’ve had a look at your current strategy, it’s time to create a new one. The problem is you could ask a dozen different churches about their strategy and get a dozen different answers.
You have to customize your strategy to your church. For instance, some churches offer welcome gifts to new visitors and even second-time visitors. You don’t have to give anything away other than friendship and community if that works better for your church.
As you’re creating a new strategy, a few ideas to appeal to new visitors include:
- Offering a simple welcome gift, such as a small book of scripture, devotionals, church swag (custom mugs, pens, bookmarks, etc.)
- Have meet and greets at the end of services (announce this during services and state where they’ll be)
- Send emails with all contact and connection information, such as email addresses, church website, social media details and links to ministry groups
- Invite them to small ministry groups
- Ask them join members for dinner after services
- Invite them to new visitor meetings to ask questions, learn more about your church and meet some of your church leaders and members
The entire purpose is to get your visitors interacting with your members. As they build friendships, they’re more comfortable coming back. Continue engaging them and they’ll stay. Not to mention, they’ll be eager to tell friends and family about their great experience.
No assimilation strategy is complete with volunteers. You can’t possibly do it all by yourself. Let your members help out. After all, you have a church family and new visitors should feel like a part of it. This means interacting with more than just church leaders.
Recruit volunteers for a variety of welcome tasks, such as:
- Aiding with parking
- Greeting members and visitors at the door
- Helping visitors who may have trouble walking
- Answering questions
- Handing out church bulletins
- Helping find seats
- Making introductions
While all of your members should welcome new visitors, have dedicated volunteers that are clearly marked. This might mean wearing a certain color or having a noticeable badge. Greeters at your front entrance can tell visitors to please look for this identifier if they need any assistance.
Make First-Time Visitors Feel Special
All of the above will go a long way towards making first-time visitors feel special. However, it’s about more than just shaking hands and saying “hi.”
Surprisingly, one church found that simply taking the time to help members and volunteers understand the importance of making others feel welcome is the most important assimilation tool a church can have. They don’t even believe in any sort of formal process, including contact collection cards.
Their approach is about acceptance from the moment someone walks in. They’re treated as if they’ve been a member there for years. Friendly greetings and being brought into conversations makes visitors feel welcome.
Think of it like your first day of school. If you’re the new kid, you might feel lonely. Someone saying “hello” and asking for your number is nice, but you’re still left sitting alone at lunch. Now, imagine if other kids came up and started asking you about what they’ve been talking about or inviting you to sit with them during lunch. It’s a major difference and one that makes a lasting impact.
An Improved Assimilation Strategy In Action
Sometimes, it helps to see how other churches have approached the keys to assimilation and used them successfully to create a lasting growth track. Joshua Huffman of New Life Church felt as if there was a revolving door int the church that new visitors entered, left and never returned.
New Life Church implemented a completely new strategy that led to a 25% increase in growth over three months and their new member classes began filling up. Huffman put together his church’s strategy for others to learn from. It’s well worth checking out to give you a starting point.
Make sure you have a way for new visitors to easily connect with you online. Start with an engaging church website today.