Assimilation: Turning Guests Into Family
Josh is the associate pastor of New Life Church (Huntington, WV). He is a life long Christ follower and preacher’s kid. He says, “I love Jesus and owe everything to Him. So much so that I’ve devoted my life and purpose to build His Kingdom full-time. I am extremely blessed to have served the amazing people at our church for the past thirteen years (the first five I served as youth pastor). I like to laugh, a lot. My major gifts are speaking, mediating, diffusing, encouraging, planning, keeping it real, creative brainstorming and making the most out of any situation. I’m constantly developing my relationships, leadership skills and my pizza eating ninja skills.” Learn more about New Life Church.
I’ve noticed a reoccurring issue in many churches including my own. It’s as if there is this invisible revolving door located somewhere in our church that apparently only new people are able to see. If your church is anything like mine, we didn’t have a problem getting first time guests to show up, but we definitely had problems getting them to come back. I remember thinking in one of our strategic meetings, “if just half of the people who walked through our front doors would stay, our church would double and we’d hit magazine covers headlined REVIVAL!” The immediate thought that followed was an intensely humbling, “we’re obviously doing something wrong…but what exactly is it?”
I began to evaluate everything. I questioned our music style, music volume, the length of services, our dress, our friendly factor, our kid’s ministry; I even evaluated our usher’s breath (I’m not joking). All I knew was that something wasn’t right, and for some reason, first timers were walking in the front door and out through this invisible revolving door and that it needed to stop soon!
Maybe similar to you, we had a basic first time guest follow up plan in place that looked like this:
- First time guest shows up
- We have them indicate this by raising their hand
- They fill out and turn in a special card
- For doing this they get a free coffee mug with our church logo on it
- We call them the next day and thank them
- We send them a letter that week
You’re maybe thinking, what’s so wrong with that? Easy. It wasn’t working. We determined through honest evaluation and prayer that our problem had nothing to do with bad breath (thank God), but had EVERYTHING to do with our assimilation strategy. So, with much research, consultation, planning and training, we devised a new strategy incorporating a systematic approach to assimilation.
If I’m being honest, I personally hate the word assimilation. Nobody wants to be “assimilated.” That sounds a bit creepy to me. What they want is to “belong.” People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and involved in a church that sincerely cares. They also want to know how they can contribute.
In a nutshell, here is the new assimilation plan we implemented and have began to see some encouraging results.
- We launched a new volunteer team of special (First Time Guest focused) greeters. Their job is to pursue first time guests and give them the red carpet treatment. They help check kids in, give them a tour of the facility, take them to our Café for a free beverage, and assist them to find a seat for the service. (This team is hand picked and requires qualified outgoing people).
- We ask our entire church congregation to fill out connection cards. Connection cards are essential. They include basic information as well as options for taking next steps at our church. (Salvation, Baptism, Volunteer, Learn More, etc). We have everyone fill these cards out during the service so that first timers don’t feel like the odd man out. We ask that the cards be placed in the offering buckets as they are passed out.
- We ditched the coffee mugs (seriously, how many more mugs do people need?) for a more practical 5 day drive time devotional CD. It cost very little to produce and we package it together in a sleek CD case. This case includes everything a new person needs to know; a professionally printed booklet full of church/ministry information and a simple card describing contents found in the case. We occasionally mix it up with free t-shirts, free balloons for kids, candy or even gift cards! Keep it fun!
- The free gifts are available once the service ends at a special first time guest booth in our lobby. This booth is easily identified with large banners, free snacks, and our first time guest greeting team. Our pastoral team is also there to answer questions and help distribute the free gift.
- Within 24 hours we follow up with an email. Within 48 hours we follow up with a phone call. Within 72 hours we mail a hand written card that includes a $5 gift card to a local coffee shop (Starbucks) or sandwich shop (Subway).
- When they attend a 2nd time, we go all out! We contact them once again with an email / phone call and then ask them to attend our newcomers lunch or new members class to learn more about our church. (2nd time visitors are VERY serious about joining your church!) Make sure you have clear “next steps” for people to take. Allow them to make the decision, but give them clear options (volunteering, groups, baptism, membership, etc). We also mail 2nd time guests a CD teaching with our vision.
- Our goal is that each person (especially first time guests) is greeted a minimum of 5 personal contacts. From the parking lot, to the front doors, once in the lobby, entering the sanctuary, once they are seated, as they leave and finally when they grab a free gift. That is 7 times!
We have seen our church grow by 25% in the past 3 months and our new members classes have been filling up! We’ve also seen a jump in new volunteers and overall church involvement. We understand that not everyone who shows up to our church will end up staying, but we felt it was our responsibility to remove every single excuse they would have NOT to stay other than God was leading them elsewhere.
To help you out, I’ve included our entire assimilation strategy (link below) that details of our research, job descriptions and each step of our follow up process. I am believing God with you to permanently shut and lock that revolving door and to see your church grow!