Your assimilation plan: the difference between visitors and members.

Not very long ago, I was searching for a church. My family and I had just moved into a new community and we wanted very much to get plugged into a church that was relevant, engaging, vital, and committed to biblical teaching. There are plenty of churches that fit this description in the area, honestly, but finding one in which we could grow and serve using our particular gifts was not easy and the task was not made any easier by some of the churches that we visited.

I vividly remember visiting one church in particular. When we walked in the door, we were enthusiastically greeted by genuinely warm and inviting people. We signed our daughter into the nursery – giving all of our vital info in the process – and went to service. After service, we were greeted again by an overly-enthusiastic member of church leadership who seemed intent on making sure that we were invited to every event that the church was having over the course of the next month.

I left feeling somewhat overwhelmed, honestly. But I also felt like this was a church that cared whether or not we came back.

Only I guess they didn’t care that much after all. We never heard another word from them. Even though they had seemed so happy to see us. Even though we had given them all of our contact info when we checked in our daughter. Even though the church leader had seemed to want me to come to… everything. Even with all that, we never heard anything from them again. No mail. No call. No email. Nothing. It was disappointing.

Contrast that with the church that we are now members of. When we visited our new church home, we were also greeted warmly. We were guided through the child check-in process and shown into the sanctuary for the service. We had a good experience, people were very friendly, and we were given easy options for engaging with the church. We left feeling like this church was a warm and inviting place and that we might possibly come back to visit a second time.

Within a week, we had received a letter from the church thanking us for our visit. It came with a small gift and an invitation to ask questions and to connect more deeply with the church’s mission. And we went back. We engaged with the church leadership. We asked questions. We attended the membership class. We got plugged into the ministries of the church. We became fully engaged members of the church.

What was the difference? I believe it comes down to one thing. The second church had a plan in place to grow and nurture relationships with church visitors and to shepherd church members towards becoming integrated members of the body of Christ.

We call this an assimilation plan and you need one.

At its core, an assimilation plan is a set of milestones for church members and a process to help people hit those milestones. Common assimilation milestones include:

  • First Time Visitors
  • Christ Seekers with Questions
  • New Christians
  • Baptism
  • Church Membership
  • Small Groups or Discipleship Classes
  • Service / Missions
  • Church Leadership

Every church has a slightly different set of milestones that are particular to their ministry, of course, and how you move members from one milestone to the next is even more specific to your church body.

“People keep coming in the front door… and then walking right out the back door.”

Lots of churches do a great job getting people to visit. But a lot of churches struggle with getting visitors to come back a second or third time and, eventually, becoming fully integrated church members. An assimilation plan can help keep people engaged and growing. Discovering the steps and processes of your personal assimilation plan requires a great deal of thought and may mean some significant changes in internal processes. It can be difficult to shift tracks from the way that it’s always been done, but it’s important that the modern church thinks through these things. Culture is shifting and we, as the church, have to shift how we engage with it. How can we “make disciples” if we can’t even convince people to come back a second time?

The biggest key to success? Staff buy-in.

Ultimately, assimilation is a team effort. A connections pastor or even a senior pastor can’t do this alone. Growing the church, nurturing new members, and making disciples is an all-hands-on-deck scenario and if you don’t have the whole team bought into the plan, success will be limited at best. Team members need to understand the goals of the assimilation plan and their role in the process. Churches are by-and-large staffed by people who are passionate about the cause of Christ so, if they understand the heart and purpose of an assimilation plan, they will be excited to do their part, to communicate with each other, and to tag-team discipleship tasks.

There’s a purely logistical side to all of this, of course. You’ve got to track the progress of each member so that you know what milestones are uncompleted. These uncompleted milestones reflect unserved parts of their Christian walk and you want to address them. Unless your team is engaged with the plan and “checking off” milestones (however that looks in your process), you will never know where a member is in the process.

An assimilation plan is a big deal and it can be a lot of work. It can also make all the difference in the growth of your church and its members. If you want to learn more about what an assimilation plan can mean for your church, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. One of our strategists will be more than happy to help you find the best option for you.