Assimilating Newcomers To The Adult Class
Developed by Bill Campbell
I. What Is Assimilation?
Assimilation is everything your class does, consciously and unconsciously, to make new people a part of the fellowship and life of the class.
Assimilation is the process; incorporation is the goal.
II. How Do I Know When A Person Is Incorporated?
The person will have a dozen or more friends in the congregation.
He will have a task or role employing his spiritual gifts.
She will be a part of a fellowship group.
He will be involved in stewardship.
She will identify with the goals of the congregation.
He will be a faithful attendee.
She will be growing spiritually.
He will identify with the needs of the body and be responsive to them.
She will value her membership in the body.
ASK: What obstacles or problems have you faced trying to join a new group?
III. Barriers To Assimilation
Continual references to names, events, traditions of churchs history say the church is more interested in its past heroes than in newcomers.
Visitors often feel uneasy in confusing or unfamiliar service styles. Choruses sung from memory exclude newcomers.
A reputation of tension. Newcomers quickly pick up on strife between members or factions within the congregation.
Facilities. No signs to the sanctuary, nursery, rest room, etc. The message is We weren’t expecting you!
Poor attitudes by church members. Our church is getting too big! The church’s pioneers may resent newcomers or withdraw emotional support.
Existing friendships. As important as friendships are within the church, if the energy of the congregation is focused on caring for existing members, it may neglect identifying the needs of newcomers. Love becomes ingrown.
IV. The Facts About Assimilation
Assimilation is not automatic. It doesn’t just happen; it requires effort, money, time, and people. Older members sometimes assume newcomers will automatically experience warmth and friendliness, and that newcomers will take the initiative to get to know people. Newer people want the older members to take the initiative. Each waits for the other, and soon the newcomer is out the door.
Friendliness is not the same as assimilation. Newcomers may feel everyone is friendly, but still not be able to penetrate the various social groups and feel they truly belong. The question to ask is not, Is my class friendly? but What is my class doing to incorporate visitors?
V. Ideas To Improve Welcome & Assimilation
Arrive early enough to greet every adult who enters. Everyone appreciates a warm handshake and friendly greeting. People need to know you are interested in them. In larger classes, train personable members to be greeters. Make visitors feel welcome.
Be sure to get the visitor’s name straight. Taking time to get proper spelling and pronunciation tells visitors you care about them. Always have them fill out a card supplying name, address, phone, and other information helpful for follow-up. Use their name several times as you speak to them. People love to hear their own name and will respond well to you.
Identify the visitor by some visible means. Traditionally, we have visitors stand, wear a flower, a name tag, or a ribbon. The majority of visitors do not enjoy public recognition. Larger classes can have everyone wear a name tag-using one color for regular attendees and a different color for visitors-as courtesy to visitors who don’t know anyone’s name. This also helps regular attendees to enlarge their circle of acquaintances.
Informal time of refreshments at the start of each class. These few minutes of fellowship each week will do much to strengthen relationships. It is also an excellent opportunity to help visitors feel relaxed and be informally introduced to people.
Appoint a hospitality coordinator. This person would be responsible to see that everyone, especially a visitor, is welcomed as they enter. They would also be responsible to see that their name and address is recorded, that they are led to the refreshments, and that they are introduced to some class members. Hospitality cannot be taken for granted. Even though the hospitality coordinator may enlist individuals with outgoing personalities to help on Sunday morning, one person should have that assignment to give oversight to the class assimilation efforts.
Help class members become assimilation aware. Train your students in hospitality. Members may feel hospitable, but be unable or ill-equipped to show it in tangible, practical ways. Give training in how to greet visitors and begin conversation. A handshake and smile denied, a conversation unopened, an invitation to fellowship not given, a complementary lesson guide denied-all make the visitor feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.
Take pictures of all new attendees. If first-time visitors return, post their photographs and names on the class bulletin board along with photos of class regulars.
Consider a new member tracking committee. This committee monitors the first-year progress of newcomers in the class. They could update information files on the new member, watch attendance habits, help establish friendships, and generally insure the class is open to accept them.
Interview church dropouts in your community. Find out why they dropped out. Without appearing to pressure them into returning, simply state you are interested in improving your welcome and incorporation of new people. Tell them you would appreciate their honest and straightforward suggestions.
Expand the opportunities for work involvement. There is a direct correlation between the number of new people a class (or church) can incorporate and the number of roles or tasks that exist. The higher the number of tasks, the more members can be assimilated.
Plan entry-level events. An entry-level event is a special event where first contacts are made with prospects in a non-threatening setting, such as, concerts, picnic, sight seeing outing, work day at the church, special seminar, etc. This may be a one-time or annual event. Once contact is made and some relationships begun, invite them to the Sunday School class.
Keep up-to-date and accurate records. Irregular attendance is usually the first sign of frustrations and potential dropouts. Student information files are important records: name, address, phone number, birthday, anniversaries, spouses name, occupation, childrens names, spiritual background, hobbies, interests, and talents. Birthday or anniversary cards mean a great deal when a teacher remembers these special occasions.
In-home dinners. Once or twice a year, dinner groups of eight adults could be organized. Groups could be formed by random drawing or arranged geographically by class leaders. The group meets for dinner in the home of one of the group members. New groups are formed each time the fellowship dinners are held.
Welcoming visitors and assimilating newcomers is not easy. What is easy is neglecting this important work. Churches have traditionally spent a great deal of time, money, and effort to bring people in the front door, and yet have failed to prevent them from leaving through the back door. The adult class that will make a conscious, disciplined commitment to work on assimilation will grow.