Winning at the Game of Assimilation

Winning at the Game of Assimilation
Josh Cook

There’s not a four star general in the world who would engage the enemy without one. No championship caliber head coach would prepare his team for the next game without one either and no business person worth their 401(k) would ever dream of starting a company without this crucial one-word ingredient STRATEGY.

Yet it seems that we in the Church tend to approach the idea of assimilating people without a strategy. Similar to Field of Dreams I think we sometimes say, If we build it, they will come . . . and stay . . . I mean, just look around . . . we’re such a great group of people . . . why wouldn’t they stay here and set down roots in our church?

Sadly, this is the strategy some churches use with the hope that it will help them keep people in their church. Yet, for most that have either tried this approach or watched others try, we have come to realize there must be a more strategic way to close the proverbial back door.

Now a lot of churches today have put a great deal of thought and planning into developing a great front door. We’ve got incredibly talented worship teams who bring us into the presence of God each week and our pastors do a phenomenal job of preaching the Word so that the Body of Christ can be encouraged and challenged. And any good leader in today’s church knows you’ve got to have top-flight children’s and youth ministries to attract families. Plus, we even go to great lengths to make people feel welcomed by training our greeters, ushers and parking lot attendants to smile and hand out those bulletins as if the people coming into the building are celebrities on a red carpet. But what do we do after the last song has been sung and the last two year-old has been picked up from the nursery? Is our job over?

For the past five years I’ve had the privilege of serving at Calvary Church in Naperville, IL  a thriving church in the Chicago suburbs that is now averaging over 6300 in attendance and has added 1000 people in the last year. While on staff as the Assimilation pastor it has been remarkable to watch not only our front door ministries working to build up the church but also to see success in our strategies of closing that crazy back door. Let me share with you three strategic ideas that for us have proven to be powerfully effective!

1. Follow-Up Most people who visit your church, no matter how big or small it is, don’t want to feel as if they’re just a number to you. The best way to remedy this is to follow-up with every person who identifies themselves to you as a visitor. If they’ve taken the time to fill out a visitor card, you need to take the time to let them know you got it, you’re glad they came, and you are ready to assist them in connecting to the life of your church. If you send out a letter from the senior pastor, that’s a good start, but since most people can sniff out a form letter from a mile away, let me recommend a more personal touch. This personal touch takes more effort and requires some friendly and eager volunteers, but the pay-off is huge. At Calvary, we have a team of people who make phone calls each week, personally thanking each visitor for attending and offering to assist them in making the next step in connecting to the church. While sometimes tedious and time-consuming, the personal touch method of follow-up reaps huge rewards in the future!

2. Make Your Assimilation Process Easy To Understand. While it’s good to follow-up with people, you also need to have an easy to understand assimilation process to move them through. In other words, the people who attend your church need to be able to easily identify the next step you want them to take. Is it to join a small group? Great! Make sure they know that. Or do you want them to start coming to your mid-week service after they’ve started attending on the weekend? Awesome! Make sure they know that! Or is serving in a volunteer ministry what you ask new people to do? Cool! Make sure they know that! Honestly, it doesn’t really matter what the next step is at your church  JUST MAKE SURE PEOPLE KNOW WHAT IT IS! Do whatever you’ve got to do. Come up with a cool logo and plaster it all over your church. Print it in the bulletin, put it up in your pre-service PowerPoint and make it a regular part of your pulpit announcements  do what you’ve got to do to get the word out, but make sure you get the word out  especially to all the leaders and volunteers in your church. Infuse it into the DNA of your church. Make sure everybody knows what the next step is so they can help you spread the news! The tragedy is that people can attend some of our churches for years and never know what they should do to get further along in their relationship with God or how to get connected to other believers in the church. Again, I think we just assume people will do it naturally, but the reality is most won’t. Remember, we’re shepherds and sheep need to be led. If you haven’t already, define who an assimilated person is at your church (i.e., they attend a service and a small group, etc.) then, make sure your people know that by branding it and making it easy to understand!

3. Provide Connecting Events. Finally, it’s important to provide opportunities that will move people closer to connectedness in your church. Most are familiar with Rick Warren’s concentric circles from The Purpose Driven Church that illustrates the five groups of people in your church and their level of commitment. They are Community, Crowd, Congregation, Committed and Core. Warren states that the goal of Saddleback Church is to move people from the community into the core. Obviously, these people groups exist in our churches too. But what are we doing to help move them from the community to the core? At Calvary Church, we are intentional about providing easy access points for people to move inward from one level to the next. We call these connecting events. For example, about five years ago, we developed something called Intersection. On the third Sunday night of each month we offer 4-6 different activities in the church building that hope to attract anywhere from 30-300 people. The rationale is that this may be a more palatable option for someone who is willing make the leap from the anonymity of a weekend service but isn’t quite ready to go into the living room of one of our small groups. In other words, some people aren’t ready to go from Mega to Mini, so we decided to provide Meta. For us, this has proven to be a great way to help some people who were Crowd move into being a part of the Congregation. Like follow-up, this takes some effort, but with a little strategic planning and forethought, you can develop some connecting events that will work in your context and will aide people in getting plugged in to the life of your church.

Remember, to win in the game of Assimilation, we must be strategic. Don’t just have a great looking front door, but do whatever it takes to close that back door and build the effective, thriving church God has called you build. Now, step away from your computer, grab a coffee and get together with your staff or some key leaders in your church and develop a God-breathed strategy for assimilation! Strategy!

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.

This article Winning at the Game of Assimilation written by Josh Cook, was excerpted from: web site. July 2010. It may be used for study & research purposes only.