Three Tips for Better Assimilation

We’ve all been there. A guest comes. A guest leaves. A guest never comes back.

We scratch our heads and wonder, “What happened? Was it something I said?”

Truthfully, most leaders don’t know where the breakdown happens or why. The failure likely wasn’t in the service itself or even in the initial follow-up. The failure is in the lack of a fully realized Assimilation Process.

Here are three easy steps you can take to have better guest assimilation:

1. Define what it means for someone to be “assimilated” at your church.

Wow. Mind-blowing tip, Scott.

I know it sounds simple, but most churches have never defined what it means for a guest to actually be assimilated at their church. Most people assume that “assimilation” is synonymous with “follow-up.” It’s not the same.

Your initial follow-up communication is only the first step in a true assimilation process.

The “official” definition of assimilation is “the absorption and integration of people, ideas, or culture into a wider society or culture.” At your church, when is someone truly “integrated” into the “culture” of your church?

This is going to vary from church to church, but some examples might be:

  • attending a newcomer event
  • joining a Sunday School class or small group
  • completing a membership class or growth track
  • serving in a ministry

Your church needs to define what “action” or “step” a person needs to take for the church to consider that person as assimilated. Generally, this will look like moving from “Step 1” to “Step 2” on your Discipleship Pathway. Of course, this assumes that you have a Discipleship Pathway!

2. Visualize the progress.

Once you know what it means for someone to be “assimilated,” you can reverse-engineer the process into a series of micro-steps.

For example, if someone is “assimilated” once they join a group, what are the small steps they might take in-between?

  • Step 1: Follow-up Communication Sent
  • Step 2: Attend a Newcomer Event
  • Step 3: Attend Growth Track
  • Step 4: Join a Group

Using something digital (like a spreadsheet or project-management software) or physical (like a whiteboard or cork board), create a visual representation of these steps along with who is in which step.

Use a “kanban” style system to map out your process so you can know how things are progressing. This may seem like a lot of work, but once you have your system set up, managing it is relatively simple.

The only question is how annoyed are you that people are walking out the back door of your church? If it’s really bothering you, setting up a visual representation of your assimilation process will revolutionize your ability to close the back door. If you’re not willing to do the simple work of putting this together, it’s likely that you’d rather have an excuse for why guests don’t come back (“Gee, I’m not sure what the problem is…”) than have a solution to the problem.

3. Identify the bottleneck and do something about it.

After you’ve put together your visual system for tracking newcomers in an assimilation process, you can start to figure out where the bottleneck is.

Where are people getting stuck in your process? Are they not coming to the Newcomer Event? (Maybe the event isn’t compelling or our follow-up series isn’t effective.)

Are they not signing-up for Growth Track? (Maybe we aren’t announcing this the way we should or we haven’t placed a high priority on it.)

Are they not signing up for a group? (Maybe we need to make our group times more accessible or convenient. Maybe our group leaders need to take a more proactive recruiting role by attending the Growth Track class.)

Often, churches take a scattershot approach to solving problems because they haven’t done the work to identify the one or two real problems they have. When you have a visual system for tracking newcomers in your assimilation process, you can identify bottlenecks and do something about it.

Ultimately, God is in control of growth. He’s why our bodies grow. He’s why we grow spiritually. He’s why our churches grow.

But God invites us to take an active, not passive, role in our journey towards healthy, sustainable growth.

If you’re tired of guests coming and never coming back, these three (relatively) simple steps will revolutionize your church’s ability to assimilate newcomers.

Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).

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