Assimilation... it sounds like a big scary word, but it's really not that bad!
To assimilate a guest means to include them into the larger whole, or to involve them.
When you think of it like that, assimilation starts to sound like something that all churches want for every guest that comes through the doors.
So how do you do it?
Charles Arn wrote a great article on how to assimilate visitors into your church. His conclusion: It's not as hard as you think, but neither is it so straight forward, that you don't have to think about it.
His 8 points on assimilation include:
Attracting First-Time Guests. You can't assimilate them if they're not there! Most churches have 1-2% attendance as guests each week, but a better goal would be 5%. Because of natural attrition (people die, move, relocate, get married, etc.) that's what it takes to grow.
Make the Right Impression. What kind of first impression do you make? Most churches don't know because they stop looking through the lense of a newcomer.
The Most Important Factor. Overwhelmingly, people when polled said the friendliness of the church made it stand out. How many people talk to new guests? Many conversations = friendly church; few conversations = unfriendly church. The perceived "friendliness" of your church is the most significant factor in whether or not a first-time guest will return.
Critical Endings. Many guests didn't decided that a church was friendly until the 10 minutes AFTER the service ended. At the end of a service, people are on their own, and free to do what they want. When there's no perceived expectations place on them, what will your members do? Stick around to engage in conversations with people they don't know, or bolt for their car?
Returning: Seeing Guests Come Back. The more often guests return, the more likely it is that they will stay. If you can get someone to visit your church 3 times, there's a 33% chance that they'll stick around and participate in your church.
Electronic Support. Do you have an effective guest follow-up system for more than just your first-time guests? It's difficult and time-intensive, but falling through the cracks is no fun for anyone! We've talked about this before, and the principles haven't changed. Responsiveness and follow through can make all the difference in someone really committing to your church, or just walking away.
Nurturing: Building Relationships With Newcomers. If you ask "Why did you join this church?" Most people will mention that they were invited by a friend or relative. That's a fantastic start, but what about after their visit? Are you taking steps to build relationships after they join? Charles wrote that: In my own case, an important part of our eventual church selection grew from an invitation I received two days after our first visit. It was an invitation to become part of the church softball team. My wife was later invited to be part of a women’s Bible study.
Joining: Affiliation and Membership. A missing link in many churches is a membership class where people can learn more about the church with no strings attached. Up to 85% of people who attend membership classes choose to join the church.
What about your church? Is there a plan for keeping guests beyond their first visit, and engaging them? Are there volunteers/staff members who intentionally follow up with members/guests if they appear to be falling through the cracks?
What impact would it have on your church attendance, budget, moral, and level of enthusiam if guests kept coming back, and fewer existing members left?