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Helping Outsiders Become Insiders

By J. Melvin Ming

A STUDY OF FAST GROWING CHURCHES

Several years ago I studied five growing churches in the Pacific Northwest. These churches averaged less than 1,200, but had grown by over 200 people during the previous year. Three of these churches did not own their own buildings, but met in schools. Even though they represented four denominations and had no connection with each other, they had similarities in their approach to assimilation. All had:

Hint for Effective Assimilation:
Change Your Vocabulary
Change your vocabulary from visitors to guests. A visitor is an outsider who comes for a short time to check you out. A guest is a special person who is warmly received and shown hospitality. 
Change your vocabulary from greeters to hosts. A greeter is someone who officially welcomes you but you rarely develop relationships with. A host is someone who makes you feel at home and facilitates your acceptance by helping you develop relationships. 
Change your vocabulary from Information Center to Welcome Center. An Information Center is somewhat impersonal and only provides facts. A Welcome Center seeks to help you find the things you want and encourages you to make yourself at home. 
— J. Melvin Ming

WHY DO CHURCHES NEED TO BE CONCERNED WITH ASSIMILATION?

Studies indicate that 17 out of 20 churches are not growing, yet Jesus' command to the Church was to "go and make disciples." There are three reasons why every church needs to be concerned with assimilation.

  1. There are many who have never heard the good news that Jesus loves them and that His church is for them.

    In Luke 14:23 the Master said, "Go out into the country lanes and out behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full" (TLB). Jesus revealed His mission in Luke 19:10: "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (NIV). Jesus is concerned with our making outsiders into insiders. 
    We must target lost people with bridge events and encourage them to visit our churches. Then we must have an assimilation strategy to retain those who visit. Studies indicate that when a church does not have an intentional strategy for assimilation, 91 percent of visitors will not return and become part of the church. Many of these will also be lost to Christ's kingdom. 
    When Christian Life Center in Aloha, Oregon, implemented an assimilation strategy, guest retention went from 12 percent to 49 percent and the church grew from 330 to over 650 in 2 years.

  2. There are many who, after hearing and accepting the good news of Christ, are leaving the church through the back doors.

    A study by Servant magazine indicated that every week over 53,000 people leave the church and never return. These people are not only lost to the church, but possibly for eternity. 
    Proverbs 27:23 says, "Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds" (NIV). The diligent shepherd in Luke 15 illustrates how concerned we need to be for those who are lost to the kingdom of God.

  3. There are many former church attendees and Christians in our communities.

    When people move, they often do not join a church in their new community. 
    How can we help visitors who attend our church move from being outsiders to insiders? One helpful tool is the "Circles of Commitment" diagram used in We Build People. There are five circles with each circle representing a specific group we must assimilate or move into the adjoining smaller circle.

In this article, we will focus on the outer two circles. We must develop an effective guest assimilation ministry to reach and retain those in the uncommitted (unchurched and occasional attendees) circle and move them to the committed to attendance (regular attendee) circle. 

Doug Murren illustrates the importance of a guest assimilation ministry. He reports that over 90 percent of those who visit churches never return.1 John Maxwell says, "A visitor is the most important person that attends church on Sunday. His attendance has been motivated by a friend or a deep need. He brings his hurts, questions, and apprehensions. He looks for warmth, acceptance, and smiles."2 

What causes people to assimilate into a church? It is relationships. Our assimilation ministry must help guests establish relationships with people in the church, to move from being outsiders to being insiders. Robert W. Jeambey reports that 43 percent of all people who leave congregations do so because of "nonacceptance and unrelatedness."3

HELP GUESTS FEEL WELCOME.

Pre-visit action steps
Tom Clegg, a consultant with Church Growth Institute, states, "When visitors walk through the door, they will decide in 3 to 8 minutes whether they will take you seriously and whether they will return."4 It is vital for a church to be prepared to receive guests. Here are four areas of preparation:

Prepare your people to welcome guests.
The entire membership needs to meet guests and help them get acquainted and involved in relationship-building ministries in the church. This is not the ministry of a few select people. This philosophy needs to be reinforced often.

Strategies That Impact Secular People
"Provide ministries of instruction. If secular people are largely ignorant of basic Christianity, then the ministry of instruction becomes necessary in reaching them...."
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Train 20 percent of members to be part of the guest assimilation ministry team.
This can be done on a special weekend. The keys are: having an intentional plan for assimilation, having effective leadership, and having a group of people who will show Christ's love to guests. There are several ministries that can help you do this. (See sidebar, Assimilation Resources.)

Prepare your facilities to receive guests.
Remember, what is acceptable to members may not be acceptable to guests. If we want to reach our guests with the good news, we must be willing to change and adjust.

Make sure your services are ready to receive guests.
Charles Arn said "The best follow-up strategies in the world will be useless if the message is irrelevant, the music inappropriate, and the experience unpleasant."5 Make sure everything in a service is understandable to the unchurched. Many people dislike church because they feel:

Have a bulletin with a clear order of worship written in terms nonchurched people will understand.
Include the words to your music either in the bulletin or have them projected on a screen. Victor Mertz of Church Growth Institute says, "We have to remember that the unchurched don't know most of our lingo or songs or even church etiquette, such as when to stand or sit. They feel threatened because they don't know those things. We need to help them in those areas."6

The day the guest attends

Follow-up on all guests
Paul Sorensen from Community Church of Joy reports, "Thirty-four percent of first-time guests who get a call from the pastor within 2 days will return next Sunday. But if they receive a call from a layperson, 68 percent will come back."7 

Here are several strategies for assimilating first-time guests:

Guest follow-up of second-time visitor

Guest follow-up for third-time visitors

GUEST ASSIMILATION MINISTRY STRATEGY PART 2: BE INTENTIONAL AT BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

The use of adult Bible fellowships and other small groups is vital to retaining guests. The sooner guests are active in a group in the church, the sooner they will move from being outsiders to insiders. It is imperative that from the first visit your assimilation strategy seeks to move them into active participation with others from the church. 

For adult Bible fellowships (adult Sunday school classes) to be effective, they must promote relationships and should include:

For the church to grow and fulfill Christ's plan, we must transform outsiders into insiders.

ENDNOTES

  1. Doug Murren, "Assimilation from Visitor to Minister." Audio seminar advertisement brochure.
  2. John Maxwell, Ushers and Greeters. Audio seminar students workbook, p. 23, Injoy Ministries, 1530 Jamacha Rd, Suite D, El Cajon, CA 92019-3757.
  3. Robert W. Jeambey, Why Do People Leave Congregations? [Net Results online]; available from Leadership Network, http://www.leadnet.org.
  4. Jeanette Gardner Littleton, How To Become a Visitor-Friendly Church: Touch Points of Turning Guests into Members [YOUR CHURCH, January/February 1998, online] available from http://www.christianity.net/yc/8Y1/8Y1068.html.
  5. Charles Arn, "Seeing Visitors Return," Growing Churches, Winter 1998, p. 26.
  6. Jeanette Gardner Littleton, How To Become a Visitor-Friendly Church: Touch Points of Turning Guests into Members [Your Church, January/February 1998, on line ]; available from http://www.christianity.net/yc/8Y1/8Y1068.html.
  7. Paul Sorensen, Assimilating Newcomers at Community Church of Joy, [Net Results, September 1996, online] available from Leadership Network, http://www.leadnet.org.
Additional Assimilation Resources

Books and Other
Helpful Resources

Organizations

We Build People
Check out their website:
http://www.we-build-people.org/

Assimilation: From Visitor to Minister Audio Seminar
Charles E. Fuller Institute
P.O. Box 91990
Pasadena, CA 91109
1-800-999-9578, ask for item #4379

Assimilate and Grow videos
Church Growth Today
P.O. Box 47
Bolivar, MO 65613
1-800-852-7289

McIntosh, Gary, and Martin, Glen. Finding Them, Keeping Them: Effective Strategies for Evangelism and Assimilation in the Local Church. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992.
Care Ministries
Ken Houts, founder
9412 Delmar
Prairie Village, KS 66207
1-800-769-GROW

Ministry of Caring
Thomas Ming Ministries
16703 NW Waterford Way
Portland, OR 97229
503-645-6383
Email: thomasming@AOL.com
J. Melvin Ming, D.Min., is director of Doctor of Ministry and Continuing Education, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri.

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