Growing membership is a top priority for many churches. However, church leaders know all too well that becoming a member doesn’t always mean long-term commitment—or even active involvement in the church community.
Perhaps the answer to cultivating a more engaged congregation lies in focusing on more than just member counts. Rushing visitors along to membership does little more than leave churches with reluctant newcomers or worse yet, empty seats. Regardless of membership status, there’s a big difference between being a passive worship attendee and being a dynamic, thriving member of the body of Christ.
The process requires getting your church visitors and members from passive to active assimilation. This is a major objective for churches and one that takes far more effort than simple visitor outreach. Assimilation is more than just one strategy. It’s a process that takes time. Think of assimilation as a mindset toward growing your church family—an ongoing cycle of turning visitors into members and promoting the spiritual growth of all believers.
The assimilation process can be divided into four steps, each designed to go beyond just drawing in new believers, but also showing them that they are cherished and valued.
Before a church can begin to assimilate members, it must get them through the doors. Churches can do this with informative, welcoming signage, in-person and social media outreach, and invitations asking members to “bring a friend.” Have greeters ready on Sundays to receive visitors and answer questions.
Survey your most involved new members. Ask them about their initial impressions of your church and what prompted them to join. This may provide insight into how your church is perceived, and it will help you learn what’s working and where you may need to refine your communication.
Once visitors gain a first impression of your church as a warm, caring community, you’ll want to make good on that promise by starting to build relationships. Many pastors do this by setting aside a moment during or after a service for congregants to greet their neighbors and introduce themselves to new faces.
Returning visitors may appreciate being paired with prayer partners—church members with whom visitors can share concerns, ask questions, and reflect on weekly sermons. The more meaningful the bonds that visitors form with established members, the more reasons they’ll have to return to church.
This is also the stage at which churches may want to implement a communications plan. Phone calls, emails, or text messages keep visitors engaged from one week to the next. Some churches may have the resources to make phone calls or write notes individually. However, many churches rely on automated messaging systems to reach out.
After spending some time getting to know your church, visitors may be ready to get more involved. This could mean becoming a member—or simply joining a Sunday school class or a choral group. Resist the urge to pressure visitors into membership before they’re ready. Instead, let each visitor draw closer to your church at his or her own pace.
If a visitor does decide to become a member, be clear about your church’s expectations for membership. Be sure that new members understand basics, such as: what is our church’s doctrine—what do we believe? How often am I expected to attend worship? How else can I contribute (tithing, time, service)? What can I do to grow in faith?
Establishing clear guidelines for what it means to be a member of your church family helps ensure that those who do choose to join are truly dedicated— and become engaged, involved members.
Churches may eventually ask visitors who have transitioned into full members to take on more responsibility. For example, they might ask new members to chair a committee, teach a Sunday school class, or help organize a mission trip. A crucial part of building engagement is helping members see that their involvement matters. As they take on new leadership roles, they discover that their assigned programs and events truly can’t run without them.
Serving as a Sunday-morning greeter is an excellent job for new members. It gives them the opportunity to meet fellow congregants and share the joy of their new church home with first-timers. In this way, new members become a fruitful source of yet more engaged visitors and members—bringing the cycle of assimilation full circle.
The time required to move through the assimilation cycle will be different for every new member. Some may be ready to dive right in to life in your church, while others may need more encouragement or choose a slower pace. Practice patience and understanding. The results, as 1 Corinthians reminds us, are results, as 1 Corinthians reminds us, are positively Christlike: “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.”
Do’s and Don’ts
DO have clear, prominent, welcoming signage.
DO strategically place greeters throughout your church, parking area and walkways.
DO personally greet every visitor.
DO make sure greeters are friendly and knowledgeable about the church, the building and ministries offered.
DO follow-up with visitors within 2-3 days.
DO have a welcome packet for visitors with information on groups/ministries, volunteer opportunities, next steps etc.
DO collect contact information including information about interests and preferred method of communication.
DO have well-identified ushers who know where classrooms and restrooms are located.
DO learn people’s names and remember them.
DO make a good impression –make sure website is up-to-date and facilities are clean.
DO learn more about visitors ‘interests and where they are in their spiritual journey.
DO personalize event/group recommendations: match visitor interests with what your church offers.
DO help visitors make new connections: introduce visitors to regular members.
DON’T be pushy – Let visitors join at their pace not yours. Remember, in most cases, visitors initiated a relationship with you and your congregation. This may be intimidating to some, and many people don’t enjoy being “ the spotlight.”
DON’T assume that one welcoming or communication method fits every visitor
DON’T automatically join visitors to your members mailing, emailing or call list.
DON’T use “insider language” when talking to visitors. This creates unnecessary barriers.
DON’T be sloppy: make sure sermons, presentations and lighting are well planned and organized.
Learn how the One Call Now notification solution for churches can help you implement the right assimilation strategy for your unique congregation. You can request a communication consultation with One Call Now.