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Closing the Back Door: Assimilation

By Lynn Hardaway

What can a congregation do to encourage first time visitors to return for a second visit and, how can the “back door” to the church be closed? If new members are staying around for only a few months and then losing interest, it may not be a generational issue; it could be a systems issue!

A healthy church will see about 30% of its first time visitors return; that means about 7 out of 10 will not return. One way you can improve the return rate of your guests is to hand write a personal thank you card after their first visit. Never send a form letter to a guest! It says, “you do not really matter enough to me to give you personalized attention.” Whether you want it to say that or not, it still says it. Instead, write some personal observation about the guests in your card; “I enjoyed meeting you both and your daughter, Macy. It was great to meet some fellow Texans in the service!” That kind of attention will almost guarantee a return visit, or, at the least, a friendly reception to any follow up visits or phone calls you make.

Some churches offer gifts to their first time guests in exchange for a completed guest card; that is a good idea if you can afford to give the gifts. If you cannot give gifts, be sure to meet each guest and hold a casual conversation with them. Assigning in-pew greeters, whose role is to make sure each visiting family is made to feel welcome and wanted, is another idea to improve your assimilation system.

Statistics show that a new member will only stay about six months in a church (or any organization) if they have not connected with friendships in the group. Your mission is to create friendship opportunities for them to establish deeper relationships than can be built in the “meet and greet” time of the service.  Activities, personal invitations, small groups and meals, with an intentional system for bridging the “stranger gap” are good ways to encourage new connections.

Do you have a class to introduce the new members to your church’s philosophy and unique qualities? If not, it would benefit your church greatly to structure a class to meet this need. Teach them what a church is, what it does, and how they can make a difference through your congregational influence. Have seasoned members sit through the class with them; this is another great relational opportunity to help them “stick around” for a while!

The leaders of the church need to spend time thinking through their processes of managing the people who attend the services as guests; this is a far more important stewardship than how the money is handled! Maybe a congregation should produce an “assimilation audit” to be sure guests are not slipping through the cracks due to neglect!


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