Climbing the Assimilayas

Becoming Sherpas in people's journey to connect

If those serving guests at your church did this one thing...

VolunteersGreg Curtis1 Comment

My 30th wedding anniversary was last year. I know I don't look old enough to have done anything for 30 years (just roll with it), but this milestone snuck up on me.

As part of Michelle and I's celebration, we were given a gift certificate to go out to a nice dinner and we choose The Red O in Newport Beach. I made the reservation using the Open Table app on my iPhone and when it asked the reason for the reservation, I typed in "My 30th wedding anniversary". I didn't think this would amount to anything as I wasn't dealing directly with the restaurant. 

I was wrong.

When we got there, we walked through a fairly crowded entry room that resembled The Museum of Tequila and gave our name to the host. He caught me off guard by saying, "Happy 30th Anniversary Mr. and Mrs. Curtis. Please follow me". I thought to myself, "I didn't know they actually read the fine print on those online reservation forms" as he cut through the crowd and immediately brought us to our table. 


This table. A table for 8. As we scooted into the plush, sofa side complete with pillows, I asked him if he really wanted to seat the 2 of us at this large table when there was such a crowd. He then removed all of the place settings but 2, and took away all the chairs. "There. A private table for two Mr Curtis". 

The surprises were not over. Our waiter brought us complimentary Champagne to toast our anniversary with. After an incredible meal, we ordered a dessert they were known for, Butter Cake, and the dessert was comped again in honor of our 30 years together.

I had never heard of The Red O before. But as I waddled out of the this restaurant, back through the Tequila Hall of Fame, I thought one thing: I want to go back there for Valentines Day.

As one who envisions, trains and deploys teams of Sherpas to help guests "Climb the Assimilayas" at our church, I am reflecting on what it was about the staff at the Red O that made such an impression on me. I am coming to this conclusion: If we want to help guests trust us and to desire to become a part of our churches, those who serve them must become experts at creating positive, unexpected relational experiences.

If we want to help guests trust us and desire to become a part of our churches, those who serve them must become experts at creating positive, unexpected relational experiences.

I see this dynamic in the New Testament as it chronicles what our Movement looked like in the first century when....

  • A woman came to a well in Samaria and asked a man for water and instead got a surprise relational encounter with the Messiah.
  • A Roman Jailer expected to see an empty cell after an earthquake and instead found two prisoners willing to stay in their cell and share with him news that would forever change he and his family.
  • A paralyzed beggar asked Peter and John for some money and instead received the ability to walk in Jesus Name.

Mark Waltz, in his book First Impressions: Creating Wow Experiences in your Church, discusses the difference between Guest Satisfaction and Guest Engagement. He says, 

A guest can remain rather disconnected from the business or organization and be quite satisfied. Engaged guests have a relationship with the people who make up the organization. 

He goes on to describe the positive unexpected relational experiences that move guests beyond satisfaction to fuller engagement. He calls it "Wowing" them. He also says:

The challenge is to create an environment that allows spontaneous happenings consistent with your desired outcome.

The wait staff did that for me at the Red O. What might that look like at Guest Central at my church? I think it would look something like these 2 incidences where I saw a volunteer bring a guest from satisfaction to engagementI:

Incident 1: A guest asks where our children's ministry is.

Guest Satisfaction: Our volunteer gives her directions with a smile.

Guest engagement: Our volunteer introduces themselves to their child, tells her she is pretty, asks how old she is, and invites mother and daughter on a tour of the room where her program takes place. Introducing her to her teacher while her mom meets the leader of that ministry, the room is incredible and the leaders winsome enough to win mother and daughter over. They will be back next week but the daughter will attend the children's program instead of adult worship and bring a friend with her.

Incident 2: A guest shares that she was moved by the message, confides some of her back story and wants to know how she can sign up to be baptized.

Guest Satisfaction:  Our volunteer has her check the baptism box on her connection card and turns it in for her.

Guest Engagement: Our volunteer calls one of the pastors to see if he can open the baptistry right now after church. Clothing is handed out, a volunteer is asks to jump in and clean/heat up the baptistry. She has a conversation with the pastor to discern her readiness, she confesses her faith and is baptized with our Guest Central volunteer there to hug this tearful guest when she gets out of the water. Another volunteer grabs a bag and puts a new Bible along with an invitation to Next Steps in it and hands it to her when she leaves. One more hug and her first church experience in many years is complete.

What I witnessed in both these instances was a positive unexpected relational experience that caused these 1st time guests to return the following weekend. I experienced that at the Red O and want to return, not just for the food, but for the experience. Imagine what could happen when the Spirit of God leads volunteers who are willing to go off script to go beyond just satisfying guests and begin more fully engaging them!

A restaurant. A well. The Beautiful Gate. A Prison Cell. Guest Central. A Kidside Room. A Baptistry. It can happen anywhere. And when it does, everybody wins.

Share a Wow moment you've seen between a volunteer and a guest at your church:

Have you witnessed an unexpected relational experience with a guest at your church? Share it here. I'll include these stories to stimulate ideas in my next post.

Build into your team by discussing these questions...

  • Have you ever been "wowed" at a restaurant in an unexpected way? What happened that left such an impression on you?
  • Have you designed a guest experience where your team has the freedom to do the unexpected? What have they done? What could they do if you envisioned them?
  • What would you want a guest from your service to say to a co-worker on Monday about their visit to your church?  Are your guest services and worship designed so that conversation will take place? What are three dial turns that could be made to begin moving in that direction within the next 1 to 4 weeks?

Do you have a Director of Volunteers?

Best PracticesGreg CurtisComment

We do. 

This isn't a "Neener, Neener", but I do have to say I think it is super cool to have a person like Julie Liem in this role in my church. I absolutely love working with her, and not just because we grew up in the youth group at Eastside together. At our church, the Director of Volunteers...

  • Oversees and speaks into the processes that place volunteers in every ministry of our church
  • Trains admins in every department to be champions of volunteers for the staff of each department so no one falls through the cracks.

Of course she does even more, but the encouraging thing to many churches looking to add a role like this is that Julie does it as a part-time staff person. She is actually a marriage and family therapist which also informs the way she understands, recruits and relates to those who serve as "Changemakers" at Eastside. 

With that said, if you are curious about learning ways to recruit, train and place volunteers while eliminating the silo approach among church staff, watch or listen to this 20m podcast with Rich Birch from unSeminary (one of my favorite sources for ministry learnings right now.

You will be glad you did.

Julie also speaks at my Base Camps and leads one of the highest rated sessions. You can contact Julie at should you want to connect with her.



Four ingredients of assimilation

Greg CurtisComment

There is an episode of "Friends" where Monica and Phoebe are desperately trying to recreate Phoebe's grandmother's cookie recipe. It is beyond words.

The girls try baking cookies using dozens of recipes and when none of them have the taste of "grandma's cookies", Monica asked in frustration where Phoebe thinks her grandmother got the recipe. Phoebe replied with confidence, "She got it from her grandmother, Neslet Toulous". When Monica realizes that meant Phoebe's "great-great-grandmother" was Nestle's Tollhouse, she almost loses it. Phoebe just thinks Monica is an American who "butchers the French language". They end up buying some Nestle's Tollhouse cookie mix, bake a dozen, a lo and behold: Grandma's cookies!

This scene from America's favorite friends shows us that sometimes the most elegant and powerful realities boil down to a simple recipe.

Sometimes the most elegant and powerful realities boil down to a simple recipe.

I experienced the truth of this when I was in Chile last November. I was teaming with Gene Appel to encourage and equip 80 pastors, from 4 countries, in the area's of outreach and Assimilation. These incredibly devoted leaders shepherd churches that range in size from 80 to 400. In settings like this, I usually share about how my church assimilates guests:

I quickly realized that our way of assimilating guests as a mega-church by greeting them at Guest Central, inviting them to Next Steps, connecting them to small groups, and onboarding them as a Changemaker (volunteer) may not be a transferable strategy to smaller congregations in other cultures. It had to boil down to a more simple recipe:

1. Have one place that you invite guests to after services

The day after the conference in Chile, one of the congregations in the Santiago area had an outreach dinner for the community. 84 people showed up, 19 made 1st time decisions to follow Jesus, and 14 of them went to their newly installed Guest Central...their one place (Learn more about your one place and what to do with it). They gave them free coffee there in exchange for their contact information so they could add the next ingredient in this simple recipe:

2. Invite them to only one program to connect with your church

I had the privilege of coaching a 2 year old church in Wisconsin that was 80 people strong with a vision of reaching many more. they decided to offer just one program for guests. they chose a "Pizza with the Pastor" type event. After it took place, the leader of this effort called me almost in tears: they had 24 people show up, 19 people make 1st time decisions and 15 got baptized afterward. I am convinced that these amazing results would have not taken place in their worship service as this event was an environment that was specially designed for guests to get to know the pastor, the church, and the Jesus they followed. At this point, another ingredient must be added:

3. Engage them in 2 defined processes to find friends and a way to serve

I don't care how small or informal your church is: if you have...

  • a small group sign up sheet, 
  • a box to check on your welcome card for someone to follow up on
  • you rely on people in groups to invite guests into their groups, 

        ...that's a process! (learn more about processes here, learn about our process for onboarding volunteers here)

The opportunity in front of you now is to discern if your process is the best process to connect your guest and to clearly define that process for the whole church in an ongoing way. One church of 5000 in Illinois became a church of 6500 fueled by inviting their guest to a 6 week Sunday night bible study at tables and then launching these tables as small groups when the study was finished...and with an almost 100% success rate! That's a process too, but any assimilation processes must have 2 final ingredients to fully connect your guests to your church:

4. Have 2 places you want all your guests to end up: one for community and the other to serve.

At our church it's small groups and ministry teams. At other churches, it may be Adult Bible School Classes or a mid-week believers event of some kind. Wherever community is in your church, know that a guest is not assimilated until a process you have invited them into places them there. Where do people serve and make a difference in and through your church? Know also that your guests have not been assimilated into the life of your church until they are volunteering there.

Wherever community is in your church, know that a guest is not assimilated until a process you have invited them into places them there.

As a Sherpa helping new people reach the summit of becoming connected serving members of my church, I am convinced that these 4 ingredients are practically universal to assimilating the guests God is drawing to your church regardless of its size or context. 

Just like grandmas....

Just like grandmas....


Coming Soon:

  • A video podcast from Julie Liem, Director of Assimilation at my church (and my partner in crime) on volunteer processes for onboarding volunteers.
  • Ways I can join you and your church staff this year for a 2 day Climbing the Assimilayas Base Camp at your church.
Cliff MOJO_Logo_DC_FN_(2).jpg
  • What are the current ingredients of your assimilation ministry?
  • How would you define most clearly your process for connecting guests to a small group?
  • How would you define most clearly your process for placing guests in a ministry?
  • Discuss what it would mean to build a strong assimilation strategy based on these 4 ingredients. Hint: Identify the ingredient your church is missing starting at the left side of the chart. Then move right to the next ingredient, once each is added.

Where I've been and what's coming up...

Greg CurtisComment
Not me but I wish....

You may have been wondering where I've been the last few months....

  • The beach?
  • A Witness Protection Program?
  • Unemployed?

Actually, none of these. Where I have been is on an interesting journey that has revolved around two activities:

1. A redesign of our assimilation strategy at my church

At Eastside Christian Church where I serve, we experienced an unprecedented growth of 1600 more people in attendance at the beginning of the year, a jump that required a new wineskin to pick up the pace and volume by which we connected new people God was bringing to us.

One of our baptism services this Fall, giving us more people to care for and connect.

One of our baptism services this Fall, giving us more people to care for and connect.

We also launched another campus and are getting ready to launch a third one--campuses that need an assimilation process that is able to be duplicated easily and is not "Greg centric". 

This required a herculean effort, redesigning, re-recruiting and retraining an outrageous army of volunteers (whom we now call "Changemakers") to put a new way of assimilating guests to the test over the last 6 months.

2. A deeper understanding of what drives the process of assimilation beyond a specific program so I could help churches around the world

After months of planning, Gene Appel and I were invited to Chile to last November to lead a church growth and assimilation conference for 80 pastors. These pastors were from churches up and down Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Sierra Leone. This was one of the most fruitful kingdom investments I have had the privilege of being a part of and it forced me to clearly identify what the universal principles of assimilation are, regardless of culture or context.

A Church in Santiago Chile experiencing immediate results from working these assimilation principals in their context.

A Church in Santiago Chile experiencing immediate results from working these assimilation principals in their context.

The challenge of redesigning what we do and the clarifying of the principles which drive any changes in assimilation has taken my energy and attention away from blogging, but now has returned me full force in 2017 to bring you the following topics in January:

  • My understanding of what the 4 principles are that govern assimilation, no matter what program or strategy you choose.
  • A recent podcast from Julie Liem, our Volunteer Director, on how your guests can become connected serving members.
  • New book recommendations (both from the church and business worlds) that our informing my understanding of assimilation right now.
  • Real stories from some of the 19,000 people we are connecting who just attended our Christmas services.

All this and more in we climb the Assimilayas together. Stay tuned, this is gonna be fun.

The Power of Process (part 2 of 2)

Greg CurtisComment
A process is a set of interrelated activities that interact to achieve a result.

In my last post on this topic, I shared this definition of a process and acknowledged the top two reasons why we are suspicious of implementing them in the church:



I also shared that processes are expressed through systems. Systems are not artificial: they are what cause your body to function. Processes/systems in Christ's Body do the same. Without them, we are "dysfunctional".

In this post I want to reveal a volunteer placement process from the pages of the New Testament and to share the 2 factors exposed there that must be present if a process is going to be healthy.

In the opening of Acts 6, we see a need for volunteers that was becoming chronic: more volunteers were needed to insure the widows from Greece were getting enough food in the distribution. The apostles were leaders with a dilemma: "Should we add this to our growing list of personal responsibilities? We don't even have time to recruit these volunteers!". 

In the language of today's topic, the apostles performed a leadership function and initiated a process. The process was elegant in its simplicity:

  1. Define what the job description was (serve food to the Grecian widows at tables-vs 2)
  2. Discern what the qualifications were for this volunteer position (men full of the spirit and who possessed wisdom-vs 3)
  3. Communicate these qualifications to those in the church who identified the need-vs 3.
  4. Ask them to recruit the volunteers-vs 3-5
  5. Pray for them and lay hands on them to authorize these volunteers to do the job-vs 6.

The result of this healthy process? 

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. -Acts 6:7

There are two factors revealed here that make a process healthy and organic, just like the processes in the human body.

1. The process is based on need.

The process the apostles designed and implemented was not based on preferences, politics or privilege. It was based on a need. It was critical that the Grecian widows not be neglected when food was distributed. A process that didn't need to be managed was essential given the apostle's function in the Body. Which leads to the 2nd factor that makes for a healthy effective process.

2. The process is automatic.

By empowering those who brought the need to them, the apostles created a process that would continually work as long as the need existed....without their direct oversight. this is what I mean by automatic.

I was driving my daughter Carly home to California when her freshman year of college was over in Arizona. On the long drive home, I was discussing my thoughts with her about this blog post on processes (she can volley better than I can on most topics). She asked me, "Dad, how do you keep assimilation processes from becoming stale, cold and boring?" I answered, "By basing them on real needs, then making them automatic". I went on to explain that when guests fill out a connection card at our church...

  • Tuesday morning volunteers with computer ability and a gift of service enter them into Eastside Connect (our database morph of Church Community Builder). this happens automatically, every week
  • These guests are dropped into a first-time visitor process queue where they are automatically sent a email or letter from our Senior Pastor welcoming them and inviting them to First Step with Gene (Pizza with the Pastor). 
  • When they click on the link to register, they are automatically dropped into a queue to immediately receive a confirmation email and another "last minute details" email sent a few days before the event.
  • When they sign up for our 7-week First Step Experience at First Step with Gene, they are automatically dropped into another queue.
  • The same type of thing happens when people sign up to volunteer, join and attend our small groups, make a first time decision to follow Christ, or are baptized. All these processes are trackable and noted on people's profiles.

Carly said, "Wait a minute. You said they weren't stale and boring". I told her, "Because they're automatic, they're not. They are in place and running all the time. I don't have to think about them and neither do our guests at church. What I get to do is just be with them in Guest Central, visit with them over pizza, enjoy them at the First Step Experience. These processes help move them from the auditorium to First Step and ultimately to a small group or volunteer team".

I went on to tell her how her body and mine have healthy processes that work the same way: automatically and invisibly. I asked her...

  • When was the last time you willed your heart to beat or your lungs to take in air?
  • Did you decide or try to grow in height when you were in elementary school?
  • Did you have to eat because you knew you should or because you were hungry?
  • Did a fire burn you because you knew it was hot or because you felt it was hot?
Just like our nervous system, circulatory system, digestive system, endocrine system and respiratory system keep the processes that accomplish these things happening automatically, your church Body needs automatic, need-based processes to be healthy and help guests become connected serving members.

Our volunteer onboarding process for our Kidside ministry has 5 steps to it, including background checks. That didn't make it stale for Mike-it helped him make a difference in the lives of kids.

Healthy processes. They worked to onboard Mike as a Kidside volunteer at my church. They worked to provide volunteers to feed the hungry in the church of the first century.

What are healthy processes providing for your church right now?

  • Where are some of your key process breakdowns at your church?
  • What tool do you use to help create processes? (EX: Church Community Builders)
  • What other processes to you see in the life of the early church, especially in Paul's letter? (Don't miss the process Jesus designed for dealing with division in the church in Matthew 18:15-17)
  • If you were to pick just one need-based process to design and automatize for assimilating guests, what would it be?

What's on my mind on the last day of April...

Greg CurtisComment

4 things are on mind today:

1. How awesome my Base Camp was at St John's in Orange CA these last two days.

Incredible people, great discussions, productive strategizing, specific prayers, and delicious food. Great investment of all our time together. We had leaders from Oregon, Nevada, and California present. Can't wait to stay in touch with these fellow Sherpas in the season ahead.

CTA Base Camp at historic St John's Lutheran Church. I look like I'm calling someone out right how but I swear, I wasn't....!

CTA Base Camp at historic St John's Lutheran Church. I look like I'm calling someone out right how but I swear, I wasn't....!

2. My next post, part 2 on the Power of Process.

I gained even more thoughts and momentum on this topic at the Base Camp. Super important stuff coming on this in the next few days.

3. Inviting new and old Base Camp alumni to the new Sherpa's Forum

This private group is a facebook page to ask questions, share recourses, and team more effectively as Connectors for our local contexts in the future.

4. My first blog post, one year ago this month.

This is the post that started it all one year ago. Give it a once over if you have forgotten it or someone missed it when you joined us in this journey that by now has included many phone conversations, Base Camps, brainstorms, as well as visiting your church and mine. 

Looking forward to the future...

Last minute registration for Base Camp: 10% off

Greg CurtisComment
Climbing the Assimilayas Base Camp
Register now

Enter the discount code "Coming" when registering for 10% off to join me and other Sherpas like you from California, Nevada, and Oregon. We will increase the effectiveness your assimilation ministry by Fall 2016. Here's what Kim said when she joined us in January:

I really enjoyed listening to what other churches are doing, as well as hearing what Greg does to generate and engage people at Eastside. Lots of wonderful ideas on how to develop experiences which encourage and spur on guests and attendees to a deeper understanding and love of Jesus by drawing closer together in community.

                 -Kim Barrett, Director of Connection and Volunteers, Yorba Linda Friends Church, Ca.

Oh...and there will be fun too. Hope to see you there.

Base Camp is Coming...Early Registration Price Ends Midnight Tonight.

Greg CurtisComment

Here's what alumni are saying about Climbing the Assimilayas Base Camp:

Sean Badeer, Community Life Pastor, Lifebridge Church, Longmont Co, 3000 in attendance:

"Greg's perspective on assimilation is encouraging and compelling. He presented assimilation concepts and ideas in an accessible and collaborative way that has me excited for the coming year."

Andy Salonen, Pastor of Engagement and Connections, Lifebridge Church, Longmont Co, 3000 in attendance. 

"This time together allowed for space to network with peers, encourage one another, exchange ideas and ask questions. Greg and his team effectively presented not only their strategy, but shared their hearts for God and others. I appreciate Greg's willingness to be authentic with each one of us! I look forward to heading home and debriefing."

Sarah Verheyen, Director of Guest Services, Canyon Ridge Christian Church, Las Vegas, NV. 6000 in attendance.

"Before the conference I knew I had issues in my ministry but did not know the best way to deal with them. After, listening to Greg, Julie, and others I have the confidence to move forward."

My Next Base Camp is April 28-29 (Thursday/Friday) in Orange Ca. 

Early Registration price ends at midnight tonight.

Click here for details and to register.

The Power of Processes (part 1 of 2)

Greg CurtisComment

Processes in ministry. Not something we naturally enjoy thinking about. We would rather take them for granted-but that's exactly what a good process does. A good process becomes something you can take for granted. Processes are essential to the health of any church and they are the spine of any assimilation ministry.

Here is what a process is by definition:

A process is a set of interrelated activities that interact to achieve a result.

Processes are expressed through systems. Systems are not artificial:: they are what cause your body to function. Processes/systems in Christ's Body do the same. Without them, we are "dysfunctional".

Our bodies continue to live only because of processes expressed through systems:

  • The Endocrine System enables the growth process and more
  • The Circulatory System sustains the oxygenation  and healing processes
  • The Respiratory System sustains the respiration process
  • The Nervous System allows the processes of mobility and sensory functions to exist
  • The Digestive System sustains the digestive process which feeds the body and eliminates waste.
I believe that a core reason the church is revealed to us as a "Body" in the Scriptures is so we in leadership would know that the Body of Christ's very existence is dependent on processes expressed through systems--multiple sets of interrelated activities that achieve the results God has purposed for it.

Which leads us to this question: Why do many church bodies lack healthy processes for assimilating guests into themselves? I believe it is because we fear that having set processes in the church are....

  •     Organizational and not organic
  •     Institutional and not intimate
  •     Regulatory and not relational
  •     Artificial and not authentic
  •     About control and not about community.

Lets acknowledge the two reasons that processes have a bad reputation in the Church:

Reason #1-Processes are used to preserve the status quo.

These are churches that have moved from functioning like a body to functioning like an organization. While bodies adapt and respond to change, organizations do not. they exist to do what they do, the way they've always done it, which leads to the next reason we distrust processes in the Church.

Reason #2-Processes are used to filter out those who are different, not assimilate them.

Our statements of faith, membership processes and volunteer placement processes are designed to keep those who think or behave differently out, rather than invite them in, so that they can connect with us and be transformed along with us.

This doesn't mean that processes are bad or non-essential. It means we often use them for the wrong thing.


On a personal note, I am dealing with one of the first real potential health crisis of my life. I am pre-diabetic. I am feeling all the symptoms and I am sick of it. My frustration is coming from the realization that I have been misusing my digestive system and now it is impacting my endocrine system which monitors how sugar is processed with the help of insulin. I am addicted to sugar and carbs! 

As I work through this, I am reminded of how the church so easily misuses its assimilation processes for conversion, membership, small group connection and volunteers placement so that it slows or halts the process of growth and wipes out the Body of Christ's natural ability to adapt to change.

We should call this kind of process-breakdown by its clinical names: Dysfunction & Disorder.

Next week, I will look at some of the processes we see in the New Testament and share the 2 characteristics that make any assimilation process organic and healthy.

Until then!

  • What is the general attitude of your church toward processes? Favorable? Suspicious? 
  • Name 3 to 5 processes that are at the core of your church's ministry function, especially when it comes to assimilating new people into the life of your church.
  • Are any of these processes designed to preserve the status quo or filter out undesirables? Why would that be?
  • What is the healthiest process in your church right now? Why do you think so?




What's coming up for Connectors over the next two weeks

Greg CurtisComment

Ever wonder what's out there for people life us who live to connect people to each other and to Jesus?

I have 3 things coming up for you over the next 2 weeks:

1. two Posts on "The Power of Process"

I have been percolating some new thoughts on how vital processes are to our bodies and how vital they are to assimilating people into Christ's Body. I have also been pondering what makes us afraid of designing and implementing processes in the church and what we can do to sell them, secure them and shine in light of them. Expect one post this week and one post next week.

2. A day and half "Climbing the Assimilayas Base Camp" 

Here's what Tommy Carreras, Groups Director at Mission Church in Ventura California said about the last Base Camp we enjoyed together in January:

"This gathering gave the ideas rolling in my head some concrete expression! The ideas that I am walking away with gave me an incredible starting point for contextualizing and customizing the experience that I want my people to have."

Cost of registration for my next Climbing the Assimilayas Base Camp in Orange County California will increase on Friday April 22nd at midnight. Register now to get the best rate and to make big steps to increasing the effectiveness of your church's ability to connect well with guests.

3. A new "Sherpas Forum" Launching on Facebook

In 2 weeks, I will launch a private facebook group for those who have been to my Base Camp. It will be a forum for us Sherpa-types to road-test the new ideas we are applying, network with each other, share resources, and find out about each others challenges as well as propose solutions for them. Looking forward to that kind of connecting in a big way.

Stay tuned and see you at the Summit.

One last thought to add to my "Top 3 mistakes churches make when assimilating guests" series

Greg CurtisComment

In my last post I shared that the 3rd most common mistake I see churches make when assimilating guests is putting a teacher in charge of their primary connection environment (thus making it a content driven class by default). 

The solution to this mistake is to put someone in front of that environment whose primary strength is "Winning Other Over" (has WOO in their top 5 strengths on Gallup's Strengthfinders test).

I want to expand the playing field on who that type of person may be....

Because we think "class" when assimilating guests (Mistake #2), our default vision for a person leading this connection environment leads us to someone who possesses one or more of these strengths on the Strengthsfinders Test:

  • Ideation-fascinated with ideas (theology and church philosophy)
  • Intellection-love intellectual discussions (can defend the faith)
  • Learner-desire to learn and drill down to the particulars.
  • Analytical-Can think about all the applications (of God/doctrine)

My solution to improving connection with our guests at church is to lead them to a "Connection Experience" led by a a front man or woman who can win others over, and does not have the drive to "teach doctrine" or conduct a Chatechism of any kind (though this will happen by default if the environment is designed well). In addition to WOO on the Strengthsfinders Test, profiles that include these strengths also represent people who win guests over and connect them well:

  • Positivity- have enthusiasm that is contagious
  • Includer-accepting of others and focused on those who may feel left out
  • Connectedness-have faith that we are all connected in some way
  • Communication-are good conversationalists and presenters.

The Bottom Line: Recruit people to lead  your connection environment from up front who win others over because they possess key relational/influencer strengths on the Strengthsfinder Test, not necessarily because they are a great Teacher or Expositor. 

An important reminder: Cost of registration for my next Climbing the Assimilayas Base Camp in Orange County California will increase on Friday April 22nd at midnight. Register now to get the best rate and to make big steps to increasing the effectiveness of your church's ability to connect well with guests.

Hope to see you there!

One last common mistake church's make when assimilating guests

Greg CurtisComment

Mistake #3 Putting a teacher in charge

I am a good driver. I have a good record. In part, that is why my friend Mark lent me his brand new tricked out trailer to take my family camping in at Big Sur near Carmel on the California Coast. It's my family's favorite place to camp and site #63 is our favorite site: 5 colossal redwoods are on it and there is forest on 2 sides of it. When we arrived, I asked my dad and my wife Michelle to get on either side of the trailer so I could back into the sight with the help of their direction. As I was responding to their audibles, my wife got distracted by a cyclist and stopped directing. I took that to mean "proceed".

That's when I heard the grinding.

This was the sound of the retractable porch awning being slowly ripped off by a redwood that I was now rubbing up against. My dad began yelling, "Turn the other way!" which of course I took to mean "do the opposite of what I previously asked you to do". That's not what he meant.

That's when I heard the snapping.

This was the sound of the black water pipe cracking over a large rock the trailer was now straddling. My dad's next directive was unmistakeable: "Get out of here! Get out of here!". I proceeded to do so: driving along the campsite loop, leaving a trail of black water behind me and along the the front of every campsite in the loop. 

That's when I heard the cursing.

The Curtis' had arrived. Their good driver, with a good record, was no match for the unfamiliar task of backing in a large trailer into site #63. 

Site #63 at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park in Big Sur CA.

Site #63 at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park in Big Sur CA.

Now take a hard right with me. Sometimes guests at your church are returning, loving the environment you've created for them to worship and explore their faith. It's becoming their "Site 63" for pursuing God. They even want to bring their family members. Then they sign up for the class that connects them to the church, its beliefs and its ministry and something unexpected happens: a grinding sound of sorts, though not the sound of wood against metal. Its the sound of the class being led by a good Bible teacher as opposed to someone who engages their trust and involvement.

You see, just like it takes more than a good driver to back in a long trailer into a obstacle ridden campsite, it takes someone different than a good Bible teacher to lead people through an experience that connects them well to their new church.

What kind of person does it take?

I will answer using the vocabulary of Gallups Strengthfinders Test. It takes WOO. WOO is a strength in the form of an acronym that stands for "Winning Others Over". The description for this strength is as follows:

You enjoy the challenge of meeting new people and getting them to like you. Strangers are rarely intimidating to you. On the contrary, strangers can be energizing. You are drawn to them. You want to learn their names, ask them questions, and find some area of common interest so that you can strike up a conversation and build rapport. Some people shy away from starting up conversations because they worry about running out of things to say. You don't. Not only are you rarely at a loss for words; you actually enjoy initiating with strangers because you derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection. Once that connection is made, you are quite happy to wrap it up and move on. There are new people to meet, new rooms to work, new crowds to mingle in. In your world there are no strangers, only friends you haven't met yet -- lots of them.     -Clifton StrengthsFinder Theme

This strength means that no matter what the agenda is at your connection environment, guests attending will likely be engaged, "won over" to your church, keep coming to all the sessions, and feel a sense of trust for the leadership and vision as a whole when they are done. That's what the WOO factor can do.

So if the mistake here is putting a Bible teacher in charge, the solution is this:

Use someone who will win them over.

Of course this person has to have sufficient Bible knowledge. But in the hands of  someone with WOO, you will decrease attrition and increase connectedness. I think this is important enough to consider using the Strengthsfinder test on candidates who will front your connection sessions. 

It will be like having a parking expert back your trailer in while just fits.

  • Who is your front man or woman for the sessions of your connection class/experience? What kind of environment does that person's influence create for your guests?
  • If you could pick any person at your disposal to front these sessions, who would it be? What would it take to equip them to engage your guests at this level?
  • In your opinion, why would a Bible teacher have potential challenges leading your sessions with guests? As you answer, consider attrition and some of the factors in the last post on giving guests an experience instead of a class.



The 2nd mistake many churches make when assimilating guests

Best Practices, PhiliosphyGreg CurtisComment

Mistake #2 Offering a class

Have you ever took a "free" vacation to a time share resort? You go because you feel the need for a break, have the need for a deal, and are willing to pay the price which is sitting through a presentation and a pitch for a few hours-one that could result in your buying-in to the "resort lifestyle". If you are like me, you have been willing to pay that price as long as they a willing to hear a "No" at they end of it. 

Despite our aversion to this experience, this is unintentionally how we treat guests when they want to become part of our church. They get sold on a life full of grace from God, community with his people, and a purpose for living by following Jesus. The price? Sitting through a 4 to 10 week class to find out all we want them to know about our church and ask them to join it, tithing and volunteering strongly suggested.

It wasn't that long ago that we had a class like that. Don't get me wrong: the material was solid, biblical, and comprehensive. It was taught by men who knew how to teach and were compelling to be around. But one time we started with 87 attendees and ended with 14. Truth is, like a couple at a time share resort, nobody really wants to hear the presentation.

So what's the solution?

Give them an experience, not a class. 

Many of our guests are finding their way back to God, much less church. Why reduce the experience of encountering Jesus and the community of his followers to 6 one-hour classes with notebooks, rows of chairs, and a teacher? 

That's why we have the First Step Experience at Eastside. It last 7 weeks, though the number of weeks is less important than these facets:

  • It is offered during church so a full children's program is provided and they don't ave to extend their day or come back at a different time.
  • The emphasis is training in following Jesus, not information about Jesus we want you to sign off on.
  • Week 1, everyone gets a backpack, because this is going to be a journey, not a class.
  • Each week they are given a new object for their backpack that enhances the training they are receiving in some way.
  • They sit at tables (not in rows) with the same people each week to make friends and process the training through discussion and at times even prayer.
  • They have fun! There are creative competitions each week with cool prizes (coffee mugs, movie tickets, gift cards, etc.) that are given to each person at a table of one of their table members wins. The competition gets fierce!
  • They are given assignments to experience and discuss that teach them how to read the Bible for themselves, share their story with others, and explore their unique call to ministry.
  • After 7 weeks, they don't want it to be over. 1/3rd to 2/3rds of the tables launch as small groups at the conclusion and the majority are already being placed in a volunteer position.

After transitioning our class to an experience 3 years ago, more than 1 out of 6 guests that visit Eastside end up a graduate of the First Step Experience. Our last First Step Experience alone graduated 126 new members to our church.  

First Step Bingo, where guests get to know each other by finding others in the room who fit the descriptions on their bingo cards on week 1.

First Step Bingo, where guests get to know each other by finding others in the room who fit the descriptions on their bingo cards on week 1.

It doesn't matter what you call it, or how many weeks it is. It just has to grow their faith, help them make friends, and allow them to have fun while they do it. When you attend my Climbing the Assimilayas Base Camp, we explore how to create this kind of environment for your guests and give you access to all our leaders note, guest materials, objects, competitions, session videos, and more. Come join me and other assimilation oriented staff from churches like yours for a day and a half and let me help you form a 12 month plan for increasing the effectiveness of your guests assimilation efforts...

...and help you do it by giving them an experience, not a class.

It doesn't matter what you call it, or how many weeks it is. It just has to grow their faith, help them make friends, and allow them to have fun while they do it.
  • What environment do you invite your guests to to become part of your church? Is it a class or an experience?
  • Is it offered during the services or after? Is the time inhibiting or increasing attendance?
  • How many people sign up? How many people show up? How many people graduate?
  • Do people have the opportunity to form a small group or become a volunteer as part of this experience?
  • What is one change you could make to transition your environment to more of an experience and less of a class? What resources do you need to make that happen?

The most common mistake I see churches making when assimilating guests

Greg Curtis2 Comments

Mistake #1 Giving guests a multiple choice experience

Really Greg? That's the biggest mistake church's make in assimilating guests? 

Let me explain...

In my opinion we are in the midst of a massive cultural and marketing trend-reversal. The trend used to be customization..."Have it Your Way". You could create your own unique version of food, decor, music playlists, or even create your own ending to a fictional novel you are reading. That was all trending as the information overload that came with customization was only swelling--not cresting and then crashing on top of our overwhelmed heads. 

Now the trend is simplification. A restaurant that has just one kind of food, but does it awesome. A radio station on Pandora that revolves around just one song or artist, one that you love. An internet monolith like Amazon that sells literally everything you want and will deliver it to you free with one click. Travel applications that do all the comparison shopping for you. One smart phone that has everything to run your life on it from and all the books you're reading, including your Bible. I even chose Squarespace to host my website/blog instead of the ever popular Wordpress, simply because Wordpress had 400 templates for me to choose from and Squarespace had only 10. 

After being being given no less than 8 choices at Starbucks when I simply ordered a cup of coffee a while back, a started buying my favorite coffee to brew at home instead of returning to the caffein monolith. I was done.

Need I go on?

Life has become too complex and people will go anywhere and connect with anything that will simplify it for them. That means they will go to churches where the teaching is simple, understandable and straightforward. If you resonate with this at all, tell me why we at churches give cards to guests at our services and give them 10+ choices on them to check, expecting them to know what all those programs and ministries are like, and where the best place for a new person is tat your church? Answer: we think they want to take the time to try everything and find their fit after they "taste and see" that all our ministries are good. 

I think they will just stay at home and watch the live stream and brew their favorite coffee.

Life has become too complex and people will go anywhere and connect with anything that will simplify it for them. 

So what's the solution?

One place, one program.

That means through your announcements, your bulletin and your guest card, there is only one place to go: call it Guest Central, The Connection Tent, First Step Kiosk, whatever. Just make sure your guest don't leave without knowing exactly where it is that you would love to greet them and exchange their information for something: One place

Now here's the most important part. Make sure that the volunteers greeting them invite them to only one event: an environment that you have carefully and creatively designed for just them, where everything they want to know and every major question they have can get answered and a good time can be had while it all happens. Call it First Step with Gene, , Next Step with Mike, Pizza with the Pastor, Coffee with the Clergy, whatever you like-as long as you invite them to just one program where they can get what they want.

I'm telling you if you invest the prayer and creativity establishing one place to greet your guest and one program for them to attend where they can find out everything they would want to know about your church and what it has to offer, then the number of guests you make fruitful connections with will double, triple and then become a problem...

...the kind of problem you always wanted to have. 

That is what happened when we made this shift and the results were so exponential that we have not looked back.

  • Is there one place you want guests to go on their way out? Is that communicated in your services? Where is it located? If you could design where it would be and what it could be like, how would you describe it? Think like a guest here and not like church staff.
  • Is there one program or many programs that you invite them to choose from? Why? If you don't have one program that is offered cyclically, what might such an environment look like if you created one? What questions or issues would it attempt to address that guests to your church have on their minds and hearts? What other options/obstacles would you have to remove to make that onramp to the life of your church a fruitful one? 





A 3 Day "Assimilation Solutions" Blast

Greg CurtisComment

Hey Sherpas! 

Been thinking a lot about connecting people and how to do it over this past week after Easter. You know what I was mostly thinking? I was thinking about how grateful I am that we have been able to form solutions for what I consider to be the top three mistakes that most ministries make when it comes to assimilating new people to our churches. These were mistakes we were making and when we made some courageous steps toward new ways of doing things, we stumbled on to some real solutions that took us to new levels of connection.

These solutions helped us greatly this Easter at Eastside Christian Church in Anaheim California where we had...

  • almost 11,800 people attend
  • 188 guests exchange their contact info for a gift at Guest Central
  • 182 people baptized, some of which didn't even plan on attending church that weekend!

What did that mean for me as a Sherpa?

  1. Making sure 188 people got a warm invite from Gene Appel (our SP) to the First Step with Gene dinner or luncheon.
  2. Watching our Guest Central Volunteers write a personal note with a gift card to our Cafe in them to each guests.
  3. Sending a video invite from me and a personal phone call to 182 people who I had the privilege of baptizing on Easter weekend, all to invite them to First Step with Gene last weekend where we fed over 200 people. 
  4. Tending to a rare condition called "baptizers elbow", which can attack people like me after a weekend when you have to baptize more than 180 people...a workman's comp issue I am sure.*

So what were the mistakes that we found solutions for that made me so grateful this Easter?

I will be sending them to you in the form of a 3 day "Assimilation Solutions" blast that reveals how at one time, we were making what I call the top 3 assimilation mistakes that I see most ministries making these days. They are common, and the solutions are simple, though not always easy. But when it comes to overcoming things that aren't easy, meet one of the people I baptized on Easter.

This is Paige. She came to be baptized this Easter and overcame the challenge of not being able to move any of her limbs with the help of Steve who carried her out of her wheelchair and handing her to me to be baptized. If she can overcome paralysis to do something Jesus wants to do in her, certainly we can overcome any obstacle in our way to help people connect to Jesus' church. 

This is Paige. She came to be baptized this Easter and overcame the challenge of not being able to move any of her limbs with the help of Steve who carried her out of her wheelchair and handing her to me to be baptized. If she can overcome paralysis to do something Jesus wants to do in her, certainly we can overcome any obstacle in our way to help people connect to Jesus' church. 

So here's what to expect this week from me:

  1. One assimilation mistake and solution, every day for the next 3 days
  2. More opportunities to sign up for my CTA Base Camp on April 28-29.

On that last topic...Here's what Tim Wilkins, Next Steps Pastor at a multi-site church called South Hills Church in Corona Ca, said about the Base Camp:

"The CTA gathering confirmed what we are doing right and clarified the next steps that will take us to the next level. Greg and his team were insightful, inspiring, and authentically human. A great mix of theory, best practices, and group interaction. A definite MUST for anyone in the assimilation world."

Click here to find out more or to register. See you tomorrow!

* no such thing. My elbow is fine!


Get the early registration price by this Friday

Greg CurtisComment

I am already receiving registrations for my next Climbing the Assimilayas Base Camp on April 28-29. By the end of the last one in January, I felt like I left with a new circle of friends that will be learning from each other in the years ahead. 

Here's what just a few of them said about the experience:

"This basecamp gathering has been great in so many ways. The relational connection with other sherpa types have been nothing short of inspirational and encouraging. I gleaned great insights from Greg on the theological and philosophical framework to approach assimilating people into the Church. The impact from learning other best practices and thinking through assimilation from a different angle has helped give me a vision to better assimilate people in our context."

Chaz Robbins, Next Steps Pastor, Parkview Christian Church, attendance of 7000.

"We took away an understanding of the importance of helping guests become committed followers of Jesus from the beginning of their church experience."

Dave Cuthrell, Volunteer Leader, First Christian Church of Downey CA, attendance of 350.

"It was great to learn that there is a place to connect and learn about assimilation and Guest Services. I received 3 great ideas within the first 2 hours of the conference that I'm going to implement this month. Thank you Greg."         

Steve Mathahs, Director of Guest Services, Hillside Community Church, Alta Loma CA, attendance of 2500.


With Julie Liem, our Volunteer Director joining me, everyone will come a way with a plan to improve their church's process for helping guests connect to each other, find a small group, placing them early in appropriate volunteer positions, and so much more. From job descriptions, to a 12 month plan, the Base Camp will empower you to guide people in their climb toward becoming a connected, serving member of your faith community.

Get ready for some laughs, great discussion, awesome weather, and a beautiful location in the heart of Orange County: St. John's Lutheran, a church of 3000 in attendance, on a beautiful historic campus right off the Orange Circle wear so many movies are filmed. 

Don't miss the early registration price by clicking here before midnight, this Friday April 1st. Hope to see you there!

St John's Lutheran Church, a thriving congregation off the historic Orange Circle in Orange CA and the location of our next CTA Base Camp.

St John's Lutheran Church, a thriving congregation off the historic Orange Circle in Orange CA and the location of our next CTA Base Camp.




Today we celebrate my hero.

Greg CurtisComment
When it comes to a ministry that assimilates people, Patrick is my hero.

When it comes to a ministry that assimilates people, Patrick is my hero.

Saint Patrick is one of my heroes when it comes to assimilation. 

He lived in the British Isles in the late fourth century and early fifth century, at a time when the church had already begun its descent into bureaucracy and institutionalism. As a de-churched grandson of a deacon, he led the wild life of a teenager without a personal faith in God at all.

Ireland was a wild island to the north of his ancestral home, filled with warlord tribes and with an economy that benefited greatly from human trafficking. Patrick became the victim of one tribe's raid in Britain when he was captured at age 16 and sold as a slave in Ireland.

For six years he served an abusive master, contemplating ending his own life. He also contemplated God- the same God he had heard about as he grew up in a wealthy family in post-Roman Britain. Eventually, he decided to trust Christ and give himself over to serving over time, he was afforded a dangerous opportunity to escape captivity...and he took it.

Arriving at home, he shocked his family with his survival. As he studied the Scriptures, he grew to sense a calling to take the knowledge of Christ to the place that he had been held captive .

This is how he became the self-appointed first missionary to the Celts in Ireland.

He brought with him an entourage for self protection. Upon disembarking he headed first to his masters house, hoping to bring Jesus' message along with a proclamation of his own forgiveness to him first. Possibly being an influential man, his master may have been a strategic place to start.

But when his master saw him and his entourage coming, he locked himself in the house and burnt it down fearing Patrick's retribution. When Patrick arrived at the burning house, he fell on his knees and wept for the loss of an opportunity to extend grace to this man.

God used this tragedy to start something new in the heart of this man: something that would become a movement spreading all over northwestern Europe for the next two centuries known today as the Celtic movement. This movement would turn the order the order of how people were assimilated in Patrick's time on its head.

At this time in history, the church in the fourth and fifth centuries operated like many churches in Europe and North America do today, assimilating people in this sequence:

  1. Believe (sign off our on creed and beliefs)
  2. Become (live according to our values)
  3. Belong (then you are "one of us" and can be treated as such)

This feature of institutional Christianity is one that should be familiar to us as participants in government and other organizations and clubs. It works like this: believe what we believe, become what we've become, and then you will belong. If you don't believe what we believe, act like we act, and look like we look, then you are not one of us.

On a tactical level it meant that to advance the Kingdom, you must start a church by preaching, baptizing your converts, having them renounce their past sinful ways, then they can become a member in good standing of The Church.

Here's what I find astounding about Patrick. In warlord riddled Ireland, he completely ignored the "believe become belong" sequence of assimilation. He instead formed monastic communities. Anyone who felt the need to be a part of such a community could belong to it as long as they worked the land with Patrick and the other spiritual leaders. They didn't have to believe what Patrick believed, just work their fair share to bring food and provisions from the land. 

Chapels were built for the spiritual leaders to worship, but this was not a requirement for anyone outside the leadership. As members of these new communities began experiencing what it meant to belong and saw what their lives were becoming in contrast to those outside the community they would organically begin to join the leaders in worship and study. In other words, because they belonged first, their lives became different...and so they believed.

When people belong first, their lives become different: and then they believe

This new way of thinking (though it was Jesus' way from the beginning) began working its way through the tribal culture of the Celts in Ireland in the fourth and fifth centuries. They belonged first, became something different as a result, and so they believed. The movement spread all over Western Europe for the next two centuries until the institutional church squashed it because it's followers were not adhering to certain celebrations such as observing Easter on the same Sunday as the rest of the church, but not before leaving marks on our faith today through Patricks prayers (the Breastplate), hymns (Be Thou My Vision). 

So what can we learn on Saint Patrick's day from Patrick and the Celtic movement that God birth through him?

  1. We can learn that it all begins with belonging. We have to not make membership a reward for good behavior and good beliefs. It's something that God does when you add somebody to the church (Acts 2:47). God adds. We can only recognize it when it happens.
  2. We can learn that belonging can happen when people walk through your door. A guest should feel no less like they belong then if they had attended the church for 10 years and served on the board.

Just like a baby receives special favor and attention before it has done or believed anything, a person whom the Spirit of God is drawing to himself and his body through circumstance,s spiritual longing, brokenness, intellectual interest, or even just the invitation of a friend, Is someone who belongs to God just like we do. We may not understand their place in the story yet. But just like a baby does in a family, they belong anyway.

This notion of belonging first, becoming something new in a loving environment, leads to believing in the one who made it all so. To allow this organic, God created experience to have its full expression, we have to remove the complexity and the controls that keep assimilation from happening in our churches.

Thank you Patrick. No green beer for me today. This is more than enough.

(Use the questions below to process this with your team, and consider Saint Patrick of Ireland: A Biography, by Philip Freeman and The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West Again by George G. Hunter III as resources for more in-depth thinking on this assimilation paradigm).

  • What are you inspired by most from Patrick's story?
  • Have you ever been a part of a community that invited you to belong first? How did that impact your development as a person or Christ Follower?
  • Have you ever been a part of a community that would not allow you to belong until you believed and became a different person than you were? How did that impact your development as a person or Christ Follower?
  • What is one thing you could change about your church and its assimilation process to make guests feel like they belonged in God's family?

Join me in April to sharpen your assimilation process

Greg CurtisComment
Climbing the Assimilayas Base Camp

To all my partners in "The Climb",

As I respond to your calls and questions about connecting with guests at your church, I believe it's strategic for us to get together in person to bring these discussions to concrete results for your ministries. I will be leading a gathering in sunny Southern California (not quite Himalayan weather but it'll do) on April 28-29 which I believe is the best time to talk about implementing new strategies for assimilating guests that will be coming to your church during your Fall kick off, Christmas, and in January 2017.


  • Go through a process of identifying vulnerabilities in each church's assimilation process

  • identify next steps in eliminating those vulnerabilities

  • Design new processes to move toward a 1 out of 4 assimilated success rate

  • Share best practices

  • Hear what I am learning about how to use every kind of person as a volunteer (including non-believers, children & teens, and those whose lives need a face lift of some kind) 

  • Learn some new strategic shifts in how to launch small groups and make Christ Followers.

  • A special session on designing a more effective process for onboarding volunteers from Julie Liem, Volunteer Director at Eastside Christian Church

  • Leave with a month by month plan for implementation

  • Make resources available to effectively implement any changes beginning Spring of 2016 and beyond.   


WHEN: THURSDAY AND FRIDAY April 28th & 29th, 2016

COST: $189 


St. John's is a vibrant congregation of 3000+ in historic downtown Orange. My congregation (Eastside Christian Church) and theirs have been learning from each other about assimilation for some time now and I am excited to be hosted by them. 

Register now

This is the early bird registration discount price which will be in thru April 1st.

An idea that gets Guests to actually sign up for something

Greg CurtisComment

Here is another idea to communicate well with guests that resulted in something we didn't anticipate: people actually signing up and showing up for an event!

Signing up for things and showing up for things seems rare, even antiquated. I am amazed by how many wedding invitations get no responses or RSVPs these days. Church events get most of their sign ups the day before. At First Step with Gene (our assimilation "front door" event), we would multiply our sign ups by 3.5 and that was how many people we would feed. That meant 80% of the attendance were show-ups, not sign-ups. We didn't care though. We just prepared accordingly, excited for all the new guests that were coming to find out more about our church and to hear the good news about Jesus.

When I took over Guest Central last July, I did some vision casting a training for all the volunteers. I emphasized that Guest Central was the front porch of our church and First Step with Gene was the front door. As such, their role had three parts to it:

  1. Welcome them and get to know them conversationally.
  2. Exchange an orange insulated cup with cookies in it for their filled out connection card.
  3. Let them know about First Step with Gene and invite them to sign up by checking a box on the back of their connection card. Share that checking the box means they will get an email with all the details. 

Sign ups and attendance went through the roof. But something unintended happened: The number of show ups became the same as the number of sign ups. Even though I know a few don't show up, and that some people come who didn't sign up, the number evens out to something virtually equal each time. Amazing! An event for guests where the number of sign ups and the number of show ups is equal. My head is still exploding.

The benefit of this is better communication with guests. They get an email with details so they know what to do, where to go and exactly what to expect. If their schedule changes, many of them actually return this email and let us know they cannot come this time which allows us to get into an email dialogue with them. Maybe they shared an illness is keeping them from coming, or a job interview. Then I can let them know that I am praying for that issue, and ask if they would like me to sign them up for the next one. They almost always do, but not until they have been impacted by the personal connection we were able to have that came from a confirmation email that came from....their signing up!

So, idea #5 in this week's Idea Blast is this:

Sign guests up for your front door assimilation event at your first touch point with them. It results in better communication and connection with guests and even easier preparation for that event.

Now for the big announcement: My next Climbing the Assimilayas Base Camp will be at St. Johns Lutheran Church in Orange California on April 28th and 29th. Early bird registration is $169 and registration will open on Tuesday March 15th. 

Hope to meet you and your team in person there. Caio for now.


  • What results are you currently getting from signing people up? Why is it working or not working in your estimation?
  • Do you think asking people to sign up would help increase your attendance? Help you in planning and preparing? If so, how?
  • If you are considering changing your strategy for signing people up, what would be the new strategy? How would you implement it? When?

An idea to unleash the power of geography for your guests

Greg CurtisComment

This idea is based on our biggest assimilation learning from 2015. This idea...

  • Almost doubled the amount of connection cards we received from guests.
  • Lowered the average age of those who attend our First Step events by 20+ years.
  • Began lowering the average age of those who signed up to volunteer by about the same.
  • Helped increased the attendance of our 7 week First Step Experience by 38% this Winter.

I am embarrassed to tell you what it is because it is so painfully obvious and we missed it for the first 2 and half years at our new facility. Here it is (gulp):

We set up another Guest Central in the place where our young families walk in and out of our facility.

Boom. There it is. 

Why was this such a game-changer in connecting with more guests and younger guests at our church? Because our state-of-the-art Guest Central room is just outside the south exit of our auditorium and Kidside is just outside the north exit. You see, young families park in the north parking lot (not the south where Guest Central is) so they can check in their kids to Kidside, enter the auditorium from the north, retracing their steps in reverse when they exit. They never walk past Guest Central or see the south side of our facility at all. 

Because our assimilation pipeline begins when a guest exchanges their connection card for an orange cup with homemade cookies at Guest Central, not having a "Guest Central North" had 3 unintended consequences:

  1. The people we connected to small groups were largely 40+ years old.
  2. Our visible volunteers in the church were largely 40+ years old.
  3. We had little need for childcare during First Step with Gene
  4. Found it hard to assimilate young adults and young families in the First Step environments we created.

So last Fall, we tried something: we moved a cart near the north exit of the auditorium near Kidside with put orange cups on it and a GC Team Member behind it. We had no idea what would happen to those poor volunteers as some weekends we would have just as much activity at the cart as we had in our swanky Guest Central room. 

Visiting families do not put their children in Kidside as a rule when they visit for the first time. Children from these families who attended worship with their parents would see the photo of the orange cup on the screen, hear about the cookies, and then drag their parents to the cart when they saw the cups as they exited. These kids were our best connectors and as a result, we are installing a permanent expression of Guest Central out in the hall on the north side of our facility.

Since Guest Central North opened up, we have had the largest First Step with Genes we have ever had, the largest 7-week First Step Experiences we have ever had, and childcare is full during all of it.

So the transferable assimilation principle and idea for the day is a geographical one: put your first guest touch point where the guest are, not where you want them to go! 

It makes all the difference in the world...

Tomorrow: another Guest Central move that made people actually sign up and show (What!?) and a save the date for our next Climbing the Assimilayas Base Camp. Stay tuned.

  • Where do you want guests to go when they attend your church? Where are they already going? What are their existing traffic patterns?
  • If you were to put your first contact point for guests in their existing traffic patterns, where would you put it? What obstacles need to be removed for that to work?
  • Is there a temporary experimentthat might be a geographical "tell all" for you if you did it for 2 to 4 weeks?