The four ingredients of an assimilation strategy
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,
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.
- 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.
- 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.