8 ways to maintain attendance during your multi-week assimilation program

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There is nothing that can deflate a Sherpa leader (one who leads guests on the climb to connect with your church) quite like these 2 things:

  1. An empty room.

  2. A full room missing guests who attended last week.

That’s why when I am talking to leaders who want to see their guests go the distance and get connected to their church, I always share these 8 attrition busting practices I have learned over the years.

8 ways to minimize attrition at your multi-week assimilation program

Here is Diana Rush and her graduates from a Saturday night session of Next Steps at our Anaheim Campus. Those faces say it all.

Here is Diana Rush and her graduates from a Saturday night session of Next Steps at our Anaheim Campus. Those faces say it all.

  1. Change your expectations of guests.

    Sometimes we expect too little. Sometimes we expect too much. As with most things in life, I think you can expect guests at your church to respond to what brings them something they value.

    If you expect guests to want to come to an exegesis of your statement of faith, to come to a 2 to 3 hour class, or come to hear all the things you think God expects of them to be a member in good standing of your church and please God, you are expecting too much and not enough at the same time. I wouldn’t even attend that if I was visiting your church or mine.

    If you give them what they want (an environment where they can connect to other people and find out how they are unique and necessary to strengthen the ministry of your church), you can expect them to come to 2 weeks, 4 weeks, or even 7 weeks (I have had or seen success with all of those). Make it fun, interactive, inspirational and relational and you can expect big things.

    When we went to a 4 week version of our assimilation program, offered it every month, and allowed guests to start at any time and finish at any time, the amount of graduates (those who finished all 4 sessions) increased by 72%. What are your expectations of guests? Is it too much or too little? By accommodating their availability, we have more people finishing.



  2. Give a Certificate of Completion.

    I am always surprised at how much guests value these. If we don’t have one printed out for a guest for any reason, they are visibly sad. If we misspell their name for any reason, they ask if we can reprint it. Each one is signed by Gene Appel and their Campus Pastor and I ask the campus pastors to pray for each person God has added to their church as sign each one.

    We make and sign their certificate after they attend their third session of Next Steps so it is waiting for them when they attend the 4th time. Guests know it will be presented to them at the end of their 4th session and since every week is a 4th session for someone, guests see these given out and celebrate other people’s “graduations” along the way, looking forward to their own.



  3. Send mid-week emails to attendees.

    We send emails to all those who sign the attendance sheet each week, previewing some of the things to come in the next session and giving teasers about some of the other things. They know these emails will include links to videos that allow them to go-deeper and win more prizes for their tables so they are looking for these emails.

    Certain weeks have emails with custom content. After Step 02 an email is sent with recommendations for small groups and leader contact info to set up a visit based on a survey they took. Contacting those leaders and visiting a group is one of their assignments to discuss the following week. After Step 03, an email is sent from a volunteer champ from the ministry they signed up for in session. The email invites them to take their first step in joining the team of their choice Returning that email gets them a camping mug with our Change Maker logo on it on Step 04 (Change Makers are what we call members of our volunteer community).

    Our office actually receives calls if someone can’t find their mid week email for any reason. By giving guests a mid-week reminder of the journey they are on, they stay more engaged.



  4. Offer progressive giveaways.

    I already mentioned the camping mug we give for returning the email to take their place on a team. But we also give everyone a backpack at their first session, whatever session that might be. We let them know that following Jesus with us is a journey, an adventure, not a classroom experience and that we are going to give them a new piece of equipment for that backpack to reinforce the training we are giving them in following Jesus with us.

    That may sound expensive but it’s really not. The cost of the backpack and for the 4 items we put in it over the course of Next Steps adds up to just around $10 per guest. That’s the best $10 your church may ever spend. Children actually ask their parents, “What did you get this week?” The anticipation and sense of wanting to complete the whole program is an attrition buster for sure. Click here to find out what we give away and how you can get them.



  5. Provide Table Hosts.

    We have an army of men and women who lead discussion, welcome new guests who sit at their table each week, explain each week’s assignments, challenge them to complete them so their table wins prizes, and prays for them at the end of each session. We assign people to these tables by demographic (young adults, empty nesters, young families, etc.) so that the connection at those tables is enhanced and people look forward to seeing their new friends the following week. The table hosts don’t have to match the demographic of their table however. My most effective Table Host for young adults is a 67 year old engineer named Dave. They love him. All that matters is that they are with other people like themselves, sitting at the table as Dave leads discussion.

    Table Hosts ask newcomers, “How did you find our church and what made you come back?” It’s not too personal and everyone has the answers to those questions in common so it creates connection from the get go. Some Table Hosts even connect with them by email during the week to check in on issues and prayer requests that were shared in Next Steps.

    I have seen Table Hosts get a gift from their table on their final session! It is no wonder that on our Next Steps Graduate Survey, people listed their Table Host as their favorite feature of the program. Table Host keep people wanting to come back for the next session.



  6. Contact those who are one session away from completion.

    We run reports on our database each week that identify people who only have this weekend’s step left to complete Next Steps. Then our Assimilation Directors contact them and let them know we have their Certificate of Completion waiting for them and would love to see them at the coming session.

    One time Diana Rush, our Assimilation Director at our Anaheim Campus, contacted a woman who had only the coming session left to complete her Next Steps experience. What happened blew me away. She had left our church a year at a half earlier. A good friend had invited her to attend her church with her and she went for her friend but never got involved. When Diana called her, she stated how she was astonished that we would even notice that she was gone much less that she had only one more session to go. She showed up that weekend, got her grad certificate, and ended up joining a team! Now that’s an attrition buster.



  7. Incentivize completion of assignments but don’t require completion.

    On the first page of their Field Manual (which they find in their backpack on their first week), there is a welcome page that our Table Hosts point out to them. It says that a significant percentage of the value of Next Steps comes through the weekly assignments BUT to never let not completing one keep you from coming back. That freedom keeps people returning even when their week gets the best of them and they connect complete their assignments.

    At the same time, we incentivize their completing these assignments by giving prizes to the tables with the highest percentage of completion. My expectation was that if we got a third of them to complete the assignments and Go Deeper Videos, that would be solid. The trouble is, 80% to 100% complete them! I am still astonished when I type these words. Grace and incentivizing are a powerful way to maintain attendance in your assimilation program.



  8. Don’t require sign ups and let them jump between services.

    Though we have ways to sign up, we encourage people just to show up. Once they do, they are also allowed to go to Next Steps on another day or service if that means not missing a session or keeping the steps in order for them. People take advantage of that option every month as well as coming to the week they missed the following month. All this helps minimize attendance drop off over the course of our program.

This is Next Step Bingo where people are getting to know others in the room by having them sign a square that describes something they’ve experienced. Check out their faces: it’s fun and they are getting to know each other. This is what matters when someone is new to your church.

This is Next Step Bingo where people are getting to know others in the room by having them sign a square that describes something they’ve experienced. Check out their faces: it’s fun and they are getting to know each other. This is what matters when someone is new to your church.

So when the room you host your assimilation program in is missing some of the guests you met the week before, try one or more of these things to keep people engaged so you can help as many as possible reach the summit of full connection with your church.

Which idea did you find most helpful for maintaining attendance in your assimilation program? Share using the comment section at the bottom.

Want to go deeper by learning how to craft a comprehensive connection pathway for guests at your church in 6 short sessions? Click here.

Want to discuss this with your staff or volunteer team? Use the questions below.

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  • How many of these attrition busting measures to you currently have in place? Which ones do you not?

  • Out of the ones that you already have in place, which do you sense work best in maintaining attendance at your assimilation program? Out of the ones you do not practice, which do you think would be most worth the energy required to implement in your current assimilation program? Why?

  • By what date would you like to implement this new measure for minimizing attrition?

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Which idea did you find most helpful for maintaining attendance in your assimilation program? Share using the comment section below.