Monday is for “kingly” administration: The Assimilation Process, Part 1 (First-Time Guest)

First of all, I want to say thanks to all of you who agreed to join in on these Monday discussions on church-related systems and processes (what I’m calling kingly administration).  We are all learners and laborers together for church health and gospel growth, and I believe our churches will be better served when we exhibit a kingdom-oriented posture of humbly receiving and generously giving to one another.  I probably do need to make this disclaimer in saying that I am NOT an expert on this stuff.  In fact, I don’t think I own or have read a book on the things we’re talking about (some of you should tune out now).  In any case, I hope to at least get the conversation going with the things I have been thinking and practicing in our own context.

The first area of emphasis that I want us to delve into is the assimilation process.  I want to conceptually lay out what I have been drafting and explain our practices in light of the bigger picture, which looks like this:

a.    Assimilation Process
b.    Membership Process
c.    Discipleship Process
d.    Leadership Development

When I came to Grace two years ago, one of the key objectives I was given was to develop the ministry design in a “simple church” structure that serves our purposes of being a Great Commission Church.  We are not a large church (membership of ~200 with ~300 in attendance), but over the past six months the need for an effective assimilation process has never been greater as we have seen many more visitors come since moving to two services (another topic to be addressed in the future).

Within the assimilation process, I have broken down the stages accordingly:

a.    First-Time Guest
b.    Regular Attender
c.    New Christian
d.    Membership Prospect

Instead of trying tackle all four stages in this post, I will address (a) “First-Time Guest” by offering some observations and suggestions.

Gathering Information from First-Time Guests

One of the first things I noticed that was not working with us was the way we gathered information from first-time guests.  We had a perforated clip in the church bulletin that we asked people to fill out during the worship service.  My guess is that we would get information from 10-15% of guests. We were asking them to fill out this info while attempting to sing, and by the time the offering plate came by, it was too late.

The first change I made was to create a “connection card” that had four carbon-copies.  The reason for the carbon copies is so that this information would be given to (1) office, (2) pastors, (3) small group leader in their area, and (4) to a church contact (if they had any).  Instead of asking them to fill this information out during the service, I informally created a “velcro team” who served to help guests “stick” around for a while and personally engage them in conversation, asking to fill out the connection cards.  The result was connecting with 50-75% of our guests.  Though this was a considerable improvement, I was still hoping to provide a more effective way to share with our guests.  The foyer and sanctuary was just too crowded and difficult to carry a conversation.

This led to the guest reception room.  This is nothing fancy here (no decorations, furniture, etc.).  We actually have a couple of round tables and plastic chairs in the fellowship hall partitioned off by portable walls.  At the close of our second worship service, we invite guests to join some of the pastoral team (light refreshments provided as well).  What we have come to find over the past couple of months in doing this is about 90% connection with first-time guests.  Moreover, we have opened this time up for not only first-time guests, but also regular attenders who have questions about the church and those who have questions about the morning’s message.  Members who brought their friends are encouraged to come as well.  During the 15-30 minutes we are in the reception room, we have informal conversations with guests, and I share with everyone a little about our church, our core values, ask diagnostic questions, and encourage them to join us again.  Not being in a line or in a loud and crowded foyer has allowed for excellent opportunities to have unhurried conversations with our guests.

Following Up with First-Time Guests

Following up with first-time guests is an area where I am currently working to improve in our assimilation.  I have done two things to make this visitor information more accessible to our leadership team.  First, I have created a guest follow-up template with all the information of our guests updated and sent to them by Monday morning.  Second, I have created a Google visitor map to locate where our guests live in relation to our 3G Network (Grace Growth Groups – our decentralized small groups).  See below . . .

The first follow-up is via email by me (if provided) on Monday, followed by a handwritten card by our lead pastor (Tom Ascol) receive either Tuesday or Wednesday).  By the end of the week, the nearest small group leader will contact them via phone or personal visit to invite them to their small group the following Sunday night.  Finally, if they know anyone in particular from our Grace family, our member is encourage to have them over their house (gospel hospitality) and spend time with them.  Hopefully, the multiple and varied approaches of connecting with our guests does not come across in an intimidating manner but let’s them know that we take their visit to our church seriously.

Next week, I will address those who are between first-time guests and membership prospects.  There are those who visited but are not attending anymore, those attending but not pursuing membership, and those who are attending and need the gospel.  But till then, let me know what you and your church is doing in the assimilation process as it relates to first-time guests.

Please share with me (and others) things you have learned and are practicing in this area of first-time guest connection and follow-up!

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32 Comments on “Monday is for “kingly” administration: The Assimilation Process, Part 1 (First-Time Guest)”

  1. KJ Says:

    Tim,

    We have taken a stab at killing two birds with one stone by creating a rotation for the Sunday School classes to have a fellowship meal after the morning service to which all guests are also invited.

    KJ

    • Jim Pemberton Says:

      We have the typical card-and-visit system with our pastoral staff. However, it’s important to have a culture of follow-up among the body at large. As large as our church is, most of our members are friendly enough to welcome visitors with more than a smile and a handshake. We let visitors sit where they like without getting put out if they they take “our seats”. We are glad to see people return and make mention of it. Wednesday evenings we have a fellowship meal before we break out into classes and that’s a great time to get to sit down with returning visitors and get to know them better. We welcome their involvement even before they join the church. This gives visitors who come from other denominations time to process the baptist ecclesiology while becoming part of the fabric of the church as our brothers and sisters in Christ. For new Christians, generally they come because they have someone there who is connected with their conversion experience. The member connection is also their link for follow-up.

      This culture of follow-up is part of the overall local mission strategy that is not programmatic, but a mission imperative that has been taught, exhorted, demonstrated, received and duplicated throughout the congregation. We do it on an individual basis because we must. We have a heart for reaching people in the community with the gospel, teaching them about Christ and involving them in his work. And you can’t that without weaving your lives with theirs. A tenacious commitment to do so only comes from a desire for God.


      • …it’s important to have a culture of follow-up among the body at large.

        That’s a great point, Jim. One of the things I love about our Grace family is that many of them are anticipating guests coming in the morning and having them over their house for lunch. So they prepare extra food and are eagerly looking for the opportunity to spend time with new people who come to our church. Some families are good at this and have the gift of hospitality, but more and more are catching on.

  2. Ken Carlisle Says:

    The guest fills out an info card and places it in the offering. On Monday the pastor writes a card and Tuesday follows up with the deacon of the week to their home.

  3. Jason Wright Says:

    Tim,

    Thanks for doing this series. I am really looking forward to reading the rest along with the comments.

    I feel we are falling short in this regard at our church. I send a letter and a member usually sends a card to guests, but after that we seem to drop the ball. Hoping these posts will help us better think through our processes.

    Jason


    • Jason,

      Yes, we have a problem with dropping the ball as well, especially after the first time guest comes a couple of times but is not (a) integrated into the body life through small groups and/or (b) is not pursuing membership. I hope to delve into that more next week.

  4. Mike Schuetz Says:

    Hey Tim,
    Thanks for the post. Some great ideas. How long does it take you to create that map each week?

    We currently have connect cards but are considering creating a first time guest packet that has basic info about the church, a gospel presentation, a spiritual walk diagnostic, and a perforated connect card attached. I hope that doesn’t drop our %.

    I then have a volunteer enter all the guest info into a google doc, which our advocate team has access to. We’re trying to get all future minister types to be on this advocate team. The advocates then serve as middle men, trying to establish a relationship and help plug them into the appropriate next step for them, whether that is sharing the gospel, connecting with a small group, getting baptized, etc.

    The system works OK, but we need a lot more people on our advocate team right now. And I really like the visitor reception room idea with food. They can immediately ask questions or connect with someone live.


    • Howdy Mike,

      Regarding the map, I simply update it each week which usually takes 15-30 minutes (I typically do this on Sunday night). That update includes removing guests who are no longer visiting, guests who are now members, etc. I probably should explain the colors . . .

      Red Pins – first-time guests who have not become regular attenders
      Yellow Pins – first-time guests who have attended again but are not regular
      Green Pins – first time guests who are attending regularly and pursuing membership
      Blue Pins – guests who have recently become covenanted members
      Purple Pins – locations where our small groups are located

      We have a guest packet at this time, but it needs to be reworked. Right now, it includes a basic pamphlet about our church, small groups, and a free copy of 50 Reasons Why Jesus Died by John Piper. We are hoping to develop small booklets which explains our philosophy of ministry, core values/practices, church planting vision, doctrinal commitments, etc.

      I love the idea of the “advocate team.” For us, that would be our community group leaders. They have access to the map and the follow-up template I created for guest information compilation. I think this part of the follow-up depends on the size and structure of the church, and given that we are small/medium in size, we utilize our small group leaders in partnership with the pastors for synergy in Grace gathered (attractional) and Grace scattered (missional) systems. I will get to this later, but one of the realities we have faced in the growth of the past year is leveraging the new decentralization in formative pastoral care through our small group leaders. I am still working on this paradigm shift, but I think it has great potential for our church.

      The guest reception has served more purposes than we realized. Although we have only been doing it for a couple of months, it has opened the door for all kinds of conversations related to the gospel, church, and mission of the church. The challenge we had to deal with is encouraging visitors to actually come to the reception and not just slipping out quickly. To gently address this, I formed the “velcro team” which right now is my administration team plus a few extras who are positioned next to first time guests to serve them, converse with them, and help them find the reception room. The pastoral team does not arrive before the visitors, so we have asked our hospitality team to help with the welcoming and connecting of our guests until we can meet with them. It’s a work in progress, and I am learning on a weekly basis little things that could be done differently to make it more effective and serve our visitors better.

  5. Travis Southern Says:

    Great ideas, Tim. When I first came to my church as pastor a year ago, this system was non-existent. We initially tried to have guests fill out cards during the service, but found they would rather be observing and participating. We also had the problem that very few people brought pens to fill out the cards. Since we have chairs and not pews, there was no convenient place to put pens. Only about 10% would fill out the cards.

    We have switched to the system similar to what you described. We try to quickly engage our guests before they leave, and this is working well. Now we have about 70% fill out the card.

    Related to this topic, we found that our signage in the building was inadequate. Sometimes people would come in late after the service began, and couldn’t find the nursery. While we try to escort people to the right places, the signs provide a good backup.


    • Wow. Travis, your situation is almost to the “t” exactly what I/we have experienced, including the signage issue. That’s crazy! We are currently working on directional signage from the main access roads as well as new signs on the church property.

  6. Brian Fulton Says:

    Tim,

    Great stuff.

    I like the informal velco ministry. We unfortunately meet in a warehouse and lack space to have a meet and greet, reception area. We have a welcome desk, but it is packed out by the exit. One thing we do though, is our time for offering is actually a way we connect to our first time guests.

    I usually say something like, “If you are a Christian here, we hope you give willingly, generously, and consistently. If your not a Christian, we don’t want you to give a dime, because we want you to receive – to receive Jesus Christ. If you are a guest here, we want to give a gift to you, a free book by John Piper, “Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die.” Please come by the Welcome Center to meet one of our members and receive a copy.”

    Everyone wants a free book usually, and it’s a way to express our generosity as a church, and connect.

    We buy these in bulk through their Easter special 🙂


    • Brian,

      We have an issue with space as well. Our foyer is woefully inadequate to facilitate a welcome center of sorts, although we have one, so decided to use the “fellowship hall” (our largest room outside the worship center) to meet with guests. We generally have 15-30 people back there at a time.

      One of the things we have emphasized with our guests is our desire to pray for specific needs they may have. One couple, for instance, visited this past Sunday whose 24 yr. old son died in a car accident two moths ago. I listened as they mourned and wept over their loss. Along with some of our members, we rallied around them and prayed over them. My guess is that that kind of informal, personal ministry has the potential to impact them more than anything else they will receive in a formal ministry context. Weeping with those who weep is not something that can be programmed, but you can create a context where it can be facilitated.

  7. Sherie Says:

    I look at this from two sides: 1) someone who had to reenter church life after being abused at a church 2) someone who is now part of the core of a church planting team that is not yet at the weekly worship service stage.

    As a church plant team member, I am very concerned with connecting with others and being available. I want to see others get connected, and I have a heart to see our church grow. I do however have a different view than many planters, although it matches others in my church, because I want to help people find the right place to plug in even if it is not with us. When I engage with people I try very hard to listen to what they are saying and not saying and to be available to answer questions more than give information. I want to hear what they are looking for in a church and tell them if I think we are or will someday be what will be a good place for them. So far we have not developed an method to collect information from visitors so the feedback here is tremendously helpful.

    Part of that approach comes from being wounded. When I reentered the church after being wounded I felt very threatened, and church was not seen as a safe place, but I knew it was a needed place. I did not want to be seen or known, I just wanted to check things out and run. If churches were too intent on trying to connect with me immediately it could scare me off. I needed time to build trust, and I needed space to observe and just be a warm body without connecting. At one church that I attended for a time the greeters on Sunday often stood on both sides of the door/walkway and conversed with each other, and there were often 3-6 men. As a single woman it left me feeling like I had to run the gauntlet to enter church. In larger churches I often felt like nothing more than a seat warmer and couldn’t see how I would connect and meet people even if I did come regularly.

    I share all that just to say that sometimes we need to take our perspective off and look at things like the visitors. Are they unchurched? dechurched? in crisis? single? married? belonging to groups that are often culturally unaccepted? Do they come with shame? guilt? anger? brokenness? past church trauma? Scripture tells us to love our neighbor, and sometimes what is most loving to someone whose story is very different than ours is something very different than we would choose. Sometimes it can take a great deal of effort and discernment to look at our ways differently and realize that our culture in our churches may be what keeps the visitors from coming in and engaging even when we are trying to do the right thing.


    • Sherie,

      Excellent thoughts. I think sometimes we can have a picture of the stereotypical guest and have a cookie-cutter mentality in our approach with them. As you mentioned, people are going to come with all kinds of questions, concerns, hurts, scars, and doubts about church. You words are a helpful reminder that we are seeking the best interests of those who visit, not necessarily try to get them to become a member of our respective church. In all the talk about processes and ministry design, we cannot allow ourselves to forget that we are dealing with people. And not just any generic people, but specific persons with specific situations and stages in life’s journey.

      Thanks again for sharing!

  8. Renee Teate Says:

    really really liked this!


  9. I have a group of ladies in my church who will bake cookies anytime I ask. So when we get visitors I get some cookies and take them over to the people who have visited. Ideally I like to do this within 48 hours. I drop the cookies off and bring a sheet with contact info just in case I miss them.

    I got the idea from a church I visited right before I started Seminary. After I visited this church, I went and grabbed some burgers and some groceries and went home. When I arrived at home, there by my door was a plate of fresh baked cookies (still warm!) and info on the church. I got a follow up call that evening. This church would start baking the cookies before the service ended and would send them for delivery with someone who lived in that neighborhood who had volunteered to participate in this ministry. Needless to say, I was impressed.


    • Chris,

      I love that idea and have heard of that done before. When you visit with them and bring the cookies, is it a quick visit or do you attempt to visit with them inside their home (share the gospel, about the church, etc.)?


      • My goal is just to thank them for coming and ask if they have any questions, not even to get in their home. If invited in, I would go in, but generally it is a 5 minute conversation on their porch and then I leave before overstaying my welcome. I don’t want to be desperate or pushy in my first encounter with a guest. I also am frank with them that if we weren’t what they were looking for that I would be happy to suggest some other local churches that might be a better fit. I do also try to find out if they have a connection to our church – friend, family, attended a wedding there etc.

  10. Don Elbourne Says:

    Timmy,

    This is great. I look forward to this series. I hope follow-up questions are not out of order.

    How does your “velcro team” know someone is a first time guest, especially with over 100 non-members in attendance?

    And out of curiosity, how many first time guests do you have in a typical Sunday service?

    We are dealing with the same issues, but on a smaller scale. And we do not have the advantage of community groups for assimilation.

    Oh, I have a dozen more questions, but I guess I’ll be patient and wait for the rest of your series.


    • Don,

      Ask away! I may not be able to get to the questions immediately, but I do my best to answer them in a timely manner.

      Regarding the “velcro team,” I communicate with these guys either in the back of the church (media booth) or via text. By the middle of the service, the folks pretty much know exactly who the guests are and where they are sitting. I assign certain team members over specific sections of the worship center (left, center, right, etc.). Right now, I am only using 5-6 people on the team but hoping to increase it to 10-12 people.

      Regarding the attenders versus guests, I review with the team each Sunday who visited the previous Sunday, and each Sunday I give them a “Grace Gathered cheat sheet” which has the names and info of all our guests going back 3 months (right now the list has about 45-50 families). They check off everyone they recognize, as do I.

      The amount of guests varies, especially during Snowbird season. The challenge we have is determining which one are from out of town and which ones are local. Between January and April, we would have anywhere from 20-40 first time guests, but at least half were Snowbirds or out of towners. Since season is over, we are averaging 5-15 first time guests. Regarding attenders, we average 20-30 in our early service and 60-80 in the late service. What some of our volunteers do is attend the first service and hang around to serve in the second (most of our committed membership come to the early service).

      I will say that the number of first-time guests has increased since we emphasized assimilation and guest reception. I’m not sure if there is a connection there, but before we would rarely see more than a couple of first-timers.

      The guest reception became a need for the following reasons:
      1. We had too many guests not filling out any information.
      2. We had too many guests getting lost in the crowd exiting the worship center.
      3. The foyer was inadequate to try to connect with our guests (not enough space).
      4. The amount of guests were increasing to the point that we need additional people besides the pastors in meeting their needs.
      5. We also wanted to be able to spend more than 30 seconds welcoming them so that it didn’t feel that all we wanted from them was their information.

      I hope that helps Don! It’s always good to hear from you.


  11. I thought I’d mention one more thing, though it is not exactly related to assimilation (well, tangentially it is). Tim Keller makes a very good point about preaching when he said that if you starting preaching like unbelievers were in the gathering, they would start showing up. Why is that? Perhaps it is because Christians would think that the messages are on a level where their unbelieving friends could understand and relate to it (not Christian-ese).

    On the same note, if you develop an assimilation process that is disarming, encouraging, and authentic, perhaps more guests will come because visitors will communicate to others their experience at your church. In other words, if you don’t take seriously ministering to those in your community who come to your gathered services, then maybe they won’t find your church compelling or attractive. I believe in church as both attractional and missional. So if we are attractional, why not do it with intentionality and excellence?

  12. Chris Bonts Says:

    You guys have touched on a number of good issues with regard to welcoming guests. One thing that I have noticed over the past ten years of follow up visitation is that the first contact is crucial. From my experience, it seems that when a guest is contacted for the first time on Sunday afternoon (visit, phone call, etc.) they were much more likely to return for a second visit the following week. A number of pastors I know have started calling their previous guests on the following Saturday evening to invite them for a return visit the next day. They have seen good results from those efforts as well.

    Our children and family ministries team has recently made plans to host a breakfast at a local diner. They have contacted all of our recent guests with young children and invited them to join us for a time of fellowship and questions related to our church, especially family ministry. While we haven’t had the first breakfast yet, the response of the guests invited has been tremendous. They seemed eager to have an opportunity to ask tough questions about our church in this type of environment. Right after church usually isn’t the best time to have extended conversations. Additionally, not everyone is willing to ask questions, but they are willing to listen to others ask the same questions 🙂

    I’ll let you know how the breakfast goes.

  13. Tyler Recker Says:

    Looking forward to more in this series.

  14. Dismal Deacon Says:

    very excited about this topic!

    dd


  15. Man, this is so necessary. As our church is preparing to move to a new location at the end of the month, you’ve got me thinking of ways we can do better. This is one of them. Keep it coming!

  16. Jeff Miller Says:

    Timmy,

    I know I am late to the party, but I am excited about catching up with this series. Our practice had been pretty similar to what you are describing at Grace. An immediate, informal guest reception right after the morning worship. We found that the chaos of the foyer and picking up children from classes proved to be too much to maximize this time so we have recently taken a different approach.

    When we have people sign the “Keeping In Touch” cards we say “If you are a guest with us this morning it is important to us that we get an opportunity to welcome you. Instead of placing your card in the offering plate please hold onto it. On your way out this morning there will be folks (usually 6-8) in the foyer wearing red lanyards. Please give your card directly to them so that we can say hello and meet your family.”

    Then we take that contact information and on the first Thursday of each month have a guest dessert at our pastor’s house. The senior pastor and his wife host this time and usually another staff member and elder are there as well. This informal time 1.5 hours in their home is really a great time to linger and hear their story, answer questions and interact on a more personal level. We have seen that through this method our connections tend to be deeper and longer lasting, although I admittedly don’t have stats to back up this method.

    I will keep checking in here…


    • Jeff!

      Great to hear from you brother. Thanks for chiming in. I like what I hear you guys doing. I look forward to learning from you and hearing more of what you guys are doing there in CA!


  17. […] people from being new comers at church into membership. The Assimilation Process: Part 1: First-Time Guest Part 2: New Believers Part 3: Regular Attenders Part 4: Prospective […]


  18. […] implement some of his suggestions unto the glory of God.  An Excerpt from his article “Monday is for “kingly” administration: The Assimilation Process, Part 1 (First-Time Guest)“: One of the first things I noticed that was not working with us was the way we gathered […]


  19. […] Assimilation (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4) * Membership (Part 1 | Part […]


  20. […] an example of being practical I have found this post (and no doubt the future posts) at Timmy Brister’s blog very […]


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