This month, our church is completing an overhaul of our assimilation system. We are evaluating and improving everything that first-time guests experience from the moment they drive their car onto our parking lot to the point when they call our church “home.” To be honest, I didn’t think it would be this hard–although the hardest part isn’t what you’d expect. The hardest part hasn’t been the large numbers of volunteers we need to recruit and train, asking for a substantial budget increase, or moving where the offering is in our service (gasp!) in order to give people a better chance to fill out their connection card.
The hardest part has been learning to view a first-time visit to our church through the eyes of someone who doesn’t yet know Jesus and isn’t familiar with church.
As we thought about how we’ve welcomed and tried to connect with first-time guests, it became clear that we’ve looked at our assimilation process only through our own eyes: the eyes of Christ-followers who have been around church awhile. The result was a process that was confusing and even intimidating to people who perhaps haven’t ever been a part of a church. We were expecting guests at our church, but our assimilation system communicated that the guests we were expecting were those who were familiar with church, rather than unchurched folks who might not have a relationship with Jesus.
When our churches are confusing or hard-to-figure-out, we aren’t being good stewards of the first-time guests that God sends us. It doesn’t matter how friendly your church is (or how friendly you think you are); without a simple system for helping unchurched first-time guests get connected, most of the unchurched individuals and families who walk into your church probably won’t come back for a return visit. So, how can our churches be prepared for first-time guests who aren’t familiar with church?
Lose the insider lingo. Church signs that have ministry names only church veterans could figure out communicate to unchurched guests that they are definitely not part of the in-crowd. In addition, anyone speaking from up-front in the auditorium–whether during the welcome, announcements, or the sermon–need to assume they are talking to people who aren’t familiar with their church, the service, or even the Bible.