The goal of every church is to help people grow as disciples of Christ. Our methods and even our theology may differ, but at the end of the day we simply want to help people know Christ and experience life in community. In order to do this well, every church must have a church assimilation process like growth track or a new members class. Yet, true assimilation doesn’t happen through one time events, it is the result of a deliberate process with discipleship at the center.
The Goal Of Church Assimilation
Church assimilation should not exist only to get new people to become members or to help people begin serving within your church. Instead, assimilation should be about helping people to grow in Christ and to get connected to community within the church. Membership and serving are certainly part of the assimilation process, but they should not be the end goal.
Your assimilation process is going to look different than other churches in your city, denomination, and network. Yet, at the core of the process should be the goal of creating fully formed disciples of Christ. This goal should be the same with every church no matter their location, size, or denomination.
As such, assimilation is not an easy process. You must intentionally look at assimilation from the eyes of a pastor not a non-profit or business leader. The pastor looks at assimilation through the lens of helping people to grow in Christ. The non-profit or business leader looks at assimilation through the lens of helping people to serve the organization.
In his excellent book Invitation to a Journey, Dr. Mulholland shares that spiritual formation is the process of being formed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.1 At first, this may sound like an interesting concept, but the reality of spiritual formation and assimilation is that fully formed disciples of Christ are always others-focused. Yet, to serve others without having been formed is a recipe for disaster and a surefire way to create Christians who do not know what it means to love God and love people.
We must push back against our culture of instant gratification in pursuit of real assimilation within the church. It is certainly easier to move the goal posts of assimilation to something more attainable, but to do so is to pursue something other than assimilation rooted in spiritual formation and discipleship.
Crafting A Church Assimilation Process
Spiritual growth does not happen overnight. Instead, it is a deliberate process that takes time to wade through for each person. Mulholland argues that, “we do not expect to put an infant into its crib at night and in the morning find a child, and adolescent or yet an adult. We expect that infant to grow into maturity according to the processes that God has ordained for physical growth to wholeness. The same is true of our spiritual life.”2
The process of helping people assimilate into Christ and your church is not an easy task. It’s a deliberative process that is constantly changing because spiritual growth is hardly linear. When I look back at my own journey, it certainly has twists and turns, journeys through the desert, and times of ecstatic growth. Your assimilation process needs to account for the human element. It’s a journey with a series of stops along the way. Everyone is moving toward the same destination, but the path taken always varies.
Your assimilation process should not look linear. If it does, it is not rooted in real life. I’ve often seen assimilation represented with a straight path or an upside down triangle reminiscent of a funnel. While these can certainly help to set clear markers of growth, they aren’t that effective in helping people to truly assimilate.
How do you create an assimilation process then?
Have a starting point
We’re probably all familiar with this part of the assimilation process. In fact, I know of many churches who actually call their assimilation class Starting Point. In your church this may be called Next Steps, Growth Track, Starting Point, or something as simple as Your Church 101. No matter what you call it, this step serves an important purpose within the assimilation process.
Your starting point should be informational and led by a staff member, elder, or ministry leader that helps guide people through your church’s mission, vision, and values. It should also serve as a place for people to be able to ask questions.
Provide a clear next step
Laying out clear next steps are an important part of assimilation. It’s not enough to have people go through a class, sign up to be a member, and then they’re on their own. Your assimilation process has to be purposeful if it is to be effective. In order to determine what the next step should be, you’ll need to reflect upon the most important step someone can take who is new to you church. Is it joining a small group? Is it taking a class about the church’s theology? Is it helping them to discover who God has made them to be?
Once you’ve figured out the next step that you’re going to promote, brainstorm how you will pitch it to people who have gone through the initial step. Provide a compelling call to action that shows them the benefit of taking this next step. It’s okay to put on a happy face and get enthusiastic about it.
Follow up often
This is the step that I see most overlooked in churches. They implement an assimilation process like Growth Track and people start coming to the meetings. They get people on board with next steps, but not everyone takes that next step. Yet, in most churches assimilation ends at the end of the meeting. This cannot be the case! True assimilation requires follow up for the people who take the next step and those that don’t. It’s not a linear path.
This is the hard part about assimilation. It requires work. You may be scratching your head right now trying to figure out how it would even be possible to follow up with everyone who goes through your process. The truth is that it won’t happen by accident. You will need to implement an intentional system to make it happen either by you or by a ministry leader that you delegate this to. This process could be easily managed in Trello similar to this.
Rethink The Method
One of the hardest parts about creating an assimilation process is the method. It’s hard to dedicate staff and volunteer resources to hosting a physical meeting that not everyone can attend. Your church may even have a multiple week starting point class where if someone misses a week, they’ve got to wait until next month to jump back in. This can be incredibly frustrating.
Substance Church in Minneapolis has recently moved their Growth Track process online with the help of TrainedUp. Now, instead of using up valuable people resources for meetings with poor attendance, they can simply enroll people in an online course that lets them watch at their own pace.
Substance doesn’t stop with just moving assimilation online and hoping for the best. They connect each person who is enrolled in their Growth Track with a personalized coach to help answer questions and guide them through the process. This provides the best of both worlds with scalable church assimilation while still maintaining a high level of personal connection with much less effort than meetings. They’re even able to track where everyone is in the process easily.
Want to try building your own assimilation process online? Start a 14 day free trial of TrainedUp here.
1: M. Robert Mulholland, Jr., Invitation to a Journey (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 12.
2: Mulholland, 25.
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