The word assimilate is defined as “to make similar; to alter; to absorb into the culture of a population or group” (Websters’ online dictionary). Assimilating people into the life of a group, and ultimately the church, is a goal most small group Bible studies would agree is important to pursue. But assimilation is more than just membership. “Assimilation is more than just becoming a member of a group. In fact, a person may never be assimilated into the body. The goal is to help people feel they are wanted, that they belong, and that they are needed” (10 Best Practices, p.155).
Why 18 is an Important Number to Remember
Did you know that according to research in the assimilation book Membership Matters, the average family today is taking up to 18 months to join a church? Let that soak in for a while – 18 months! Before you decide that number is too high, I can say from personal experience that it took my family almost a year to find a church home when we relocated to the Nashville area 5 years ago. I never dreamed it would take that long, but it did. As someone once said, “Things take longer than they do.”
Relax and do these 2 Things
Given that people are taking longer to join a church these days (if they join at all), you’ll have to get comfortable doing 2 things:
- Be patient – Assimilating families is like cooking in a crock pot – it just takes time, and you can’t rush it. Rushing someone to join is like asking your blind date to marry you on the first date.
- Be persistent – Assimilating families means that you will have to keep circling back to guests over many months. Most churches do a good job contacting guests after their first or second visits, but in time, attention can wane because new people visit the church weekly. Don’t forget to circle back around to people who visited 3, 6, or 9 months ago.
Is Sunday School a Valid Way to Assimilate People Today?
Dr. Thom Rainer, in the book High Expectations (p.37) notes the following: “The higher assimilation churches had strong Sunday School organizations. And that organizational quality did not happen by accident. The quality was the result of hard work, persistence, perseverance, and a willingness to suffer short-term losses for long-term gains.” Dr. Thom Rainer has discovered through his research that:
- 16% of persons whose primary point of contact with the church was through a worship service were still active after 5 years
- 83% of persons whose primary point of contact with the church was the Sunday School were still active after 5 years
- 80% of new members will drop out in year #1 if they don’t get involved in a small group, meet new friends, and find a place of ministry
9 Reasons Why Sunday School Still Works for Assimilating People
- Most people are familiar with it
- It is age-graded….there’s a class for every family member
- It meets weekly
- It provides age-appropriate Bible study
- It has an open enrollment strategy
- It has a system for tracking attendance
- It provides opportunities for service and ministry
- It helps people build relationships
- It retains more people over time than worship services alone
In my next blog post, I’ll discuss 7 indicators that a person is being assimilated into your group and/or church.
How have you worked to assimilate people into your group? What have you learned? Are there things frustrating you? What’s a secret you’ve discovered that has helped you assimilate people into your group?