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Why COVID-19 Has Impacted Assimilation

There is perhaps no other area more difficult to make tangible than assimilation. Assimilation is providing clear opportunity for new or lost attenders to receive personal help with spiritual movement and community in Christ. Moving first-time viewers of your online worship service along assimilation pathways can prove to be challenging. It is much easier to stay anonymous online compared to live attendance, and it will require greater care from church ministry staff to move the needle. It is also much easier to declare the online view does not count as real attendance and move on without offering help. The scope has shifted—do the hard work of answering this change!

Further, a slower rate of return to physical attendance is compounding the challenge of encouraging spiritual growth. Church leaders are now tasked with moving people deeper into their faith and local church connection with fewer on-campus moments. The truth is that decreased frequency of physical attendance was already happening before COVID-19. The past few months have demanded that the church flex their assimilation systems to meet this challenge or risk becoming a totally detached content machine. There will need to be a “both/and approach” when considering online and physical assimilation pathways. 

Another major shift is the type of attender churches are now responsible to help. There are those who began attending online and stay online. Some will begin online and walk into your building at some point — do you have a process to identify those people? Yet others attend only physical services. This increased stream of responsibility is now an opportunity to release your best people toward an effective assimilation effort. If you desire to be effective with everyone the Lord sends your way (digital or physical), this will change where time, talent and treasure are invested.

What is not different is each person’s need to come to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Each person has a need for community in the body of Christ and clear instruction on how to enter into that community through a particular local church. Clear and simple steps must be planned and communicated to move people beyond just watching a worship service. Now is the time to invest heavily in the area of assimilation. Do not wait on them to attend—take spiritual movement opportunities to people!

Practical Guidance

Go digital for all major communication with attenders

This could mean the death of the physical communication via connection card. It may be wise to keep several on hand for the occasional need, but you will need to create a communication system that works for every venue in which your church encounters people. This will save you the confusion of finding information on multiple platforms, and it will be clearer for everyone because you champion one method to connect. Consider moving your connection cards to a digital version, even for your in-person attenders.

Engage, Engage, Engage

Many churches have the long-standing posture, “If they really want it, they will come find it.” This must change. It is time to assume if someone took the time to watch your worship service online that they really do want it—even if they may not be able to articulate what “it” is. The church needs to do the work of going to the people. It is time to put extra people on the comment sections online. It is time to admit that for many typing a comment during a worship service is a big deal and moves them closer to local church community. It is time focus less on how many programs a church is offering and more on the few things that help people take a next step in biblical community. Which leads to…

Do the hard work of emphasizing assimilation steps over programs

This is going to be challenging, and it is more than a simple church concept of cutting programs. Listen, simple church isn’t really that simple. This is determining to do only what moves people toward where God intends them to be as outlined in his Word. Nothing more, nothing less. It is a shift of all resources to doing what helps people grow in Christ (while stepping toward the local church), rather than making sure programs are bigger, better, and increasing. It means making sure there are no dead-end encounters with your church. It is a flywheel effect, doing the small things more and more clearly every day. If you do this right it will be messy (and require regular maintenance), because it is people-focused to the glory of God. When you do the hard work of a current and clear pathway, there stands a chance for the greatest spiritual movement in individuals seen thus far in a local church. 

Creating Movement

Cut a non-controversial ministry effort and reinvest that time into assimilation

A move in the right direction does not have to be a fight! Try cutting something that takes up 30 minutes of a key leader’s or volunteer’s week and ask them to begin working on clear assimilation steps that work for any type of attender.

Use multiple hooks in your worship service

What you repeatedly say in worship will determine how quickly (or if ever) attenders enter your assimilation system. Spend time creating two or three catch phrases that show people how to more closely encounter the Lord and the church. Say these phrases all over your worship service. Put them on slides before and after. Have people tell stories about how the church has helped them in their faith journey. Most churches have segments in worship where you never hear the most important things again. This needs to change. It might be wise to give a quick gospel presentation and response pathway at the beginning of the worship service, the beginning of the sermon, and at the end of the service. Think of your worship service like a good song where there are lyrics you cannot get out of your head all week. 

Go ahead and get started

The best assimilation systems to fit a specific church are rarely heavily crafted plans rolled out when they have reached perfection. The best ones occur when church leaders decide they will do whatever it takes to help all people connect and grow. These start right now with the resources available and get better every day with relentless attention. They are not afraid to fail, wipe the drawing board clean, and press toward effectiveness for the sake of discipleship. There is an ever-present tweaking and movement to their assimilation plan. Do not be afraid to try something new to ensure people get personal attention from your church family.

Personalize Assimilation

  1. How much time will I devote over the next month to creating or improving our assimilation path?
  2. Which serving teams or servant leaders can be redirected to care about online and in-person first-time attenders?
  3. What one major shift in our communication holds potential to help more online attenders visit in-person?
  4. Do new people have to find out what to do on their own or does our church make the first move to engage them?
  5. Do we have a clear and visible pathway to help people grow closer to Jesus and his church?

Connect With Us

Help with local church assimilation is a part of the Church Ministries Department of the SBTC. It is an honor to serve churches of many different digital abilities, congregation sizes, budget amounts, and levels of know-how as we utilize the Cooperative Program to advance the gospel together. Please feel to email Lance Crowell for help developing an effective assimilation system.

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