Future Church: Part 8

By: Justin Anderson

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Let me start by saying that I believe in seminary. I went to seminary, and I would recommend that some people go to seminary. Seminary does a great job teaching you how to read and interpret the Bible and how to synthesize the text into a theological system. You can learn church history, missions strategies, and how to shepherd people through biblical counseling. There is a lot of value in going to seminary. There, that’s my disclaimer.

That being said. . . there is a lot that seminary does not prepare you for. Maybe your experience was different, but when I went to seminary, the total number of classes that I took that covered topics like organizational leadership, financial matters (including fundraising, accounting, or money management), hiring, firing, or managing staff, branding, marketing, social media strategies, technology, or any other operational topic was a grand total of zero.

Let me be clear: you have to be able to read and understand the Bible, know theology and church history, and do all the other things seminary does so well. But, if you are going to have a functional church that grows beyond a few dozen people, you will need to know how to lead an organization. The church, at the end of the day, is a non-profit organization that needs to be run legally and efficiently to be able to execute its mission.

I could write about a million things about this, but I want to focus on one big idea today. We need to lead our churches to be as organizationally effective as possible. We need to have good hiring practices, excellent management systems, and financial controls. These are some of the biggest issues I see among churches that are stuck. They do a good job of preaching, worship, and community, but their organization resembles a mom-and-pop convenience store.

Among the myriad organizational issues I regularly see, the assimilation process is by far the lowest-hanging fruit that would have the biggest impact on your church. The pathway to staying at your church and connecting in a meaningful way should be the easiest and most obvious thing in the world. It should be simple, clear, and easy to accomplish.

I’m not saying we should lower the bar for membership or leadership or adopt a seeker-sensitive mindset. But it shouldn’t be difficult or confusing to get involved in your church. If someone wants to get involved but cannot because of either of those issues, you have fundamentally failed them.

Your assimilation processes need to be obvious and easy. I used to say “clear and simple,” but I really need to drive home this point. Clear is not enough, aim for obvious. Simple is a good start, but make it easy. Again, we are talking about people who like your church and want to get involved. There should not be theological or agility tests to take that step.

I worked with a church some years ago that required people to go through an 8-week class before joining a small group. That is nuts. All you’ve done is create small groups for super-committed Christians. If that’s what you want, then please send all of those non-Christians, new Christians, and borderline Christians to my church.

Here are six practical ways to make getting connected to your church obvious and easy.

1. Start in the Parking Lot

Your ability to connect with guests starts long before they get to your Sunday morning service. Most people check out your church online before they choose to show up, and your online strategy is critical, but that’s a post for another day. For today’s topic: start in the parking lot. Make sure you have easy parking solutions and clear signage.

Put greeters in the parking lot to offer help, directions, a warm greeting, and umbrellas when necessary. This simply communicates that you expect guests, you care about them, and you’re excited for them to be there.

2. Be Aggressive

Don’t wait for people to take the first step—take it for them. You want them to connect to your church, so don’t make them chase you down, make them say no to you! Instead of being passive and just putting a connect card in a seat back or a QR code on the screen, identify the new people (unless you are a very large or fast-growing church, you can do this) and go meet them. Tell them what the next step is to get connected and invite them into it.

It’s not enough to make it easy; take the initiative. Don’t be desperate, but be clear that you want them to take the next step. Pretend you’re back in high school, and you have your eye on the pretty girl in Algebra. Go get her number.

3. Easy First Step

The first thing a new person has to do to get connected should be so easy that no one would say no. These days, we are so used to giving out our email addresses to every website that most people won’t hesitate to give them to you, either. So when you are being aggressive, just ask them for their email and put it in your system. It’s an easy first step. You don’t need to ask for anything else from them.

Then, take their email and use it. On Monday morning, send them a quick message thanking them for coming and inviting them to the next step.

4. Easy Every Step

Now that you have an easy first step, that should set the tone for every other step. Have you ever walked up a flight of stairs, and the fifth or sixth step was just a little taller than the rest, and you tripped on it because it was more than you expected? That’s what a lot of churches do in their assimilation process. Step one is an email address, and then step two is to walk into a stranger’s living room on a Wednesday night and confess sin together. That’s too big of a step.

I’m all for confessing sin, and I’ve done my share, but I don’t typically confess sin to strangers. If step one is an email, step two should be something similarly easy, like filling out a demographic form or an invitation to an after-service lunch or brief Q&A.

I’m not arguing that we don’t ask people to do hard things, I’m just saying that there is a natural rhythm to relationships and this is no exception. Too many churches want to propose on the second date, and while we all know that one guy who did that and it worked out, this is typically not a great strategy. Let the relationship play out at a pace that makes sense for everyone.

5. Too Few Options

You read that right, I want you to have too few options for people. Offering people 16 ways to connect seems like a good idea, but it’s not. New people (and especially non-Christians) don’t know what to do, so you have to tell them. This idea assumes that you have a clearly defined discipleship process or some idea of what you want to do with people to form them.

If we want evangelism to flow into discipleship, think of assimilation as the connective tissue between the two. What do you want to connect people to? Groups? Classes? Service teams? Catechism? Sunday services? Pick one, maybe two, and direct new people to that thing. This demonstrates that you have a plan for them, you care about their growth, and it doesn’t make them make a decision they aren’t prepared to make.

6. 30, 60, 90

There is so much more I could say about this subject, but let me wrap it up with one last thought: Don’t stop. In the words of Lonely Island, “Never stop never stopping.” If you want people to connect with your church, you can’t stop recruiting them. At my last church, we instituted 30-, 60-, and 90-day check-ins with everyone in our pipeline.

This meant that every 30 days for the first four months of a person’s time with our church, they got an email from someone on our team to see how they were doing and if they needed anything from us. In my experience, the first four months are a make-or-break for connection. If folks don’t connect in that time, their likelihood of doing so will drop dramatically. We can help them build the habit and make personal connections that will be the glue to make them stick.

If we believe that our churches are doing Kingdom work (and we do), then we should not hesitate to do whatever we can to get people connected. This means being aggressive and making the pathway easy and obvious. You can do it!