If you think you are ready to start an effective assimilation ministry at your Church, there are five things you need to address before you even start. Focusing on them will save you a great deal of grief later. This is not a solo project so gather some of your key leaders and work on these five together.
1. Establish A Positive Presence on the Web.
Make it Up to Date
If your Church’s web page is more than two years old, the chances are it is due for a redesign. You do not have to pay a fortune for a new site. One of the least expensive things you can do is convert to a WordPress site (www.wordpress.com). There are free or inexpensive templates available, and they do not require a knowledge of HTML or CSS to set up or maintain. It is fairly inexpensive to have WordPress host the site and they will sell you a domain name as well. The templates will help you have a clean and attractive site that will make a great impression on people who visit your site.
Tell Them What They Can Expect
The customer service industry is learning that more important than impressing people with the extent of your service, are simple solutions that are easy to comprehend and follow. As you build your website, you need to make it easy for guests to understand the following: who you are, where you are, how you do things, what they would likely experience if they attended your worship service, and how you offer a safe place for their children or grandchildren.
Create a “What to Expect” page on your web page. Describe what it is like to attend one of your services. Explain how people dress, how long the service lasts, what do you do in the service, what do things look like, what is available for children and youth. Grab a smart phone or camera and take some pictures and post them with your narrative. You want to make them familiar with your space and to reduce their anxiety over visiting.
Make It Easy to Scan
Follow these rules to make your web pages easy to scan. Write in short sentences. Minimize adverbs and adjectives. Use action verbs. Group information into short chunks. Make each chunk a paragraph. Make liberal use of subtitles. Insert pictures with captions to show what you describe.
Need More Help?
You can find free expert advice on setting up an effective website for your Church along with all things related to using media at “Pro Church Tools” (http://prochurchtools.com). Another good website with helpful advice and resources on web pages and marketing for churches in general is “Church Marketing Sucks” (http://www.churchmarketingsucks.com). Check them out and learn how to make your Church’s website effective in reaching guests.
2. Do a First Impression Audit of Your Facility
What Is On the Outside?
Start outside in your parking lot. Pretend you are a first time guest. What do you see as you get out of your car? What do the grounds and the building look like? Is it easy to find where to go? How clean are the parking lot and the grounds? What is the condition of the landscaping? Are there areas of the exterior in need of a fresh coat of paint or a thorough cleaning? What kind of impression does your parking lot and exterior make?
What Is On the Inside?
Now move to the inside. What do people see when they first enter? Is that what you want them to see? Is the place clean? Is it free of clutter? Churches can be clutter magnates. Remove it! Are you drawn into the building? Is there clear and visible signage to help guests locate where they want to go? What is the condition of the restrooms. What is the condition of the paint and flooring? Is it easy to identify children’s areas or nursery services? Does the facility appear to be a safe place for children?
Get A Second Opinion
We can go on, but I think you can get the gist. Before you think everything is perfect seek out an impartial honest opinion from a friend who does not attend your Church. You might be surprised what they notice. Make a list of anything you need to correct and work on addressing each item.
Seven to Fifteen Seconds
Your guests will create a first impression of your Church within the first seven to fifteen seconds. You want to do whatever you can to reduce any negatives that will prevent them from seeing how great your Church is.
3. How Will You Welcome Your Guests?
Geography and Culture
The appropriate way to welcome your guests is impacted by geography and culture. For instance in the South people expect a warm greeting. In the Southwest where I live, people want privacy. They often want to be anonymous. If you are not sensitive to this, it can turn people off. When I have visited Churches in Mississippi it is common to have someone greet me in the parking lot. In New Mexico that would come across as intrusive and make people uncomfortable. You will have to discern what is appropriate in your community.
Related to this is how much space people want around them when interacting with people. Anglo Americans like lots of space between them and the people they are speaking with. In other cultures, what is comfortable is very different. They may prefer to interact in closer proximity to one another.
Think Like A Guest Who Has Never Been To A Church
Think about what it would be like to attend your worship service if you had never or rarely ever been to a Church. How can you reduce that person’s anxiety about the experience. What if the above scenario is true for you and you have children with you? In some areas you might only need great directional signs. How can you provide a non-threatening personal contact with a guest at your Church? What would be most helpful?
Safety and Security Matter
Safety and security can no longer be ignored at Churches. Parents today are much more conscious of these issues than previous generations. Make sure you have information and people to explain your policies and procedures. Think like your local school district and make up a written safety and security plan. How will you protect the children in your care? Once you have a plan and procedures in place, make sure your church family is vigilant in following them.
4. What Will You Do When Someone Makes A Commitment to Become a Follower of Jesus?
It is surprising how many Churches are not prepared for someone to become a follower of Jesus? Scripture teaches that it is God who adds people to your Church community (cf. Acts 2:42-37). Why would God send such a person to your Church if you are not ready to help her begin her relationship with Jesus and grow into maturity?
Make A Plan
Gather your team of leaders and make a plan. How will you respond on the day of the commitment? What will you do the first week, and the first month after a person makes a commitment? What about beyond a month? How will you help them become integrated in to the life of your Church? How will you help them establish positive spiritual habits? Write sample notes, letters, emails and decide when each will be sent. Decide on resources you will use and gather them in advance. Decide who will do what, when they will do it, and how they will do it. Come up with some potential scenarios of how you might respond to different people. Recruit the people who will implement the plan. Don’t neglect to think about what you will do if the response is greater than you anticipate.
5. How Will You Tell Your Story?
Who Are You?
At some point your guests will want to know who you are as a Church. What is God calling you to be as a Church in your neighborhood? What is your vision? What does it mean to be member? What makes your Church unique? Who are you? How can a guest become more involved? Not only do you need to have clear and concise answers to these questions, but there needs to be a general acceptance of them by the members.
Make It Clear and Concise
Once there is consensus the next challenge is to equip people to communicate who you are as a Church. People need to be reminded of them. Work to develop a fifteen second presentation of who you are as a Church community and what you are all about. Practice it as a community so that it becomes second nature for anyone who is a member or who attends your Church to be able to articulate it.
Make it Part of Your Culture
Once you have your presentation together you are ready to use it prepare media to interpret it to guests and others. It can become an important part of your website. You should develop printed resources describing who you are, as well as resources in a variety of media. Your ability to communicate who you are and what you are about as a Church will be important to your assimilation ministry. Get it right before you start.
Do these five things and you will be ready to build an effective assimilation ministry at your Church. Neglect them or skip a few and you will find it a much more challenging prospect.