In Part 3 of the assimilation process, I want to focus on those who are regular attenders but not in the membership process. Whereas in part two, people are seeking to understand the gospel, in part three, people are seeking to understand your church. Now obviously, a person can be a non-Christian seeking both; moreover, it is very possible that several attenders are seeking to understand your church who have assumed or have not given adequate attention to understanding the gospel! I think one of the errors over the last 40-50 years is that we have watered down both the gospel and church membership, and a healthy assimilation process will not seek to move people to “next steps” without first getting firm footing on what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be a member of a local church.
Regular attenders are those in between first-time guests and church members. In general, I think a healthy, evangelistic church should have 20-30% (or more) of their gathered worship attendance comprised of attenders, meaning that people from the community are being engaged with the gospel and impacted by the church’s ministry. From my experience with those at this point in the assimilation process, this is a diverse group. Some are:
* hurting, wounded Christians coming from a bad situation at another church
* Christians who have a low-view of church membership and do not want to commit
* Christians who have left other churches for doctrinal or moral reasons
* religious people who think they are Christians (and church membership is works righteousness)
* sincere skeptics who are intrigued and are full of questions (hanging around to find out answers)
The list can be nuanced much more than this, but I am going to generalize for the time being. The main goal for these people, again, is to understand your church. But as a church leader, you are doing injury to the health of the church body if you do not diagnose and discern the why and how these attenders have committed to come regularly to your church gatherings. If you rush the assimilation process from regular attender to membership, then you will likely have people who have caused problems in previous churches causing problems in your church, or, people who are religious and lost trusting in their religious performance (including church attendance) rather than Christ. On the other hand, if you do not emphasize assimilation, you can imply to attenders that church membership, serving in the local church, and committing oneself to live in community with other believers is optional or an accessory to the Christian life.
Attenders at Grace learn a great deal about our church through exposure to our members and weekly corporate gatherings. However, I have learned that sometimes is not enough. Recently, we started what we called a “connection dinner” hosted by the pastors where we invite all regular attenders for the past 3-4 months to join us for evening of informal discussion and time of fellowship. The purpose of this dinner is to help regular attenders have a more fulsome understanding of our church, including history, core values/practices, philosophy of ministry, the membership process, and where we believe God is leading us in the future. It is a light-hearted and fun time of interaction where we as pastors also answer their questions and hear why and how God has led them to Grace. One of the secondary goals is to present the leadership team in a more personable manner rather than with a microphone and standing on a platform. When we did this last week, one of the repeated comments was how funny and likeable the leadership team was, which sometimes is not communicated in a worship gathering were we are before God in corporate worship. The upshot from the connection dinner was that we had 80% of our regular attenders join us, several of them indicating their desire to pursue membership.
In the final part of the assimilation process, I will talk about the membership prospect, leading into the membership process. But for now, I would love to hear about your assimilation process, in particular how you handle regular attenders in your church. This will look different for churches of different shapes and sizes, so it is helpful to learn from one another and discover ways we can be better stewards of those God sends our way.
How do you address regular attenders? Approximately what percentage do their comprise of your church gatherings? What are their attitudes to church membership? Have they assumed the gospel or been poorly taught, desiring to be religious in attending church but not knowing Christ?