Prior to ascending back to heaven, Christ commanded his church to take up the mission of making disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). Consequently, churches have the responsibility and privilege to obey this command through preaching the gospel, both in the public/corporate gathering and in various smaller settings. Our goal is to be faithful to the word of God with the hope and prayer that individuals would be saved and learn to make disciples themselves.
Visitor and assimilation ministries in the local church can be one helpful means of making disciples. Often times these ministries serve as a bridge to move people from a visitor to plugging into the local church so as to come to faith in Christ and get the shepherding God desires.
As a younger church, planted about seven years ago, we are often thinking through various ways to do visitor and assimilation ministry. Several months ago, as we made some adjustments, we also did a statistical study to observe what was happening in this disciple-making process. Our assistant and counseling pastor, Matt Mumma, did a wonderful job overseeing the individuals and details of the study, while also compiling and calculating the data. I am simply reporting his hard work.
The study, and visitor and assimilation ministries, are not an end-all absolute in the disciple-making process, but one way of application. Here are some of the details of our study:
Our goal: to make one possible application of the church’s mission. Specifically, to have a meaningful face-to-face meeting with every local visitor outside of, and following, the Sunday gathering, ideally, prior to the next Sunday. In doing so, we would discuss things like jobs, family, and recreation, answer any questions about the church, share our testimony, ask their testimony (if they professed Christ), and invite them to an additional ministry gathering (e.g. a home group).
Motivations for an intentional visitor and assimilation ministry:
- The call to actively go and intentionally pursue people for disciple-making:
Matthew 28:18-20 “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”
- The active teaching and pursuing of individuals in public and private gatherings observed in Scripture:
Acts 20:20 “how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house”
- The call for all believers to be friendly to strangers, in light of the gospel and great commission:
Romans 12:13 “contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.”
- The example of proclaiming Christ to every single individual who interacts with/in the local church for his/her completion in Christ.
Colossians 1:28 “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.”
Our assumptions in the study:
- God has chosen the church before creation (Eph. 1:4-5).
- Prior to salvation, humanity is dead in sin and willfully in rebellion against God, with no ability to be saved apart from his sovereign grace (Eph. 2:1-3, 8-9).
- Christ builds the church, not man (Matt. 16:18).
- Individuals are saved through God’s effectual call by means of his Spirit and the good news of Christ crucified and risen for sinners (John 6:65, Eph. 1:13-14).
- God commands and ordains means through which he builds the church (e.g. regenerate people speaking the truth in love to other people) (Matt. 28:18-20, Acts 20:20, Eph. 4:15, Col. 1:28-29).
- Our study is not to be elevated to biblical prescription; it is only an application of disciple-making (Mark 7:9).
A few details about our study:
- Some individuals could not be incorporated into the study. This includes those who did not fill out a visitor card at any point in the service and did not make a personal contact with someone during the Sunday gathering. We also chose not to include out-of-town vacationers since they are not local residents.
- While we encourage every Christian to intentionally reach out to visitors, those we specifically asked were church members who have demonstrated skill in relating to people as well as a thorough understanding of the church’s doctrine and philosophy of ministry. These were individuals who seem to be reaching out to people without having to be told to do so.
- As somewhat of a sidenote, we live in a very transient resort town. One source reported that only about 25% of residents live here longer than four years. This means that most of those who do assimilate will be gone in a few years.
What we found during the study time:
- A face-to-face meeting was attempted with every visitor during the time of the study. The visit was typically attempted earlier in the week and before the next Sunday.
About 66% of visitors during the study time returned for a second Sunday.
- A member of the church managed to have a face-to-face meeting with 54% of all of the visitors. About 30% of visitors did not respond to a follow-up phone call or email.
- About 85% of visitors who received a personal invitation for follow up during the Sunday gathering ended up doing a face-to-face meeting.
- Of the 54% of visitors who did a face-to-face meeting, 87% returned the next Sunday while 68% not only returned the next Sunday, but appeared to assimilate into the church.
- Overall, 37% of the total visitors appeared to have assimilated into the church by the end of the study time. We defined “assimilated into the church” as: attending more than two Sundays and plugging into a home group (some also began attending the church membership class). Also, during this time of assimilation, additional attempts at face-to-face meetings are attempted for evangelistic and discipleship purposes. And as a sidenote, if an individual does not demonstrate fruit of regeneration, they would not be allowed to become a member of the church. I do not have specific numbers, but a handful of these 37% appeared to have been converted to Christ during the assimilation time.
Limitations to the study:
- Individuals can apostasize at any time, which would make the statistics inaccurate.
- Individuals could simply stop attending after the study time, which also would adjust the statistics.
A few conclusions:
- In our experience, visitors should ideally get a meaningful conversation and invite to some sort of activity or church ministry event during the Sunday they visit. This study was not necessarily needed to know that, but it proved a helpful reminder for us.
- Face-to-face meetings during the week seemed to be what God used most to assimilate individuals.
- We had to keep in mind that attending a church regularly does not mean that a disciple has been made. Rather, ministering the word of God, by the grace of God, so that others come to faith and are growing in Christ is more along the lines of what it means to make a disciple. This was attempted with every individual.
- We were reminded that making disciples (whether regenerate or not) is a team effort which requires the entire local church. Every individual who did appear to come to faith in Christ and/or assimilate required multiple church members reaching out to them and teaching them (i.e. the Sunday sermon, ushers giving visitor packs, members inviting them to hang or an event, home groups welcoming them that week).
- All that the Father gives Christ will come to him, and whoever comes to him will never be cast out.
Regardless of what we do to make disciples among visitors to our churches, we need to be faithful to reach out to all of them. Every Christian in the church should consider themselves the “visitor and assimilation” team (whether there is one, formally, or not) because ever Christian is called to make disciples.
What things have you have done in your efforts to make disciples through visitor and assimilation ministries?