September 9, 2015

Local Church Visitor & Assimilation Ministry

by Eric Davis

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.

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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.
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    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?

Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
  • pearlbaker

    Thank you for this Eric! So important to reach out to the visitor, to show them our hospitality and our loving care for their lives and their souls. The pastor of my former church emphasized this over and over, but not with an overwhelming response from the congregation. Sometimes the flock needs to be reminded that even when the sermon is over, the primary function of the church body is not to separate into little cliques of our dearest friends and catch up on the past week. That pastor used to practically jump over the pews to get to the visitor and I never saw him let anyone new out of the parking lot without a hearty greeting and sincere personal interest in the visitor(s). But, the pastor cannot do this alone. There must be a preplanned organized effort to welcome and engage each visitor, not just at the door or in the parking lot. A program such as your church has is well-advised for every church. I know we do not personally save souls, but God has appointed us as His ambassadors, and we need to take the job seriously. Thanks again! Be well in His capable hands, Eric!

    • Jason

      “There must be a preplanned organized effort to welcome and engage each visitor”

      While I agree with a majority of what you said (heartily), I think a lot of the issue that pastor had getting his church to reach out to people is this particular obsession with planning. After all, he was “only” exhorting them to do something and had not yet laid out a comprehensive plan for a specific per-determined group of people (which is what too many expect).

      In nearly ever church I’ve attended (which is actually quite a few, as I’ve moved often and was raised in the church) there are always a few “official” people designated for a majority of the church’s work. Instead of the church exhorting everyone to do the works that were prepared for them (Ephesians 2:10) a few people would get together and designate a group to do specific tasks.

      Planning and organizing may be a stop-gap that prevents the necessary work from remaining completely undone, but it should be recognized that if it takes someone drawing up a game plan to get the church to do what God has already called us to do we’re in a bad place.

      I know this is something I have to work on as well. I still struggle to find the motivation I should have to really be an active member in the body of Christ.

      However, I think we could all help one another by ceasing to allow people to hide behind the “well, that’s his job this week” excuses that come about with all the planning and sign up sheets.

      • Eric Davis

        Jason, I agree. Eph 4:11-13 does not say, “Well, equip those for ministry who are pumped up about it…maybe the terrific 20 or something,” but the saints; every saint. Our problem we found is that we needed to more effectively equip the body to see themselves as ambassadors for Christ to visitors. Too many visitors were falling through the cracks, so, we decided to make application and identify a few individuals who could set the example.

        • Jason

          Godly living is certainly motivated by examples (both mature believers and, ultimately, the life of Jesus), so it sounds like what you have going is a great start as long as the body as a whole doesn’t take it to be “taken care of” because of these examples.

    • Eric Davis

      Thank you, Pearl. Sounds like your pastor was faithful when it came to visitor ministry.

      • pearlbaker

        Due in no small part to good training, no doubt. He is a very early TMS alumnus, over 25 years as senior pastor of the same church! He still runs full speed to greet the visitor. A great example for the flock. In response to Jason, I did not mean to sound as if I believe the “organized plan” should be so formulaic, and while it is incumbent on us all to be hospitable and to show the love of Christ to all we meet, visitor or others but especially visitors, I do believe it is wise for leadership to discern those members who show a particular gift for this ministry and to employ them in that capacity, making certain to include as many members with this gift as possible, perhaps on a rotating schedule so that every service is covered. Sure, we can encourage the entire congregation to greet and engage and follow-up with the visitors, but will they do that consistently without some kind of accountability? I would not go so far as to say we are in “bad shape” just because we need a bit of prodding at times. We’re sheep, aren’t we? So, while I appreciate your idealistic view, and while I would also prefer that service just springs spontaneously from the heart, in my experience, a little organization and an encouraging nudge can be just the ticket to bring a person out of the shadows to discover their God-given gift for this ministry. The Holy Spirit does the rest.

  • Michael

    I’m a Christian of recent vintage and I’ve been looking for a home church for a few years in New Jersey. The combination of truly Biblical teaching, expository preaching, home groups AND elders/members interested in really, personally taking responsibility for making disciples, as described in this post, seems exceedingly rare. I would expect to see a unicorn grazing on that church’s lawn, frankly!

    • Ira Pistos

      Michael,
      Finding a home can be daunting.
      This is prying and I won’t question you any deeper but which county are you in?

      • Michael

        Somerset

        • Michael, if you haven’t checked out Calvary Baptist Church in East Millstone, you should. http://www.calvaryem.org

          • Michael

            Thanks, Ira. I am seeking.

          • Michael

            Thanks, Mike. Been attending CBC recently.

        • Ira Pistos

          Thanks Michael. I should have asked first if you were seeking or just making an observation.
          I took it as seeking and was going to offer suggestions if you had lived near Atlantic.

    • Matt Mumma

      Unfortunately we don’t have unicorns or a church lawn. We are far from perfect and we often have to remind ourselves and one another of the great joy and privilege of our great salvation which leads us to reach out to others. May God help us all to greater obedience.

      • Michael

        Thanks, Matt. I will reiterate that I am a new, immature Christian. And overly judgmental of myself and others. However, I hear that “no one is perfect and the minute you come into a church you ipso facto have made it imperfect” so often I am starting to wonder if it is passive aggressive code for “sorry, dude, reading about the Christian life in the church is going to get you in trouble because you will expect too high a standard. Real men in the real world are just too busy today with their work and families to take on new folks.” Please remember that this is an e-comment in which tone doesn’t come across. It’s “sad”.

        • Matt Mumma

          Sorry to hear that this has been your experience. I pray that I and our leadership team will not make excuses like you have heard.

        • Penny

          Michael – Our family has experienced just what you are describing. In the Somerset area, you may also want to visit Christian Fellowship Church http://www.cfcnb.org/

          • Michael

            Thanks, Penny. I will definitely make note of CFCNB.

    • Eric Davis

      Sorry to hear that, Michael. I’m sure you know this, but the elements you identified should not be the exception in local churches, but the norm; the least we should be doing if we’re going to be God’s kind of churches. We are not really going above and beyond if those things are present, we’re just doing what is commanded. I’m sorry to hear that you have yet to find a place. Be sure to check out Mike’s reference below.

  • tovlogos

    I appreciate the careful focus on the rudiment of salvation through discipleship; and not becoming distracted by
    the relentless evil closing in on this world. Yes, it doesn’t guarantee that disciples will be made, because ultimately only God can make His seed grow. However, it is the heart felt duty that comes across.

    Honestly, some people know what the Lord wants of them; but just as when Peter stepped out of the boat, there were eleven disciples who didn’t — yet eventually they were able to, except Judas. Of course it was the rigorous leadership of Jesus that brought their lives to fulfillment. The commitment is a welcoming invitation to being immersed in the Holy Spirit, without which the best efforts are futile, since God ‘must’ be worshipped in spirit. John 3:3 and 4:24.