Assimilation: Who comes to your church?

90% of first time guests decide against staying at your church – this should be a concern for us.

Before we move onto some tactics that we working on around Liquid . . . first we need to figure how deep the hole is.

Do you know how many visitors arrive at your church each week?  Do you know how many of those stick?

You can’t build a bridge if you don’t know how wide the river valley is.  Getting “first time guests” to identify themselves is vital!

presentYou need to give first time guests . . . something . . . in order to trigger the ability to count that interaction.  Things that we’ve given away in the churches I’ve led:

  • Welcome DVD – Don’t overkill on content . . . think quick, lighthearted interactions!
  • Gift Bag – Grab a great message that really represents the church well, put together a quick brochure about the church, a pen and voila!  A gift.
  • Chocolate – Need I say more . . . chocolate is memorable and almost universally loved.
  • Movie Passes – A great tie in if your church meets at a theater!
  • iTunes Gift Cards – We’re doing this for a series this fall.

We’ll talk later in the week about what to match with the gift . . . but first you need a reason for people to want to identify themselves as new.

What can you give away?  What have you seen that works great?  Let’s share some great first time gift ideas!


  1. You mean begging them to fill out a Visitor Card is not enough?

    We have given away everything from homemade cookies made fresh every week (covering the chocolate file) to random CDs of music (albeit Christian). I still find that 20-30% of visitors are related to Sergant Schultz… “They want nothing… They need nothing… They will take nothing.”

    Which for me begs the whole question around basing an assimilation strategy on counting, capturing and communicating with 1st time visitors. I find that we have expended tons of creative energy, valuable strategising time and money on dynamite gifts for the uncle of a church person who got dragged to church while they were visiting from Virginia for the weekend. I think any efficient assimiliation strategy has got to start much further down the road than the 1st time visitor. 1st time visitors need hospitality not assimilation would be my mantra. PARTICULARLY in such a “sales adverse” cutlure where our visitors antennae are especially tuned to recognize and run from anything that smacks of them being “pitched” too. (Who really goes back to a time-share condo deveopment after sitting through that experience once?)

    I think we need to work much harder and smarter identifying and connecting with the 2nd or 3rd or 4th time visitor than we do with the 1st time person. In my experience, a 2nd or 3rd time visitor is not returning because you gave them a glazed logo mug with Van Houte coffee in it… they are coming back for more substantiive reasons than that. Lets build on those reasons and not on the latest “killer visitor app”. (see how i ended my post employing an oblique reference to this blog itself?)

  2. You’re reading my mind Jake!

    One the shifts we’re making here at Liquid is to focus more energy particularly on the second time visitor. I’ll be writing about that later in the week.

    Totally agree . . . If we are going to attempt to keep a higher rate a visitors we have to work to see them become 2nd, 3rd and 4th timers!


  3. you two are cute. I wonder if it’s a love languages thing. different strokes for different folks. I wonder if hospitality means having a variety of ways to show people we value there presence. I wish someone would give me a mug, filled with chocolate.

  4. Hey Rich,

    I’ve been close to commenting on a couple of your postings, but I’m shy (though maybe you won’t think so after I’m done here). 🙂

    I decided to comment on this one because of something I learned (whether right or wrong) leading our HC. I believe that welcoming and “retaining” visitors has more to do with another of your earlier killer musings. I think that people will decide to come back a second, third, etc. time, and even join and contribute, if the church presents itself openly and sincerely. It’s the “how do you package sincerity” thing, in the sense of “how are you deliberately presenting yourself in a sincere, honest and open way” (not “showing sincerity” but “being sincere”).

    At HC, I tried to “change tactics” or even my tone when we had visitors, and I realized that it doesn’t matter if they choose another HC. If they were going to choose our HC , it would be because of the sense of community and belonging that they would experience there (which is up to the group itself, not just to me), and not because of extra things I “do” just for them.

    I agree with the first comment, but it’s not just hospitality. It’s really about showing people who the church really is. Know what I mean?

    It really is catch 22: people will not get a good sense of what a church is like until they have started to contribute, but they won’t start to contribute until they get a good sense of what the church is like.

    And if the visitor is assimilated for something that has nothing to do with what the church is about, then in my opinion it wouldn’t be a sincere assimilation effort. If they choose to stay for the wrong reasons, then, again in my opinion, they are not “worth” assimilating (“worth” in the sense that maybe they would be better suited at a different church, etc.)

    Something else that I often forget is that The Church is not a social club or a company seeking to retain and motivate members or employees; it’s a family, it’s the living body of Christ, it’s community with a common purpose. And Jesus is at the center. Not the chocolate (as hard as that is for me to understand ;)). So if you want people to come back, they need to see Jesus, the real Jesus, alive and at work in and through the church. No other reason is worth coming back for. Everything else is “style” and “preference”, and if they prefer another church’s style better, then great! They’re not the competition, they are also family.

    So, maybe what I’m trying to say with all of this is that the church needs to “be” for visitors, not “do”.

    Now, please don’t ask me for practical suggestions to do this for thousands of people on a Sunday morning… I’m being philosophical here, not pragmatic. 🙂

    Hope this makes sense.


    1. thanks for your thoughts patrick and for being in the conversation . . .

      love your heart, man!

      we have to find a way to help more than 1 in 10 people keep connected to the church . . .


  5. It’s the preaching, silly. After that community – is there strong children’s ministry; youth ministry; small groups. Remember we took homemade cookies to first time guests. We were in a different mega church this past Sunday – only mention of visitors, well there were two – lots of up close to the building parking and it was announced that we didn’t have to give an offering. Otherwise – nothing – didn’t even ask for our info. Would maybe try them a second time because the preaching was right on.

  6. To perhaps tangent, I think there is value in stepping back. If a church has a fairly large physical presence or footprint, it may be difficult to avoid getting “drop-ins”. My experience is those visiting largely fall into one of two categories along a spectrum. Those dying for contact and those trying to hide, but both are trying to find more about God or Jesus.

    One very difficult, but I think largely Biblical strategy, would be to encourage members of your community to be so heavily involved in personal discipleship that there may be many weeks or months of relationship that precedes a “discipled friends” first visit. That first visit, most likely with the “discipler”. Having tools, gifts, or what not that the community member can access easily to make the experience easier would be cool.

    An idea, visitors get the same free coffee as everyone else but it is in a travel mug they keep ( a real cool one:)) Perhaps a dumb idea, but my point is that the more the community is passionate about owning the process the more the work of the pastoral staff and volunteer leaders becomes discipling the disciplers. Retention of visitors should be higher, and their preparation for the visit should be far les stressful.

    That said, re the drop-ins, I think using many of the ideas previously expressed will always have similar effectiveness rates. Bluntly (per your killer blog) they are all sales techniques and work based on relevancy, preference (as noted above) etc. I think they are still worth doing, but I wouldn’t “kill” myself worrying about those visitors. I would “kill” myself trying to get my community to be passionate about taking responsibility for discipling 3 to 6 people (couples?) all of the time and seeing some percentage of them find Jesus and his bride along the journey.

  7. […] is interesting that part of the discussion is centering on an interesting sliver of the first time visitor experience plan: “the gift bag.” The knee jerk reaction is to figure out what else can we can give […]

  8. As a first time visitor, I would prefer a less formal greeting. I would however, consider it more caring if I were recognised in my second or third visit to the church and people spoke to me instead of hurrying away to their own emergencies.

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