Assimilation to what?
Assimilation by whom? New members to the church or the other way around?
At a time when many churches get very few visitors and even fewer new members it is a wonderful thing to celebrate if you should be so blessed by God to be given precious souls to shepherd.
Yet what now? Assimilation used to be a pretty common word with churches who were trying to get new members to make friends and get involved in their ministries. It made sense. New people came and if you wanted them to stick around then you might assign an existing member to them or help them to find something that they were interested in. Sure there was also some kind of doctrine class and welcome ceremony. You gave them a packet of information and it was official. Hopefully as they attended worship and came to some of the events on the calendar they'd get to know people and feel at home. They were "assimilated" into the congregation.
But if we are talking about culture then the question is, “do you really want them to be assimilated into the current church culture?” Stop and think about that for a minute. If things are going well, disciples are being made, the “saints are being equipped for ministry” and there is vibrant externally focussed ministries being “salt and light” to the neighboring community, then ignore this blog. But my hunch is that there may be quite a bit about your current church culture that you don’t like.
So you wonder, will these newer people come in and begin to catch the unhealthy culture that may exist? Will they begin to think of church like consumers or servants? Will they start to mirror some of the actions and attitudes of one kind of member or another? Is that the kind of assimilation that you want?
Well, you may aspire to be a certain kind of church but you may not be there yet. That’s okay. It may also be true that some of the culture in your church that you don’t like may rub off on these new members. But these new members will also affect the existing culture!
In fact, when new people enter, it is a powerful opportunity that you can leverage to shift the existing culture to what you aspire it to be. Yet it has to be done carefully and intentionally. Many pastors are so diligent to teach the faith to these people and that’s great. They know that in this day and age you can’t assume they know the gospel or the Bible or much of anything about the Christian faith. Yet how come there is little done to share expectations and assumptions in membership in other areas? Sure you might say something about worship attendance and stewardship of money but what about discipleship, service and evangelism? What about living together as a community of faith and forgiveness? What about giving them a thorough orientation to to the mission and vision of the church? How about even telling them that there may be some existing members that are not yet “on board” with where the church is going?
Your reaction to these questions? It won’t work? Too much trouble? Or maybe you aren’t even clear on where by God’s grace you are even trying to take the church? If you had to articulate the mission and vision of the church to a new member would you know what you would say? If it’s a little foggy then you have some work to do. And by the way, you also have no business complaining if things are happening at the church that you don’t like.
It all has to do with culture. If you need to influence the culture then one of the most powerful ways to do it is when new people come. Work with them. Make the most of the opportunity! They are gifts from God! Assimilate them to the culture you are aspiring to be rather then leaving it to chance and the current culture!
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Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, firstname.lastname@example.org or scottgress.com