8 Signs Someone Is Truly Involved in Your Church

Moving new people toward "assimilation": a scorecard for your church.

In the church world, we often use the word “assimilation” to describe the process of moving church attendees to active, missional disciples serving in and through a local church.

Upon first hearing, the word may seem a little scary. Biology describes the body’s process of converting food into substances that can be absorbed by tissues as assimilation—the food sits in your intestine until it’s absorbed. On the other hand, Trekkies may think of the Borg. The Borg are these complex creatures whose mission is to add to their powerful species by forceful incorporation of other species. You will become one of them, like it or not. The famous and intimidating line upon any Borg encounter is, “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.”

Neither option sounds great for the new person at church—sitting around until you can finally get absorbed or are attacked until you submit to be a part. Yet for many churches, you are only assimilated unintentionally or obnoxiously. We need a better plan.

The Random House Dictionary defines “assimilate” as “to take in and incorporate as one’s own.”

Assimilation is moving an uninvolved person to a place where he or she is an indispensable part of the church family as it joins Jesus on His mission.

Bill Hybels once described Willow Creek’s process (citing the apostle Paul as an example) as moving someone from “madman to missionary.” That gets at it.

So what exactly does this “assimilation” look like? Church expert Win Arn lists eight characteristics of an “incorporated member.” You may feel awkward about the wording in your context (you can change that), but his scorecard for new people has merit. Building good systems to move people along in each of the eight areas adds even greater value. I added emphasis to the key idea in each characteristic.

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1. New members should be able to list at least seven new friends they have made in the church.

2. New members should be able to identify their spiritual gifts.

3. New members should be involved in at least one (preferably several) roles/tasks/ministries in the church, appropriate to their spiritual gifts.

4. New members should be actively involved in a small fellowship (face-to-face) group.

5. New members should demonstrate a regular financial commitment to the church.

6. New members should personally understand and identify with church goals.

7. New members should attend worship services regularly.

8. New members should identify unchurched friends and relatives and take specific steps to help them toward responsible church membership.

Arn is onto something here. And, it does not happen accidentally. We need a plan to move people from sitting in rows, to sitting in circles, to provoking one another to love and good deeds in community. That takes a plan—and people working that plan.

So, as you have a passion to reach people, do you also have a passion to keep people? I think we have a too-low view of the church when we evangelize, but do not congregationalize. Discipleship must involve assimilation since the church is central to the mission of God and the life of the believer.

Don’t just let people assimilate by absorption or by force. Assimilation and community won’t just happen, and when we think they do, we see many spiritual orphans and disconnected Christians. Plan it out, work that plan, and do what it takes to show that the church matters. It matters enough to get people connected to the church and God’s mission.

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Read more from Ed Stetzer »

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham distinguished chair of church, mission and evangelism at Wheaton College and the Wheaton Grad School, where he also oversees the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.

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Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach magazine, and a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He currently serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and teaching pastor at Highpoint Church in Naperville, Illinois.

He is also regional director for Lausanne North America, and is frequently cited in, interviewed by and writes for news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. He is the founding editor of The Gospel Project, and his national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates.