In the past several weeks I’ve been working with an Executive Admin of a large church to reorganize their data structure for effective assimilation. You could tell by the different fragments of data that several different approaches to assimilation had been implemented through the years. Usually this happens when different church staff use different fields to track the same information. Or sometimes there are different perceptions of what the assimilation process actually is.
In addition to organizational misalignment, Church Management Systems have their own language and suggested approaches to assimilation and we were the third system this XA had worked with. The result is data that looks and feels more like tangled fishing line than an effective system for fishing for men (Matthew 4:19). To help us untangle the fishing line, I like to help staff think through, develop and align around their assimilation process. The job of software is not to define this strategy but to be able to reflect it and help staff define the structure necessary to implement it.
Part of what makes assimilation get tangled up is that it is not really a linear process. Someone just moving to town who was actively engaged in ministry at his/her previous church will assimilate into church life much differently than someone with no church background at all. So, I suggest looking at it more like a fishing net than a fishing line. This net is made up of interrelated pools or groups of people who are at the same place in the process. There are outside pools, a channel, inside pools and connection.
Outside Pools - These are guests, visitors and occasional attenders. Collectively, you might identify them in different pools such as 1st Time Guests, 2nd Time, 3rd Time, More Information about student ministry, and more. These are the outside pools designed to move outsiders inward toward full engagement in the church. You can recognize these pools by looking at the responses on most connection cards. We use these to connect with the guest, discover and interact with them over an interest area, and then invite them to take another relevant step ahead.
Channel - If not the primary, then certainly the secondary goal of all interactions with those in the outside pools is to get them to a meeting or personal interaction that helps them understand what church involvement means. This is the channel that moves them from the outside pools to the inside pools. Often an opportunity is given to them to make a commitment of some nature with the implication that they want to be further involved. Common examples of this are a New Member’s Class or public decision with personal instruction.
Inside Pools - These are groups of people who’ve decided they are ready to be a part of the church but need help to find their specific small group or ministry. Of course these vary by church, but typically inside pools include stuff like Awaiting Baptism, Interested in a small group, or Interested in serving in children’s ministry. These pools are used by staff for recruiting and placing people into the groups or teams that best fit them.
Connected - It is important for any assimilation strategy to have a clear picture of what connected means. Without a clear goal, you’ll never be able to experience success. Usually at the very least this means someone is involved in a small group, serving team, or has a pastoral connection of some sort. Someone can be connected to one of these, say a small group, but at the same time be in an inside pool for another connection like being part of a security team. A net-like, pool, way of thinking easily accommodates this reality.
Some of these pools are formal and clearly understood by all. Other pools are informal and not clear. You have to identify both to most effectively use your church software. Like any pool you have to have an outlet or it gets stagnant. Forward movement to engagement provides this outlet for some. But, it’s just as important to clearly define when to cease pursuing people in each of the pools. But, that’s another topic.