Community Church. Want big impact? Assimilation Research Project. Use big image. Alexander J. Berger Senior Project - University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

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1 Community Church Want big impact? Assimilation Research Project Use big image Alexander J. Berger Senior Project - University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

2 Table of Contents Problem Statement Context Literature Initial Thoughts Approach to Study Survey Findings/Analysis Recommendations/Possible Solutions Further Consideration Conclusion References

3 ASSIMILATION RESEARCH PROJECT 1 Problem Statement New attendees of Community Church largely are not becoming members or joining Community groups, opportunities which Community Church believes are vital for spiritual growth. This study will examine data surrounding the current assimilation process and will explore/suggest solutions to promote assimilation. ~150 In Community Groups ~220 Members ~1000 people at Sunday Morning Service

4 ASSIMILATION RESEARCH PROJECT 12 Context Community Church (C.C.) is a large, nondenominational Christian church located in Oshkosh, WI. C.C. has a consistent flow of individuals visiting each Sunday morning, but the retention and assimilation of these individuals has been noted by staff as an area that needs help. Individuals are falling through the cracks and even people who have been a part of C.C. for some time are not members and are not involved in a Community Group. As stated before, C.C. greatly values both membership and Community Groups because they promote opportunities for spiritual growth. Community Church desires that all individuals whom they are leading become increasingly spiritually healthy. They believe this fundamentally happens through each individual's relationship personally with God, their relationship with other believers, and their obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ in spreading the gospel. If individuals are not committed to the church family through membership and are not engaging in relationships with other believers within the church through community groups, then that individual will likely not grow spiritually as much as if they were connected through those means (Community Church, Vision & Mission).

5 ASSIMILATION RESEARCH PROJECT 13 Literature Community is Crucial Classes Help Money Where Your Mouth Is In both Churches and the not-for-profit sector the most widely accepted and fundamental contributor to increased participation is interpersonal connection. In a study conducted on 3 middle-class suburban churches, results suggested that churches that offered opportunities for individuals to participate in meaningful activity together had more satisfied and more involved individuals (Paula Baard, A Motivational Model for Consulting with Not-for-profit Organizations: A Study of Church Growth and Participation, 1994, p.29). According to another study, one of the top two factors that affect retention are satisfaction with social interaction (Paula Saunders, Factors Underlying Church Member Satisfaction and Retention, 2008, p.40). Andy Stanley & Bill Willitz, designers of the small group model that Community Church recently implemented say we are a culture craving relationship. In the midst of our crowded existence many of us are living lonely lives. We live and work in a sea of humanity, but we end up missing out on the benefits of regular meaningful relationships (Creating Community, 2004, p.24). Opportunities offered like a new convert class, discipleship class, membership class, or some combination of all three may also help (Earl Ralph Hux, Evaluating the Effectiveness of Assimilation Strategies of the Churches of Christ in Christion Union, 2011, p.113). These types of classes often improve the participation of individuals within the church leading to increased assimilation within the church. These types of classes allow new visitors the opportunity to learn more about the church and various opportunities to get connected to others in the congregation. C.C. has offered classes in the past, which have worked fairly well. Investing resources into the areas of personnel and training may contribute to higher assimilation rates. If the problem is assimilation and you want to be a church focused on people being interconnected, then resources should be allocated accordingly. North Point Church, led by Stanley & Willitz, intentionally focused on these two areas and saw large numbers of individuals assimilated (p.167). It is important to have sufficient personnel to train leaders and focus specifically on assimilating individuals. It is also important to make sure that leader training is focused, regular, and truly equips individuals effectively. This enables groups to bloom and split as new leaders emerge and are trained well.

6 ASSIMILATION RESEARCH PROJECT 14 Initial Thoughts Prior to sending out any surveys and analyzing any data, I thought that the primary problems would be regarding interpersonal relationship, proper follow up procedures, a lack of understanding on how to get involved (lack of communication), and whether individuals felt welcomed at Community Church. These initial assumptions were later challenged by survey findings. Based on what I was told by pastoral staff, I expected that individuals may say that they were not followed up with in a timely manner. Since it has been a while (Fall 2016 since Community Group Sign ups (aka. Group Link), I also expected that many individuals would say that they did not know how to get involved. Initial Solution for Consideration Since Group Link is rather infrequent, and Community Groups are normally closed groups, there may be a need for some kind of a group that occurs year-round (with maybe the summers off) and is always open. This would supplement individuals who are being assimilated into C.C., giving them somewhere to have community prior to formally joining a Community Group. Currently, when welcoming a new visitor, it is largely not possible to invite them to a group because Community Groups are closed. Having individuals wait until the next Group Link may span too much time.

7 ASSIMILATION RESEARCH PROJECT 15 Initial Thoughts While developing the survey, Community Life Pastor Joe Aronson developed a plan to tackle the assimilation strategy at Community Church. He proposed and has now implemented a new series of classes on Sunday mornings called Starting Point and Next Steps. These classes occur during second service and inform new visitors about C.C. (staff, theology, etc.), tells them about how to get connected (Community Groups), and encourages membership. While the implementation of these classes initially seemed to hinder my ability to suggest a new process, I chose to continue researching ways to improve assimilation at C.C. further and then changed my focus slightly. Purpose Statement The purpose of my research was to identify potential reasons individuals are not becoming properly assimilated at Community Church and to suggest possible solutions. Another purpose was to validate or invalidate the newly implemented assimilation classes as based on research findings. This focus shift was minor. It included the question: Does the research (largely survey results) indicate that these classes are a good idea and will they work well?

8 ASSIMILATION RESEARCH PROJECT 16 Approach to Study Data Sources Qualitative Analysis of previously tried assimilation methods (classes, models, etc.). In person meetings with Community Life Pastor to gain insight about common problems and challenges posed to assimilation at Community Church Insights pulled from Creating Community by Andy Stanley and Bill Willitz compared side-by-side with Community Church s assimilation model. Qualitative sources were primarily compared side-by-side with one another to identify common themes and insights which may be beneficial for assimilation. Quantitative Community Church Visitor Survey was administered through Surveymonkey.com. Those surveyed were individuals who had been a new visitor in the past 3 years. Approximately 100 people were surveyed. Key questions focused on whether individuals felt welcomed at C.C., were followed up with in a timely manner after the first visit, and whether they could easily get information about how to get plugged in. Additionally, the survey asked individuals whether they would have been interested in a short meeting regarding how to get plugged in. This question was asked to see if there would be interest in the new assimilation classes among first time visitors.

9 ASSIMILATION RESEARCH PROJECT 17 Survey Questions 1-4,6 : Demographic Gender Age Marital Status/Children Currently Attending C.C. Part of Community Group and/or Member? Questions 5, 7-10: Informative Important Elements for Church Selection Feel welcomed during first visit? Easy to get information about how to get connected (Community Group)? Followed up with in a timely manner? Interested in a short Sunday meeting about how to get plugged in?

10 ASSIMILATION RESEARCH PROJECT 18 Findings/Analysis Demographics AGE CURRENTLY ATTENDING C.C Yes No 28% 8% 64% 17% 17% 8% 17% 12% 8% 21% 30% 22% 48% 26% 74% 16% 4% 8% 72% Female Male No Answer GENDER Single Married no kids Married with Kids MARITAL STATUS/CHILDREN No to both Yes CG, no Member Yes Member, no CG Yes to both CG AND/OR MEMBER?

11 ASSIMILATION RESEARCH PROJECT 19 Findings/Analysis Demographics Gender Many more females than males responded. Age Very evenly spread across age ranges. Marital Status/Kids Fairly even spread. Mostly singles & married people with kids. The majority of individuals answered that they are not a part of a Community Group and are not members. Out of 25 total people, 12 who still attend C.C. are not assimilated (48%). This is telling for how low the assimilation rate is. Based on this survey, 50% of first time visitors who continue to attend do not become assimilated. This number is generous if it is considered that approximately 1100 people attend Sunday service, only 220 are members, and 150 are in Community groups. This means maximum number of fully assimilated individuals is 120 or 13%.

12 ASSIMILATION RESEARCH PROJECT 10 1 Findings/Analysis Informational The informational results shocked me and were not what I expected. A couple key observations can be noted. 1 2 What C.C. believes and teaches is more important to a visitor than how much opportunity there is for interpersonal relationships. Individuals consistently ranked opportunities for fellowship and forming friendships with members of the congregation as the two least important elements when selecting a church to be a part of. Though much of the qualitative research suggested that interpersonal relationships are the most important element for assimilation, the survey suggested the opposite. I still side somewhat with the experts on this one, and believe that interpersonal relationships are still vital. The problem is not entirely procedural. Most individuals surveyed were still attending C.C. but are not assimilated (10/17 individuals). This was also consistent across age demographics. Of the 10 individuals, all except for 1 thought that it was easy to get information. All 10 largely said they felt welcomed, felt that it was easy to get information about how to get connected in a Community Group, and thought C.C. followed up with them in a timely manner. This was surprising. I thought that most individuals would have had some procedural issue preventing them from assimilating, but no such evidence was found. If people felt welcomed, thought they could get information, and were followed up with, well, what is the problem? There is likely still procedure to be introduced that could assist individuals further, however, it can be noted that there may be a deeper issue here. Additionally, 60% of individuals said they would have been interested in a Sunday morning meeting to get information about getting plugged in. This may be a viable solution for some, but I am unsure as to whether it should be the only method employed at improving the assimilation process because it still leaves behind approximately 40% of visitors. This data causes me to validate the Starting Point and Next Steps classes as implemented, but I do have additional suggestions.

13 ASSIMILATION RESEARCH PROJECT 111 Recommendations/ Potential Solutions Since the quantitative data (survey) did not present a clear issue to address, but rather showed that the issue may not be procedural, I will primarily be suggesting solutions based on the qualitative research and my own observation. 1 Validation of New Classes Because 60% of individuals said they would be interested in a subsequent meeting, I am led to think that this may be an effective method for at least some individuals, though I am not as sure that it should be the only method employed for improving the assimilation process because it still leaves 40% behind. Community Church has used assimilation classes similar to this one in the past, which have been effective. The primary problem with such classes in the past was the date/time. Given that these new classes will be on Sunday morning during second service, a very accessible time, I think that these classes will do well. Previous classes were structured very similarly to this new set of classes so if they worked in the past, then they may work again. Community Church should continue to implement the Starting Point and Next Steps classes as scheduled.

14 ASSIMILATION RESEARCH PROJECT 12 1 Recommendations/ Potential Solutions May June Present 2 Allocate additional time, resources, and personnel to assimilation and leader development In Creating Community, Stanley and Willitz explain that one key to their success was to allocate their resources into personnel and leader training. Since C.C. is largely following their model for Community Group Ministry, I suggest that C.C. revisits how much is truly being poured into leadership development. As a Community Group leader, I typically have a quarterly meeting for leadership development. These meetings are helpful, but I think more can be done, which would be helpful. Perhaps more individuals should be involved in equipping leaders, following up with them on a regular basis, and providing support. Especially since the job of a Community Group leader is to make themselves replaceable, thus forming two groups from the original group, it is essential that adequate personnel quantity and leadership development are present. I recommend that more individuals be employed for leadership development among Community Group leaders alongside Pastor Joe Aronson. To my knowledge, he is the only individual engaged in this activity. I suggest he delegate at least two more individuals among the current Community Group Leaders to become Community Group Trainers. Group Link (sign-ups) are coming again this fall. Prior to then I recommend that these two Community Group Trainers are selected and then given apprenticeship under the direction of Joe Aronson until the spring Group Link, when more groups will be formed. The apprenticeship would last 6 months and selected trainers would spend regular time observing how Joe tends to and leads Community Group Leaders. July August September October November December January February March Community Group Trainers selected by staff. Community Group Trainer s apprenticeship under Joe Aronson. Community Group Trainers begin overseeing leaders.

15 3 Recommendations/ Potential Solutions Ryf Road Midweek Gathering As stated in the Initial Thoughts section of this project, there is a need for a year-round open group. Group Link is very infrequent, happening only once since fall 2016 (though I know it will be more frequent moving forward). The infrequency of the opportunities to join a Community Group coupled with the reality that nearly all Community Groups are closed groups makes for an additional assimilation challenge. How do new people form relationships with other people in the congregation if one of the primary ways to do so is hard to join? Of Community Church s two campuses, the smaller campus, New City, has a small group called Midweek Gathering. The larger campus, Ryf Road, has no such meeting. Midweek Gathering is a good opportunity for new visitors to come and form relationships with other Christians and have fellowship on a regular basis. Since, Midweek Gathering is always an open group it is a great place for new individuals to be given a space to assimilate before joining a Community Group. ASSIMILATION RESEARCH PROJECT 13 1 Think of it as a transitional step between being a visitor and joining a Community Group. While new individuals wait for Group Link, Midweek Gathering offers a space for fellowship to occur. Midweek Gathering would work great because it does not disrupt existing Community Groups. By getting individuals connected, I think they will see the value of regular Christian fellowship and be apt to join a Community Group. The problem is: Midweek Gathering only occurs at New City I recommend that C.C. begins another Midweek Gathering at the Ryf Road site. This would be a good opportunity for both individuals who are not a part of a Community Groups, but have been attending C.C. and new visitors alike to come and have fellowship with one another. Relationships can form, faith can deepen, and assimilation can keep moving forward. Adding Midweek Gathering to the Assimilation Model C.C. currently sends out several follow-up s to first and second time visitors. Once Midweek Gathering begins at Ryf Road, I recommend that a promotion of Midweek Gathering be added to the follow-up s urging newcomers to come check it out and enjoy fellowship. When C.C. staff gets s from an individual looking to get plugged in they can easily direct that individual to Midweek Gathering until Group Link comes again. Finally, connecters/greeters volunteering at the visitors table can encourage new visitors to come and check out Midweek Gathering.

16 ASSIMILATION RESEARCH PROJECT 14 1 Further Consideration Since the findings of the survey showed that most individuals felt welcomed, knew how to get connected, and were followed up with in a timely manner, but did not move through the assimilation process, I think it can be suggested that there may be deeper issues occurring here rather than procedural issues alone. Such deeper issues may include, lack of true salvation, lack of understanding regarding the believer s need for Christian community, and cultural factors such as busyness (bad prioritization). Likely these deeper issues would be best addressed through a sermon series defining true salvation and outlining the importance of Christian community (I know a similar series entitled Better Together was taught not too long ago). These issues can also be addressed well on an individual basis in regular pastoral counseling. Perhaps preaching through the book of 1 John would be helpful because it teaches the characteristics of a true believer, providing a test to compare yourself against.

17 ASSIMILATION RESEARCH PROJECT 15 1 Conclusion Assimilation at Community Church is clearly an issue that needs to be further addressed. The development of new classes designed to aid assimilation is definitely a step in the right direction, but should not be the only step taken. Development of two Community Group Trainers would allow leadership training to deepen and increase at C.C. Likely this would allow for more leaders to be cultivated and thus more Community Groups to begin. Additionally, I think that beginning a Midweek Gathering at Ryf Road and adding it into the assimilation process would provide new visitors with an opportunity for immediate fellowship. Overall, I think Community Church has more to consider regarding assimilation, but I hope these suggestions get the ball rolling in a helpful direction.

18 ASSIMILATION RESEARCH PROJECT 16 1 References Hux, E. R. (2011). Evaluating the Effectiveness of Assimilation Strategies of the Churches of Christ in Christian Union: Closing the Back Door of the Church (Doctoral dissertation, Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore). Retrieved from ProQuest. Jacobs, S. (2014). The Art of Membership How to Attract, Retain and Cement Member Loyalty (The ASAE Series). Hoboken: Wiley. Long, J. P. (2011, October 7). Keep People Coming and Get Them Involved. Outreach magazine. Retrieved from Ming, J. Helping Outsiders Become Insiders (Part 1). Enrichment Journal. Retrieved February 24, 2017, from Saunders, P. M. (2008, October). Factors Underlying Church Member Satisfaction and Retention. Journal of Customer Service in Marketing & Management, 5. Stanley, A., & Willits, B. (2004). Creating Community 5 Keys to Building a Small Group Culture. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books. Vision & Mission (n.d.). In Community Church. Retrieved May 3, 2017, from

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