Membership Assimilation


I’ve just finished studying the Faith Communities Today 2008 research (released in late 2009).  It has some interesting things to say about the large church that I hope to unpack on this blog in the days ahead. Here is the notable topic that first grabbed me. The survey identified and queried congregations on five different approaches to member assimilation.

  1. Invitation to participate in a class for new persons (47% of all congregations surveyed use this pathway)
  2. Invitation to join a small group (40%)
  3. Invitation to participate in worship (60%)
  4. Regular fellowship activities (58%)
  5. Invitation to participate in community service (49%)
  6. Invitation to serve the congregation on boards and committees, etc. (49%)

Survey results suggest that congregations with over 500 attendees in average weekly attendance have to be, and are, much more intentional in their strategies around assimilation. (See page 21 of the report) Larger churches use significantly more pathways and they are more intentional about creating and communicating those pathways to newcomers.  That’s not particularly new or attention grabbing. I think we’ve all intuitively known that.

But this is remarkable! The survey also measured the percentage of congregations who actively contact members that have stopped attending.

          Average weekly attendance         % who contact lapsed members

          Less than 50                               63%

          50-399                                        62%

          400-499                                      64%

          500+                                           37%

The drop off in this practice after the 500 mark in worship attendance is significant. After reporting this statistic the FACT 2008 report goes on to say, “ Given the positive impact of such a seemingly simple practice in larger congregations, the fact that congregations of over 500 attendees are significantly less likely to do it suggests a potentially simple way such congregations could enhance their growth prospects.”

As I ponder this statement made by David Roozen , author of the report, I’m trying to decide if it’s insightful, naïve, or both. It’s pretty clear to me that large congregations don’t follow up with lapsed attendees because of the sheer impossibility of the task. How do you track attendance, participation and lapsed members; particularly across multiple worship venues and campuses? It’s not the “simple practice” that Roozen suggests when it comes to the large congregation.

If we could track, and if we did follow up, would it make a difference? Or, are large churches just naturally more transient? Does the low percentage of churches that engage in this practice suggest that it’s just too hard to do it in the large church, or is it a reflection of the fact that churches have tried it in the past and it just doesn’t produce any meaningful impact?  What say you?

Photo Credit: Flickr.com

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2 Responses to “Membership Assimilation”

  1. Christine Robinson Says:

    I think that at least some people choose the large church so that they will not feel tracked or chased.

  2. Susan Says:

    Good Point

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