Integrating Visitors into Your Church

August 12, 2005 by

There’s been plenty of discussion on our Reasons to Use Direct Mail post. One of the comments hinted at some research about visitors and I followed up with the commenter, Alex, to get the stats. He sent me the link to an Assimilation Study done by Mission Portland. (I hate the word assimilation. It just reminds me of the Borg. I prefer integration.) The study looked at 15 Portland area churches in 2000 that combined account for nearly 10% of the worship service attendance in Portland. It’s a fascinating read, but here’s a few of the juicy bits:

  • Over 70% of visitors come to church because of a personal invitation. We’ve heard similar stats before, but it’s always good to hear it again.
  • Only 12% of first-time visitors will return the following week and eventually become members. This stat is from Herb Miller’s 1997 book, How to Build a Magnetic Church. The study suggests that some congregations can get to 20 or 25% retention.
  • Being intentional. It’s obvious, but if you want to integrate new people into the life of your church you have to be intentional. You have to be intentionally bringing in new visitors, you have to make them feel welcome, and you have to follow-up. It takes a lot of effort, and if you do a halfway approach, it just won’t work.
  • Relational. People usually stuck with a church because they formed relationships. By far one of the best ministries for fostering relationships were small groups.

 The book on church visitors: Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time VisitorsMore:

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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15 Responses to “Integrating Visitors into Your Church”

  • Betsy
    August 12, 2005

    I think there’s a balance to be found. The last church I attended focused SO MUCH on first-time guests that those of us who were already there were short-changed. It’s like the cell phone companies: they’ll bend over backwards to get you to be a customer, but once you’re hooked, where’s the customer service?
    I do think great small groups function both as a way to grow attendees AND help newbies develop relationships.
    Love the Borg reference, btw. I didn’t know you were fellow Trekkies.

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  • kevin
    August 12, 2005

    That’s interesting that some churches would go overboard on focusing on visitors. I don’t think many churches are having that problem.
    And I’m actually not a Trekkie. That’s just how widespread the Borg concept is and how “assimilate” is such a lame word to use in the church context.

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  • Michael
    August 12, 2005

    First off, assimilation:bad integration:good … now that we have that cleared up… :)
    It’s about resources. We have to be on purpose and stay on task. Giving 100% to visitors is the only way to go. Giving 100% to regulars is the only way to go.
    We can’t have too few people doing too many things. It dilutes the effort. We must stay with and pursue what we were designed for. Fill a need because you were designed to fill the need, not because you were asked to fill the need.
    So go out there, find your 100% and tackle it!

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  • Justin Broome
    August 12, 2005

    A GREAT book on the subject is Thom Rainers “Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them.” Thom Rainer studied people who formerly did not go to church, but now they do, and asked them why. What’s important? What makes a good impression? Why did you pick the church? Did someone invite you? What keeps you there? Plus MANY more questions. The book is so good that I give it out free to churches placing a certain minimum order with my company. You can find some snippets of information from the book on my website on the left side scrolling menu at
    The facts from the Portland story line up almost verbatim. I can’t recommend Thom’s book enough. Even for churches without growth problems, it never hurts to continually evaluate and ask “are we doing the best we can?”
    I love church growth. :)

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  • Linda
    August 12, 2005

    I have found that people do well to attend your cell group before they come to your church. That way they meet “the church” before they go to “the church.” As you said, “small groups are best for fostering relationships” What’s the best way to create them? Check out the article by Ralph Moore on the best way to train cell leaders:

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  • :: cawleyblog ::
    August 12, 2005

    Church Planting

    A great reminder from the folks at CMS that integrating people into your church actually requires work: • Over 70% of visitors come to church because of a personal invitation. We’ve heard similar stats before, but it’s always good

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  • Alex
    August 12, 2005

    To piggy back on Linda’s comments, the general stream of involvement in chis BE(come to an outreach event, participate with an interest group i.e. a motorcycling small group, etc.), BELONG(join a small group that develops spiritual growtn and connection, volunteer on a regular capacity, etc.), BELIEVE(make a commitment to follow Jesus), and BECOME(develop spiritual habits of prayer, worship and study, develop leadership , start mentoring others in the faith, evanglize). In our church, I am certain the stats would bear out that most people belong before they believe. What we are aiming for is deep, long term life change, spiritual growth and connection into the community, not the 7 Habits of High Effective Born Again Christians.
    All that said, we must make more disciples and better ones at the same time, recognizing the above continuum.

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  • Ron
    August 12, 2005

    I’m interested in Christianity and being part of a church. However, the ones that I’ve visited seem very cliquey and unfriendly. I live in Dallas Texas. Any recommendations?

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  • Anne Jackson
    August 12, 2005

    Ron – may be a bit of a drive for you, but try Irving Bible Church in Irving on Kinwest a little off Macarthur(I think that’s how you spell it) – or The Village Church in Dallas. I have friends that are involved heavily at both of these churches. If you decide to go, let me know, and I would be happy to have them meet you and show you around. (I’m from Dallas but now live in Kansas City). What kind of church do you like? Big, small, contemporary, traditional? Feel free to send me an email at if you’d like to talk more about some churches in DFW.

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  • Knowledge Lab
    September 22, 2005

    Integrating Church Visitors

    A few tips and facts about assimilating visitors into the life of your church:

    • Over 70% of visitors come to church because of a personal invitation.
    • Only 12% of first-time visitors will come back the next week and eventually become members….

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  • In our community we have found a large % of our first time visitors saw & read our web site and came from that..

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  • Justin
    April 21, 2011

    Our church uses Connection Power to integrate people into the church. Basically when someone first comes, they are assigned Connection Partners who follow up once a week for the first 6 weeks to build a relationship. After that, those who are considered retained are assigned a Care Partner that cares for the person for the first year. The plan is to care for someone until they are in a small group, where the group cares for each other. Letters are sent from the church on the 1st, 2nd, and third visit. Check out It isn’t perfect, but it has helped us.

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  • Mike
    May 16, 2012

    I agree with the points about follow up on new visitors, although I’d really like to see some more information about what makes a good follow-up plan.

    I disagree about the word ‘integration’. ‘Assimilation’ isn’t good either, but ‘integration’ just makes me think of sixties race-riots…

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  • Aishalomey
    May 16, 2014

    So we are sha king so much about integrating visitors. I don’t hear anything about integrating existing church members. Who like the word, music, ambience, have been in the same church for 2 years possibly more but are still just members. Not in any of the smaller groups within the church. Someone pls help.

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