By Heber Ticas, Superintendent of South America
Growing up in the church and after 20 years of pastoral ministry, I have often witnessed how church attendees tend to gravitate to those with whom they have an established relationship. This is natural; however, the downside is that guests who visit a church for the first or second time can easily feel out of place. They can feel there might not be a place for them in the established community. On the flipside, in our attempts to be welcoming in our smaller congregations, members sometimes swarm a guest, creating an awkward feeling for them.
For this reason, I believe a healthy church always seeks to create a healthy environment where both attendees and guests feel welcomed. This is not something that occurs accidentally—there must be some intentionality behind it. In fact, it is a vital ministry of the church. The hope avenue of a healthy church begins with such a ministry. Although we have been calling this an assimilation ministry, we are now pivoting a little bit and calling it “Integration Ministry.” In some cultures the word assimilation may be misunderstood and have a negative effect.
In any case, I would like to reiterate the importance of such a ministry. I recall the time when I asked a good friend of mine to come to the church I pastor as a secret guest. Kind of like the concept of a secret shopper at a supermarket. My desire was to evaluate our ministry from an outsider’s perspective. I was surprised by some of his observations and findings. The first time that I did this, it was clear that our integration ministry needed improvement. One of our observations was that we needed a more holistic approach to the ministry. An integration ministry is not just about welcoming guests. Intentional greeters are a key part of this ministry, but such a ministry needs to include an intentional process of integrating guests into the life of the body. Throughout the years I have learned the following elements that have helped me developed a robust integration ministry.
- An integration ministry will create an inclusive and befriending environment where guests and members feel welcomed from the parking lot to their seat.
- An integration ministry creates movement. The idea is to move a first-time guest to a second-time guest, to a regular attender and eventually to a member of the local body.
- An intentional integration ministry will create an environment on Sunday morning where guests and regular attendees will engage worship and the word with much more ease.
- An integration ministry creates needed pathways for disciple-making relationships to spark.
The elements that I have enumerated are crucial for the health of a congregation. I want to also make it clear that I am not suggesting that we view our guests as a project of sorts, on the contrary, I believe that such ministry is part of our participation of what Jesus is already doing in people’s lives. I am filled with joy whenever I am either approached by a guest or receive a note by text or a call by someone who felt welcomed, loved and inspired by their experience in one of our worship services. In order to establish a holistic integration ministry, I also believe that a church needs to consider the following:
- Proper signage that has guests in mind
- A good physical ambiance in the church facilities
- Well-positioned greeters (from the parking lot to the chair)
- An effective information table
- Connection cards
- Proper follow-up
When we consider all these elements, one can easily appreciate the intentionality and work behind a holistic integration ministry. Connections and relationship building should be the underlying theme in this ministry. For these connections to birth a deeper relationship that in turn can become a disciple-making participatory relationship, our integration ministries should include the following:
- Retain information needed to connect back to guests (connection cards).
- Give something to guests so they can connect back to the ministry (gift bag).
- Have a what’s next strategy (Connecting points, such as small groups).
I have said a lot about integration, but these last three points are crucial for the overall goal of an integration ministry. If a deeper disciple-making relationship is to be birthed with those who visit our fellowship, we need to be intentional about it. In my opinion, these last three points provide a healthy strategy to achieve this goal.
I pray that the Spirit gives us the sensitivity to hear what he is saying and the clarity to see where he is leading us.