by Rich Birch: Thanks so much for joining us for another episode of the unSeminary podcast. Today I have Greg Curtis with me, director of assimilation at Eastside Christian Church.
Eastside Christian Church was founded in 1962 and was recently named the second fastest growing church in the country with four locations in California and Minnesota. The problem that most churches experience is not necessarily getting first time guests, but rather getting those guests to stay, and that is Greg’s area of expertise at Eastside. He’s here with us today to talk about the scalable assimilation strategy Eastside transitioned to since the last time we had him on the show.
See what isn’t working. // One of the first programs Eastside used was called First Step With Gene, where those new to the church could have pizza with Senior Pastor Gene Appel. Each year they had an average of 1200 people attend. During this program people heard Gene’s story and the church’s story. At the end, they learned about a seven-week program which everyone was pointed to. It was a kind of discipleship launch into small groups. This worked extremely well, but the problem was that they only did this program quarterly. There were so many new people coming through the doors, this system couldn’t support the growth, especially since Gene couldn’t be everywhere at once. Ultimately this lead to people waiting too long to attend the seven-week program at all and they never quite got plugged into the church.
The Four P’s. // Greg has worked with churches across the world and seen their assimilation process. From there he worked to develop a scalable system for assimilation that could be applied anywhere, regardless of church size and location. This lead to what he calls the Four Ps: one place, one program, two processes, two placements. This can be done in a myriad of forms. The idea is to send your guests to one place, maybe using an incentive such as giving them a free gift. At that one place, invite them to your one program, whatever it is, whenever it is. That one program is then engaging them into two processes, a volunteer placement process and a small group placement process.
Develop a program that works for your community. // Gene was exposed to Chris Hodges and his four week Growth Track program at Church of the Highlands. It’s ongoing and someone can jump in anytime or leave anytime. Eastside took this idea of providing an experience, rather than a class, and turned that into their Next Steps program. There are four steps and each step runs a different week of the month, but newcomers can start anytime and finish anytime, or attend the weeks out of order. The first step is Connect, featuring Gene on three short videos. Here people are encouraged to connect with Gene’s story, Eastside’s story and discover how pursuing God can impact their stories as well. Step two is Community where people enjoy some fun activities and discover how to build community by making friends, following Jesus and making a difference in a small group. Step three is Change Makers, where people discover how they are uniquely shaped to impact others. Week four is Compassion where people explore how they can unleash compassion both locally and globally.
Connect like people. // The table time during Next Steps is the most critical part. Greg explains that assimilation is bringing visitors from a seat (in the auditorium) to a circle of friends. Next Steps functions almost like a restaurant, with a host at the front to direct newcomers to a certain table of people that match their demographic, for example seating young adults together, or empty nesters together, or newlyweds together. Greg says, “The unspoken question when a guest comes to your church: is there anybody here like me?” If people who are new are able to connect with others in their same stage of life, it puts them at ease and sets them up to make friends more easily.
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