The Inviting Church: A Study of New Member Assimilation

by Roy M. Oswald, Speed B. Leas. The Alban Institute, 1987.

In spite of the fact that 95 percent of all Americans say they believe in God, many mainline Protestant congregations are witnessing declining participation. The challenges to maintain current size or to grow both require bringing in new people. By studying eight congregations and summarizing many other earlier studies, authors Oswald and Leas provide invaluable information on those aspects of congregational life important for attracting and assimilating new members. The three most important contributors to growth are satisfaction with worship and program, congregational harmony and cooperation, and social action. Surprisingly, most growing churches did not have formal recruitment or assimilation committees. Rather, they had positive personalities (evidenced in their energy, their belief in inclusion, and their sense of a unique identity). In short, congregations need less indoctrination and more contagion. The book includes charts and exercises to develop a process for congregational self-assessment and to ascertain the six stages of spiritual development. This book will be useful to any congregation interested in growth and/or retention of new members. It is most significantly recommended to pastors, boards, and committees with new member-related responsibilities.