In my church I will have a newcomer ministry called The Foundations Ministry. I would propose to the church, in which I was the Pastor, this model for successful entry of every new believer into my church. As a Christian leader in a church which has encountered growth from fifteen to three hundred and fifty members in the last five years, this model makes it easy to connect and integrate new members into all areas of the church from salvation to serving.
In the Arns’s book (1982, 1998) entitled, The Master Plan for Making Disciples, the authors make the assumption that integrating any new believer into the church should be the responsibility of the member who brought them into the church and that the new believer’s integration would be automatic (p. 138, 139). I believe that the integration of any new member should be the responsibility of members who know the church’s mission and goals well, and should have a distinct plan for making a new member a disciple for the church.
The first step in integrating any new member is an invitation into the church by a current member. Even though we know that some do come into the church out of curiosity, or were called by God to be there, an invitation is usually the best, as the excitement from the member may excite the newcomer as well. Here is where the tear-off becomes the gateway in which the newcomer steps into the larger world of Christianity and the salvation of Jesus Christ. Here the newcomer can check-off any number of boxes, such as the “I want to know more about Jesus Christ,” or “I am ready to make Jesus my Lord and Savior. How do I do this?” Once this is done, communication can now begin to save a life for Christ, or to simply plug in an already saved individual into the serving of the church and its members.
The individuals who marked off any of the above boxes will receive a phone call, not a letter, where a personal connection can be made. This shows the newcomer that we as a church care about their life and future. During this conversation much can happen: a life could be saved for Heaven or a further future connection could be made for more information. Whatever happens during this phone call, a personal connection has been made and the individual on the other end of the phone will feel cared for and loved. This is important if we want them to come back to our church the following weeks to come.
The following week, the individual is further connected with the next level of integration: learning about our church and all that we do for our community and for each other. A newcomer’s class is the next step to learning about the goals and missions for our church as a whole. Here a newcomer gets to meet the Pastor and his wife, and the other members of the church’s staff. Here the newcomer can find out about where they might want to serve in the church and other bits of information the church feels that it is necessary for its members to know.
The next step of integration is a spiritual gifting class. Most new members have no idea what their gifts are and what the difference is between a gift and a talent. In this class we will talk about what they are passionate about, what makes their heart flutter every time they do what they love doing. Many people are surprised when they find that they are gifted in areas they didn’t know they were interested in. When they discover where they are gifted and talented, it is easier for a new member to figure out where they want to serve. Knowing their gifts can open their eyes to a world they never imagined and knew was possible for them. This class helps to establish a much tighter connection with the people around them in the church when they learn that God has gifted us all to serve His church in a way that is fun, exciting, and worthwhile. For most people, church is none of those things. It must be establish from the outset to newcomers that church can and is a fun place to be. Today’s church is not their parent’s church. Once they are serving their brothers and sisters in Christ, the sooner they will know that Christ is alive for themselves and their own wellbeing.
The next level will be to get the newcomer into a life group bible study; one that would fit their interests the most, or one that would start them at the beginning of what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be a disciple of Christ. In the group they will meet others who are also in the beginning stages of their walk with Jesus. The responsibility of welcoming the first night and encouraging the newcomer to come back each week should fall to the one in the group who is chosen by the leader. The leader should make sure that, in time, everyone in the group interacts and encourages the newcomer in their walk with Jesus, and to see that their needs are being taken care of in whatever capacity they can. A kind of buddy system is how I would like to see my study groups use to help all newcomers feel welcomed and at home not just within the group, but inside and outside church as well.
Once all of these steps have been fulfilled in the life of all of our newcomers, I believe that they will want to invite their own friends to our church. The friendlier we are with everyone who walks through the door at my church, the more our church will grow because we will have not only show newcomers the way into the church of Christ, but will have also lived with them their first of many steps they will take in growing and trusting in their faith and life with Jesus. It is no secret why my church has grown by three hundred and thirty-five members in the last five years. Our members are not only loving, caring and friendly; they are whole-hearted lovers of Jesus as well. This is the Foundation of all we do here: helping disciples make disciples.
Arn, W., Arn, C. (1982, 1998). The master’s plan for making disciples. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.