10 THINGS EVERY COUNCIL MEMBER SHOULD KNOW ABOUT HOSPITALITY AND ASSIMILATION
by Sandra J. Day
1. New members are valuable assets. They bring new energy to the church. New members are eager to see the church be vital and strong. Each one brings a spiritual gift for upbuilding the church or for outreach. They also come with an optimistic view of the church’s future.
New members will have a strong loyalty to your congregation. They’ve chosen your church because it meets their needs; they want to be a part of you. They like the programs and the pastor; if they didn’t, they wouldn’t have joined your church.
New members also bring a fresh perspective. Those who come from other churches may bring spiritual understanding, better ways of doing things, and skills learned in other settings. New Christians also have an extensive circle of non-Christian friends and acquaintances to reach for Christ.
2. Most churches need improvement in hospitality and assimilation. Most of us are convinced our churches are friendly. And we are-to our own members and to relatives and friends who visit. That’s only natural, since there is already a connection. But when people come with no ready-made connections, the story is often different.
Growth in hospitality and assimilation usually begins with honest self-assessment. As you evaluate your church’s hospitality, be open to the comments of those who visited and didn’t return, of new members, and of former members.
Changing old patterns isn’t easy-but it’s possible. It takes intentional planning and new training. It means recruiting the right people and keeping track of what’s happening to new members. And it’s worth the effort.
3. Assimilating your young people is crucial. Don’t focus your efforts only on people coming in from the outside. It’s just as important to help existing members feel more a part of the church. Especially the young people in your church need your encouragement and help in becoming vitally involved in the church’s ministry.
If the youth aren’t encouraged to find their spiritual gifts and to use them in the church, they often drop out and put their energies elsewhere.
This holds true for inactive or fringe members of the church as well. Those on the periphery need a sense of belonging, a sense that they are contributing something valuable to the church’s life. Inactivity is a sign that departure may be near. Such members need to be re-engaged through friendship, participation in small groups, or involvement in a ministry.
4. People join a friendly church. In fact, friendliness is often the most important factor in a person’s decision to join a church rating above attractive facilities, good location, excellent programs, and good
Why is friendliness so important? Because people want to be wanted. We want to be noticed, to have friends who enjoy our company. When we come to a place where no one seems to notice or to reach out in friendship, we get the message that we aren’t wanted-and we usually won’t return. Those who value warmth in relationships desire to be part of a church where such relationships are present.
5. Assimilation is a key link between evangelism and church growth. Church members may do a wonderful job of evangelizing their friends and neighbors-but the church won’t grow unless it assimilates those new believers into its life. Converts who remain on the fringe of the church’s life will find other places to worship; or, worse, they may leave their new-found faith.
God intended every believer to be a member of his body, the church, and to be connected to other members in fellowship. If a church is unprepared to enfold new believers into its life and ministry, it cuts these new Christians off from the nurture so greatly needed in the first stages of their faith. Churches who are prepared to receive new converts will be the most likely to grow through evangelism.
6. New members tend to leave unless they find friends. A recent study revealed that most new church members who dropped out of their local churches after six months could not name even two friends in the church. On the other hand, most new members who were still active after six months could name six or more friends. Friendship, it appears, is a key factor in making sure that new members stay in the church. As church growth authority Win Arn notes, “Friendships appear to be the strongest bond cementing new members to their congregations.”
To encourage such friendships, congregations need to plan regular social and recreational activities. Special opportunities to get to know new people should be built into all church activities.
Programs alone, however, will not solve the problem. The congregation’s heart must be open to strangers who are on their way to becoming friends and coworkers in the church. The key is members who are open to new relationships and who care enough to reach out.
7. People may join a church, but they find their niche through small groups. It is crucial to get new members into a small group-a Bible study, a fellowship group, choir, a visitation team, a caring ministry, or something similar. Small groups give new members the opportunity to know and be known in a way that is not possible in the larger worship setting. New members don’t have to know everyone in the church in order to feel like they belong. They can find that sense of belonging in a small group of people they know well.
Your church may find it necessary to establish necessary to new groups for new people, since the longer groups stay together the harder it is for new people to break in. It’s much easier for a new person to establish his or her place in a new group.
8. New members should become active in ministry within six months. People are otherwise noncommittal will become alive and enthusiastic if they’re involved in a task. If new members don’t become involved, they are likely to become “sit and soak” members. Give them a task, and they will feel a
vital part of what’s going on.
Be careful, however, not to pull them into just any kind of activity. New members are usually very willing to get involved-sometimes too willing.
They may take on commitments that overtake their abilities or strain their willingness to help. Their first tasks should be simple, entry-level duties. As they become more confident and their gifts become more evident, they can take on new and more challenging tasks.
As you involve new members, guide them toward activities that fit their spiritual gifts and abilities. This may mean intentionally helping them to discover their gifts and to put them to use in the church.
9. Leadership is crucial. Pastors, elders, and deacons must not only hold out the vision of an outreaching church but also model this vision. The friendliness of the church usually reflects the friendliness of its
For this reason, it’s a good idea that the pastors and council members be in the church foyer before the worship service to greet guests as well as members. After the service, council members should take the initiative in reaching out to guests, engaging them in conversation and introducing them to other members.
10. Key leadership positions in the church must be open to qualified new members. In churches that come from a single ethnic background, new members may find it difficult to be accepted into leadership positions, even though they are highly qualified. The subtle message they receive is “You’re welcome to belong to our church-but since you don’t share a common background, you’re second class. We can’t trust you with leadership.” This message comes across clearly even if it’s never spoken. The result: new
members will want to look for a church where they’re accepted and respected.
If, on the other hand, a church opens its leadership to qualified new membership whatever their background-it says to all new members, “This is truly your church. We trust you. We value your contribution. We want you to help shape the direction of our life together.”
(The above material was published by Church Development Resources in Grand Rapids, MI).
Christian Information Network