A Three-Legged Stool (Part 3)

“Tony, upon the confession of your faith that Jesus Christ died for your sins,  I now baptize you in water in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins!” and with that, Pastor Mark North dipped the young man completely under.  Tony came up with his hands raised, rejoicing in the Lord.  The small group that gathered round the baptismal tank worshiped together for several minutes.  There was a tangible excitement in the air. Once the worship died down, Pastor North made a few closing remarks and then dismissed the group to return to their own church.

Coming out of the baptismal room, Mark saw Pastor Vernon Baker entering his office down the hall.  “Wait, Elder!”  Mark hurried to catch up.  “I wanted to thank you again for letting us use your baptismal tank.”  Pastor Vernon Baker, and elderly man in his seventies, smiled warmly as he held the door open for him to enter.  Mark continued, “Hopefully ours will be repaired by next week.  The heater could not have gone out at a worse time.  We have been baptizing someone almost every service.”

“That’s wonderful, Mark!”  Brother Baker said.  “It’s good to see your hard work paying off.”

“Thank you, Elder.  But we couldn’t have done it without your help.”

“Oh, I’m not too sure of that.  I just gave you a nudge in the right direction.”

Brother Baker motioned Mark to take a chair.  The office was large and comfortable.  Missions’ mementos decorated the walls.  Behind the desk a solid wall of books testified to the elder pastors’ love of reading and study.

Evangelism Success

“So,” Brother Baker continued, “tell me how it’s going.  Is your evangelism program working?”

“Very much so,” the younger pastor replied.  “Since you suggested several months back that we focus most of our efforts upon getting visitors out to church, we’ve done just that.  We have teams passing out door-hangers and flyers almost every weekend.  We also have some kind of special service almost every month.  Last month’s Healing Sunday was phenomenal!  I told you about it.  We had an old fashioned Holy Ghost blow-out.  Five people were healed and three received the Holy Ghost.  We baptized seven that morning too!  The one I baptized tonight is the brother of one of those.  We taught him a Bible study last week.  Tony came and received the Holy Ghost last Sunday morning.  That’s when we discovered our baptismal heater was on the blink.  I didn’t have the heart to baptize him in ice cold water.  I’m sure he appreciates you letting us use yours.

“Think nothing of it, “Brother Baker replied.  “I’m just thrilled to hear the good report.  So, is your visitor follow-up going well?”

Mark nodded slowly. “Pretty well — we still have a few bugs to work out.  But we are making the phone calls, sending the letters, and visiting each home.  Our biggest problem is finding them home.  Sometimes we have to go back three or four times before we finally catch them.  But so far, everyone’s been friendly and we have set up several Bible studies as a result.  Getting return visits too!

“Good, good!” The elder pastor said, nodding.  “Just keep visiting each one every three to four months.  Keep inviting them back, asking for a home Bible study, and praying for their needs — and keep praying for each visitor!  Prayer is the key.  Eventually they will respond — either positively or negatively. But praying and visiting is the best way to turn a prospect into a convert.”

Mark nodded agreement.  Bro. Baker continued.  “And home Bible study?  Are you training your saints how to teach and get studies?”

Mark grinned.  “Absolutely.  Two months ago I taught a home Bible study training seminar on a Saturday.  We had twelve attend.  I took your suggestion and taught it all in a single day.  We started early with coffee and donuts, brought in lunch and finished up early afternoon.  Four hours of training.  We then paired them up to teach each other a practice lesson or two.  The next morning I called them all up, handed out completion certificates, and commissioned them to go out and win souls.  All but one has taught at least one study.  Many have taught three or four.  We have had six converts so far as a direct result.  Home Bible study is working!”

“Wonderful!  Brother Baker said smiling.  “And how about the CCC ministry, Constant Contact Consciousness?

“Well, you know I borrowed the “Christian Soldier’s Workshop” material from you.  I went ahead and purchased the Power Point lessons also and taught it to my church as a series on Bible study night.  It’s great material about how to be a witness!  At the conclusion we launched CCC — only we decided to call it Soul Patrol.  I had twenty-seven commit to be involved.  Right now they are reporting over four hundred contacts a month.  So yes, I think it’s doing well.  We get quite a few visitors from their contacts — and Bible studies too!”

“Excellent! Bro. Baker exclaimed. “Now, what about Sunday school and Bus Ministry?  How are your child evangelism ministries going?”

“Well, Sunday school attendance is up.  We had eighty-six last Sunday morning.  Our Friend Day last month was a great success.  We had over 130 on that Sunday and we’re still working on making our follow-up visits from that. But I’m struggling a bit with Bus ministry.  We’re having trouble making regular contact with the bus parents.  My bus captains are trying, but half the time the parents are not even home. Any suggestions?”

Brother Baker thought for a moment.  “You read the material I gave you on ParentReach?”  Mark nodded. “Good. Then you know it takes time.  The principle behind ParentReach is understanding that you must win a friend before you can win a soul.  Some parents will be easier to reach than others.  But you have an excuse to knock on that door every Saturday.  Keep asking to speak with the parent.  Keep inviting them to the special services.  Get to know them.  Talk about whatever they enjoy talking about – sports, job, politics, whatever.  About once a quarter schedule a children’s program of some kind that their child will be involved in.  Encourage them to come.  Keep asking them for a home Bible study.  It’s an investment, Mark.  But with this approach you can win several parents every year.  But the real payoff is the kids!  You can see the majority of them receive the Holy Ghost and baptized.  Then make sure you involve them in your youth group. Pick them up for regular services.  Mark, you can raise up an entire church from Bus Ministry alone!  I know, because I’ve done it.  We have dozens of young couples in my church that one or both came from Bus ministry.  And understand this:  There’s just something about reaching out to kids – God puts a special blessing upon churches that ministers to unsaved children, because such is the Kingdom of God!”

Mark sighed.  “I know. But you make it all sound so easy.  I’m meeting myself coming the other direction trying to keep all this going.”

Brother Baker grinned.  “Take heart. It will get easier. Right now it’s all new to you and your saints.  But in time, it will become a part of the life and fabric of your church.  As you grow, you will get more laborers.  Converts will eventually become workers and leaders and they will help share the load.  You are doing just fine!  Don’t get discouraged.  Just keep pushing ahead.”

“Thanks Elder,” Mark said sincerely.  “You can be sure I will be calling you for advice regularly.”

Leg Number Three

Brother Baker sat behind his desk, looking thoughtful.  Suddenly he turned and reached under the credenza behind him and came out with a short, round stick of wood.

Mark grinned.  “Ahh.  Time for another leg to the stool?”

“I wasn’t going to give this to you for another month.  But you need this now.  With all the new converts you’re baptizing, I just can’t wait any longer.”  He handed the short, tapered dowel to Mark.

Mark took it and studied the word carved into the length.  “Assimilation.”

The old pastor leaned forward and spoke in earnest.  “Mark, this is the third and final leg of the stool I made for you.  The first leg was ‘organization,’ the second was ‘evangelization,’ and now the last leg is ‘assimilation.’  These three are the key elements necessary for any church to grow.  Do you know what I mean by assimilation?

“Sure!”  Mark replied.  “You’re talking about assimilating our new converts into the church.”

“Right.  You have to retain your gains.  It will do you little good to see hundreds baptized if the majority of them backslide soon after coming to God.

“I agree, Elder,” Mark cut in.  “But I’m already ahead of you.  We have a new convert’s class going to teach each convert the basics of living for God.”

“Good!  Anything else?” Bro. Baker pressed.

“Well, I try to call them if I notice they are missing church.  But I probably need to be more diligent with this.”

“That’s fine.  But Mark, you need to implement a comprehensive New Convert Care (NCC) ministry.  You remember this was on the organizational chart sample I gave to you.”

“Yes, I remember.  Sis. Lettie Parker is my NCC director.  Right now she writes down the basic contact information on each convert and then makes sure they get their baptismal certificate and Holy Ghost certificate.  She also informs them of the new convert’s class we teach on Sunday morning.  But we are still working on getting the other duties of the job description implemented.

“Well, if you get everything in the Job Description working, you will pretty much have it. But let me explain a few things.

Mark, most Apostolic churches retain only about 15% to 20% of their converts in a given year.  That means 80% of their converts backslide.  I personally feel this grieves the heart of God.  Every child is precious to Him.  Understand this one fact well: God is not in the business of making backsliders.  If you can only handle a few converts at a time, then that is all the Spirit will send you.  The Apostle Peter said it would have been better to have not known the Lord then to have known Him and then fall away (2 Peter 2:21).  So if you want God to send you a great harvest, you must be prepared to retain a great harvest.

“The key elements of new convert care come straight from the second chapter of Acts.  Once three thousand babies were born into the church, the Spirit showed the Apostles exactly how keep them.  First, they continued steadfastly in the Apostles doctrine (vs. 41-42).  Secondly, they were house to house in fellowship and breaking of bread (vs. 42, 46).  And finally, they had all things in common; there was a unity of involvement (vs. 44-45).  These are the three key elements of a good new convert care program:  Instruction, fellowship, and involvement.

Mark was taking notes again.  He looked up with a grin.  “Elder, I’ve learned that whenever I’m going to around you to carry a notepad and pen.  Just keep talking and I’ll keep writing.”

Elder Baker raised an eyebrow, unsure if this was a complement, but continued.  “Here’s what I do in each of these three areas in my church. There are other things that can be done, but this approach has worked for me.

New Convert Instruction

“First, let’s start with instruction.  We always do ‘New Life Counseling’ with everyone that’s saved. I’ve found that this must be done very quickly.  We go to their home, usually the very next day. We set this up with every one that is baptized or receives the Holy Ghost.  I have trained several people to help me make these visits.  We go in, sit down, and discuss some basic elements of what it takes to live for God.

“I first talk briefly about what has just happened to them. I stress that their past is behind them and now under the Blood. If they have not been baptized, I explain this. I talk about the importance of church attendance, Bible reading and praying every day.  If they don’t have a good Bible, we give them one. I also give them a daily Bible reading chart that starts them off in the Gospels.  I briefly explain what prayer means and that you don’t need Rosary Beads or a Book of Prayers to do it.  I then warn them briefly about the devil’s tricks.  I’ll explain that every baby stumbles when learning to walk.  So if they mess up and do something wrong, they must not quit — just ask God for forgiveness, get back up and keep living for God.  Then finally, I give them a list of phone numbers and my email address.  I let them know that we care and are here to help.  If they are feeling down or if the pull of the world gets too strong, call me, or my assistant pastor, or the new convert care leader, someone!  They don’t have to battle alone.  Then I give them a new convert’s booklet and a CD.  We also tell them about our new convert’s class on Sunday morning. This is New Life Counseling.  We make sure every convert gets it, even if we have to call a dozen times to set it up.  It really works!”

Mark held up a finger to interrupt, “What new convert booklet do you use and what’s on the CD?”

“We use Get Ready, Get Set, Go! by JoAnn Cook for our new convert booklet. But there are others to choose from.  The audio CD is a recording of a Bible study night lesson that I taught a number of years ago on the subject, “The Successful Christian Life.”  I explained very simply what it takes to live for God.  So every convert gets a Bible, a booklet, a CD, and a short lesson on how to live for God.  This has tremendously helped our retention.”

“I love this, Elder! Mark said grinning.  “Keep going!”

Well, also under ‘instruction’ we have our New Life Class which is taught at church on Sunday morning.  We really stress the importance of this class.”

“Question,” Mark injected.  “How do you get your converts to go to this class?  We’re having trouble getting them to attend.”

“These are spiritual children, Mark.  They don’t know what they need. So we assign every convert a mentor — we call this person a ‘Care Partner.’  This is usually the person that brought them to the Lord.  We ask the Care Partner to go to the class with them. This seems to really help.  Then, too, I personally encourage them to go. They need to know that I put great importance on their attendance.  But we use other motivational tools as well:  completion certificates, church membership requirements, great snacks, and so on.  It’s taught during the Sunday school hour, so they don’t have to miss morning worship.  Most of our new converts complete this lesson series.

“The last thing we do under ‘instruction’ is a home Bible study.  We make sure every new convert is taught a good Genesis to Revelation Bible study in their home each week, usually Search for Truth or Exploring God’s Word.  We encourage the Care Partner to teach this to them.

The Friendship Factor

“Now the second need is fellowship.  Mark, your new converts desperately need to make friends in the church.  They often will quickly lose their friends in the world.  If these are not replaced with friends in church, they will return back to the world, because you can’t live without friends.  So under ‘fellowship’ we also do three things.  First is the Care Partner that I have already mentioned.  This is their spiritual mentor or parent.  This individual commits to a list of ten responsibilities to help this young Christian mature.  Things like praying for them every day, sitting with them in church, praying with them in the altar, calling them if they miss church, going with them to the New Life Class, teaching the home Bible study, helping them make new friends, and more.  I personally approve every care partner selected.  I meet with them to go over the duty list and stress its importance.  Most take this responsibility very seriously.

Also under ‘fellowship’ are Monthly Fellowship Assignments.  Every month a different person or couple in the church is asked to spend some time with this new convert.  Our goal is to encourage them to make new friends and it seems to work pretty well.  Then finally, we have a social of some kind each quarter for all new converts and their care partners.  Converts seem to make friends with other new converts quite easily.

Mark held up his writing hand and began to shake it loosely.  “Slow down, Elder.  My wrist is getting sore!  Let me make sure I got this right.  So under fellowship you assign a Care Partner, you make monthly fellowship assignments, and you have a quarterly new convert’s social — right?”

“Right.  All of this is to encourage your converts to make friends in the church.  Several years ago Dr. F. R. Leakley, a Christian Psychologist, did a case study on new converts.  One year after their conversion he asked converts how many people they could identify as a friend in the church.  Those that were still attending could name at least seven people whom they would call a friend.  Those that had backslid, they could only name one or two.  He published his research in an article entitled, The Friendship Factor, and it stressed how important the making of friends is in convert retention.”

The Need For Involvement

Mark was writing and nodding.  Elder Baker continued.  “The last key is involvement.  Your new converts need to become involved in the life and ministries of the church.  Now, by involvement I don’t mean leadership.  Converts should not be put into leadership positions.  But they can be involved in many aspects of ministry.  For example, we use new converts in almost all types of outreach.  They participate in bringing friends, getting home Bible studies (we often supply the teacher and they assist), CCC, door knocking (always paired with a mature saint), bus ministry, and even some areas of Sunday school.  They also help in ushering, church cleaning, maintenance, fund raising, and so on.  There are many areas they can contribute and feel needed and wanted.  Their involvement helps them grow and mature in the Lord.”

Mark looked up.  “Boy, that’s sure wasn’t the way it was when I got in church.  They told us to sit for a few years and prove ourselves faithful.  Then, if we were faithful in tithe and attendance, they would start using us somewhere.”

Elder Baker nodded.  “Yes, and we wonder why we have churches filled with people who just want to come to church, sit on a pew, pay their tithes, and do nothing for God.  That’s what they were trained to do in their developing years.  If you want a child to grow up to be a productive citizen, Mark, you give him chores in childhood. If you want a new Christian to grow up into a willing and faithful worker for the Lord, you will do the same.  As they grow and mature, you can slowly increase their responsibilities.  Before you know it, you have an excited, willing worker, perhaps even a leader, to use in the work of God.”

Brother Baker stopped talking and Mark continued to write for several more moments.  Then he sighed and set his pen down.  “Wow.  This is all so good.  Anything else?”

“There is always more.  It’s hard to do too much where converts are concerned.  But these are the basics:  Instruction, fellowship and involvement.  Once we implemented this plan we saw our retention go from under twenty percent to over seventy percent.  We keep more because we care for them better.

“Mark, two hundred years ago, the loss rate of new born babies – I’m speaking about natural birth now – was over ten percent.  Over ten percent of children born would die in their early years from various childhood diseases, not to mention the dangers of birth itself.  Today we lose less than .03% of children born.  That’s only three out of a thousand!  Why?  We have learned to care for children better.  The same holds true for the church.  If we will care for our spiritual children better, we will keep more of them.”

Mark slowly nodded, staring out the window for several moments.  Then he stood up, his face resolute. Neither man said another word.  Nothing more needed to be said.  They shook hands, embraced, and Mark left.

There was still much work that needed to be done.