Assimilate New Members
By Ben Johnson
The church makes a great mistake when it does not assimilate new persons into its fellowship. Unwitting coldness and inflexibility close the entrance of new members into the church. A growing church must enable new persons to find their place and their role in the life of the congregation, a task made easier by offering them ports of entry a variety of groups, activities, opportunities to connect.
Persons entering the church have these needs: to be known, to feel accepted, and to feel important, valued. In planning assimilation think about ways these needs can be met.
Persons begin to feel known when they receive a visit from the minister or a lay person. The New Member Brunch enables them to be known, as does being introduced to the congregation. A short biographical sketch in the newsletter and family pictures on a bulletin board also achieve this goal.
New members also need to feel accepted; they need a place. This desire underscores the need for ports of entry groups, classes, teams.
Assimilation also helps when persons have a task. They feel that they belong when they are given a job. As we look at strategies for assimilation, keep these personal needs in mind.
Consider these ideas for assimilation:
1. Assimilation begins with the first image which the visitor receives during the worship service. Generally, the worship hour offers the first exposure of the church. During that hour the visitor decides whether the church is friendly or cold. The minister and leaders of worship must, therefore, project an image of warmth, openness, and concern for the family of God as it gathers.
2. Assimilation always begins before membership. Assimilation begins with the first image, but it also progresses through the relationships which the visitor has with members of the church prior to joining. Therefore, assimilation often precedes membership commitment.
3. An invitation to a Sunday school class or to a mens/womens group provides a point of entry into the fellowship prior to the time of joining. So does a pastors membership class. Persons within the membership class begin to be assimilated with the pastor, with church leaders, and with each other as they are being oriented to the church. Some churches have the new member class prior to joining.
4. If new members have not been assimilated into other groups prior to joining the church, the minister or other appropriate persons should see that they are included in a Sunday school class, a discussion group, the choir, or some other group smaller than the worshiping congregation.
5. Search the talent/interest sheet which they fill out at the New Member Brunch. Discover each persons interests, gifts, or talents. Offer new members an immediate task in the church. Nothing cements new members into the life of the church as tightly as a task which they are competent to perform. Persons find a place by being given a role.
6. Involve new members in dinner groups. An assimilation strategy called The One-Dish Date for Eight provides a way to acquaint new members with older members. Eight persons agree to meet together once a month for four months. Two persons are responsible for the one-dish meal, and one person is designated and trained to lead the discussion. The discussion progresses from sharing personal data to the sharing of deeper Christian experiences. The four dinners help integrate new persons into the life of the church. See Appendix D for questions to use at the meetings of The One-Dish Date for Eight.
7. Create a variety of groups within the church. These small groups, whether they are prayer groups, study groups, exercise groups, art classes, etc., provide points of entry for new persons. If you are receiving new members regularly, the need for such groups rapidly increases.
8. Schedule regular luncheons or breakfasts for new members. Gather your new members quarterly. Invite their response to questions like: Have you found your place in the church? Have you joined a group smaller than the worshiping congregation? What needs do you have that are presently not being met? What would you like to do in the church that you have not been invited to do?
Excerpted from An Evangelism Primer Practical Principles For Congregations
By Ben Johnson
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.