Follow-up of Visitors and New Believers
Cell ministry effectively blends evangelism and discipleship. A ‘built-in’ follow-up system is already in place through the cells. Those who receive Christ in the cell are encouraged to attend the celebration services with their new cell family members (Comiskey Explosion 83). Cell leaders and members know their work isn’t complete until the convert becomes a responsible church member. They are patient, yet persistent, recognizing that identification with the mother church can take time for a new convert who naturally feels more comfortable with their friends in the small group (Comiskey Harvest 69).
The cells also provide effective follow-up of visitors and new converts that have entered the church through the worship celebration services or other larger events. Cell churches implement systems so newcomers who aren’t in a cell don’t fall through the cracks. Visitor cards are collected in the church services and distributed to the various cell groups, who in turn contact the newcomers. Through this organized approach many visitors begin to attend a cell. The church continues to track newcomers to ensure that they receive proper follow-up and care (Comiskey Explosion 72).
In the past Bethany World Prayer Center saw many people come to faith in Christ, but their follow-up program was awkward and ineffective because there was not relational connection with the new converts. The volunteers who did the follow-up focused their attention on the newest converts from each weeks previous Sunday. As a result, people continually fell through the cracks. However, employing the cell structure drastically improved follow-up:
When an individual comes to the Lord in a service, a cell leader stands behind that person at the forefront of the altar. After prayer, the new believer is led upstairs to our District Offices and greeted by a person acting much like an airline agent greeting an arriving flight. The person is asked for his or her zip code, then directed with the cell leader/counselor into one of seven District Offices based upon that persons address. The new believer views a short video on Bethany and cell life and is then introduced to the appropriate Zone pastor. The person gets Jesus and cells at the same time. New believers have no built-in bias against cells, but are thrilled to have a support group and spiritual family to help them in their new walk (Stockstill 28-29).
If a friend who already attends a cell group has brought the new believer then he or she is assigned to that group. The objective is to form a relationship and complete the new believer follow-up in the context of the cell (Stockstill 29).
Each cell carries a shared responsibility for all the function of church work: pastoral care, follow-up of new believers, helping at services, praying for missionaries, and helping in the church outreaches. Each cell administers a spiritual gift analysis and helps its members find an appropriate place of service in the church (Stockstill 29). An example of shared responsibility can be seen each week at the public services of BWPC. The churchs cell ministry is divided into 7 Districts comprised of 14 Zones. The 14 Zones rotate responsibility so that each Zone is responsible for serving one week at the church then they are off for 13 weeks. The Zone members provide ushering, greeting, parking, altar work, nursery work, intercession, and any other needed ministries. There are a core of faithful workers in each of these areas of ministry that choose to serve weekly with the rotating Zone members. Stockstill says that with this process no one is burned out: the work proceeds forward with joy as everyone gets his or her turn at serving (44).
ICM estimates that it keeps the majority of new converts because of its follow-up and training program (Comiskey Explosion 64). We’ve discovered how to train each person rapidly? It takes more or less six months from their conversion until they become a cell leader (Comiskey Groups 65). They have the declared goal of transforming every new convert into a dynamic cell leader (Comiskey Harvest 53). BWPC shares this philosophy and has adapted the ICM training model for North America by using the image of a baseball diamond to communicate the track that is being laid out for the new believers. These churches use the home as the primary meeting place for the cell groups but provide the training at the church (Comiskey Harvest 54).
First Base: Water Baptism and Cell Attendance.
After a person makes a commitment to Christ at a public service a pastor and cell leader will attempt to visit the new believers home within 24 hours to invite that person to the nearest group. Their goal is to get the person to make a public profession of faith in Christ through water baptism and encourage cell attendance during the first week after conversion (Stockstill 87; Comiskey Groups 66-67).
Second Base: Pastoring.
The new believer heads toward second base by first completing a six lesson study booklet called Christianity 101. This is done in the context of the cell (Hornsby 3-4; Stockstill 87). The final step toward second base is to attend an Encounter Retreat. The purpose of this retreat is to bring freedom to new converts in the areas where they struggle with baggage from the past. The three-day weekend retreat uses a combination of large group lectures and small group discussion and application (Bethany Between 5; Stockstill 88; Comiskey Groups 67-71).
Third Base: Preparing.
New Believers are urged to enter the preparing stage by taking a 12-week class called Discipleship 201 that is held beginning on the Wednesday evening following the Encounter Retreat. At the end of this class participants are enrolled in an Saturday morning seminar called Discovery Seminar. Here believers are enabled to find an effective place of ministry in the local church through a discovery of their spiritual gifts, talents, and personality (Bethany Between 35; Bethany Discipleship 4; Stockstill 89; Comiskey Groups 72-73; Comiskey Explosion 64-65).
Home Plate: Planting.
After four months of initial follow-up a new believer is now ready to begin serious training for cell leadership. Each of the 12 classes is taught by the very best staff leader that the church has for that particular area using the booklet, Leadership 301 (Bethany Leadership 4; Stockstill 90-91). After the new believer has completed all the components of this seven-month follow-up and training process they are invited to a Champions Retreat held at a local hotel from Friday evening through Saturday noon. At the conclusion on the retreat the pastors lay hands on the participants and consecrate them for cell leadership. Then on Sunday, during the worship service, these individuals are publicly recognized and released for cell ministry (Bethany Between 47; Stockstill 91; Comiskey Groups 72-73; Comiskey Explosion 64-65).
Cell ministry is the most effective way to close the churchs back door. Cell ministry grows pewsitters into pastors who care for the flock. New believers are converted into leaders who continue the process (Comiskey Harvest 70).
The literature has revealed a great variety in how churches have sought to attract and assimilate newcomers. However, Warren restates one of the most foundational assimilation issues, As Christians we’re called to belong, not just believe (105).
Though characteristics of an assimilated person and requirements for church membership vary, assimilation literature raises and addresses the following elements in some form: attracting, retaining, joining, discipling, belonging, and serving. The church is called to teach, baptize, welcome strangers, care for the sick, and preach the gospel to all the earth (Acts 1:8 and Matt. 28:19). This will not occur without structure and direction. It has to be organized and guided (Oden 159). How should the church be structured and organized to fulfill the Great Commission by effectively reaching and assimilating non-Christians in North America in the 21st century?
The article Follow-up of Visitors and New Believers written by David Spitz was excerpted from www.christianitytodaymag.com, July 2007.
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.