Keeping Newcomers with a Pastor’s Class
Steven R. Mills
Admiral Perry planted the American flag at the North Pole. To accomplish this feat, he employed a dog sled, three Eskimos, and an African-American named Matthew Henson. Years later Congress awarded Henson a medal for being part of the expedition. The medal’s inscription expressed Admiral Perry’s reason for selecting Henson to be part of the team: “I can’t get along without him.”
The church and the Sunday school are vital to reaching and keeping people. The pastor’s class for newcomers is one strategy we cannot get along without if we want to reach and keep people. A pastor’s class is one of the best places to accomplish the two R’s of assimilation: Relationship and Responsibility.
People generally drop out of the church within the first year if they do not develop seven meaningful friendships within the congregation and become involved in a role or task. The pastor’s class naturally helps people build significant relationships and find meaningful responsibility. A pastor’s class contributes to reaching three objectives:
1. Inform. People look for a church that has a clear vision and a strong sense of mission. Their hesitancy to become involved often is overcome when a church has a clear, challenging, motivating mission. Communicating such things as the church’s history, vision, goals, beliefs, and worship style helps newcomers understand a church. If this information is not shared formally, it is often shared informally, and this can be undesirable.
2. Interact. Relationship is the core of Christianity. Help participants build relationships with others in the class, within the congregation, and with Jesus Christ by creating an informal, warm, friendly atmosphere. Serving coffee, tea, and donuts may help generate this kind of environment.
3. Involve. Each person should be expected to become involved in an appropriate ministry role or task. By informing people about the ministries of the church and helping them find a place, we increase the chances of their staying.
The time and meeting place of the class are not as important as the objectives. Still the class should meet in a comfortable room. We want newcomers to know that we value them. In some churches, the pastor’s class meets on a weeknight; in others, on Sunday mornings. This helps people develop the habit of going to Sunday school. The class can run from 3 weeks to 26 weeks. If it is too long, it will hinder its starting over with another group of newcomers. The pastor’s class is just one step in the process of assimilating people into the congregation. The total assimilation process may look something like this:
Pastor’s Class – 4 weeks
* Week 1: New Vision, understanding the goals of the church.
* Week 2: New Church, understanding the beliefs, history, and style of the church.
* Week 3: New Life, understanding you relationship with Christ.
* Week 4: New Family, understanding ministries and membership.
This series will then be followed by the following classes and times:
* Ministry Gifts
* Discovery: 4 weeks
* Discipleship Class- 8 weeks
* Leadership Training: 12 weeks
In a small church, this process might be done in individual or small group sessions with the pastor at times other than Sunday mornings. In a large church, these classes may be held on a continuous rotation as part of the Sunday school track.
In starting a pastor’s newcomer’s class, consider the following:
1. Every newcomer, including transfers, should be encouraged to attend the class. Every person needs to know the vision, goals, beliefs, style, expectations, and ministries of the church.
2. Every person who wants membership in the church should be required to attend the class. This helps eliminate fixture problems. People who want to join the church need to know what the church’s vision and goals are. However, the pastor’s class should not focus on merely getting people to join the church.
3. The pastor should either lead or be a vital part of the class. This gives newcomers the opportunity to get acquainted with the pastor and vice versa.
4. Building relationships is to be an important part of each class. By the end of 4 weeks, people should have developed friends that are more than just Sunday acquaintances. This helps give them a sense of belonging.
What do we want to develop in the lives of newcomers? Spiritual growth is our primary concern, but that is difficult to measure. Five measurable signs of an assimilated and growing believer are:
1. Regular friendships making six or seven friends within the church within 9 months.
2. Regular worship attendance attending 85 percent of the time.
3. Regular small group Sunday school involvement attending 85 percent of the time.
4. Regular ministry taking an active ministry role/task.
5. Regular giving making financial contributions to the church.
These visible measurable behaviors in newcomers mean they are becoming properly, naturally assimilated into the church. The pastor’s class can get people started on the right track.
God has selected a partnership to bring people into relationship with himself. With a pastor’s class for newcomers, we become His hands extended in love.
Five steps to starting a pastor’s class
1. Make a list of those who are new to the church.
2. Analyze the needs, concerns, and interests of the prospects.
3. Enlist leaders for the class. You may want to appoint a class leader and a class host/hostess.
4. Establish the time, place, format, and curriculum.
5. Begin the class.
This article “Keeping Newcomers with a Pastor’s Class” by Steven R. Mills was excerpted from: www.crosswalk.com website. May 2009. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
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.’