Moving New Members into Ministry

Moving New Members into Ministry
Chuck Lawless

“Sam” is a too-often typical church member, who attends faithfully each Sunday and soaks in the teaching, yet never gets involved in ministry. Others view Sam as a committed member simply because he is always there. No one would dare question his faithfulness.

Perhaps you know a few Sam’s. How do you move members like him into ministry? Here are some basic principles I learned from research conducted for my book, “Membership Matters.”

1. Pray for Laborers

Jesus provided a clear guideline for securing workers: pray that God will provide them (Luke 10:2). He said the fields are ready, but the workers are few. Have you encountered that problem?

In my experience, churches look for laborers but only pray after they’ve not been able to secure them. I’ve heard announcements like, “We still need a fourth grade boys’ teacher, so we’d better pray about this one!” It is likely churches would be more successful finding workers if they prayed before recruiting.

I encourage churches to establish a group dedicated to praying for laborers, asking God to: (1) provide workers for current openings; (2) guide enlistment and training of potential workers; and (3) remind members to affirm current workers (see #6 below).

2. State Expectations Up Front

Why do so many Sam’s join a church and just sit? The primary reason is churches expect little from members, so that is exactly what they get! One way to correct this problem is to state expectations in a required membership class. Our study showed that effective churches stress five:

1. Identify with the church (e.g., through public baptism)

2. Attend worship services and small groups

3. Serve in ministry

4. Give financially

5. Promote unity

These expectations are no guarantee there will be any Sam’s, but not clarifying expectations almost assures their presence. Even if you raise the bar by stating only one of the five, that’s a start.

3. Implement a Ministry Placement Strategy

Ministry placement is not automatic nor easy. Still, in the churches we studied, leaders had an intentional placement strategy. Most build around one of three tools:

1. Rick Warren’s SHAPE concept (“The Purpose-Driven Church”);

2. Wayne Cordeiro’s DESIGN program (“Doing Church as a Team”); or

3. John Powers’ BodyLife Journey plan (“BodyLife”).

These strategies are built on the assumption that God works through our life experiences, desires, spiritual gifts, personalities, and abilities to prepare us to do ministry. Members who see how God has prepared them work with church leaders to find their place.

4. Recruit for Ministry Face-to-Face

We asked laypersons in our study why they got involved in their church’s ministry. Answers we heard repeatedly:

* “A minister spoke to me and challenged me to get active.”

* “The Minister of Education sat me down and talked to me.”

* “Two guys approached me and asked me [to serve].”

Effective leaders don’t on bulletin board sign-ups, worship folder tear-offs or pulpit announcements. A personal challenge and invitation usually makes the difference. It makes sense that this method, a method that Jesus modeled, will be successful.

5. Offer Entry-level Positions

Not everyone is prepared to be a teacher, deacon or elder, particularly new believers. New members who transfer from another church need time to know members before taking a visible leadership role. However, both groups can handle “entry level” positions that allow them to get involved.

This can include parking lot greeters, refreshment committees, class custodians, choir, and other positions that don’t demand significant training. The goal is to help everyone get involved so new members feel needed and wanted. These positions help evaluate potential leaders, too. Someone unwilling to serve in a low-skill position probably won’t make a good servant leader later.

6. Recognize and Affirm Workers

Think about workers who have served faithfully year after year or decade after decade. Most often, we take them for granted. Assuming they will serve, we neither recognize nor affirm them. Most of these workers don’t want any recognition, which is what makes them valuable. Still, their reticence does not let us off the hook. We honor God by affirming His work in the lives of those who give their best.

One way to recognize workers is to sponsor an annual volunteers’ banquet. Publicize it, cater it and make it special. Not only will current workers be grateful, potential workers will see that their church will appreciate their service.

7. Don’t Give Up

In 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, Paul taught that God puts His church together as He wishes, giving spiritual gifts so the church functions properly. If God takes responsibility for this task, how can we not believe that He will provide we need?

Our task is to help members find their role, challenge them to serve, equip them, and hold them accountable. This work is not easy. Sometimes it is tempting to give up and overwork the willing. Instead of taking that wrong step, return to principle’No. 1’and restart the process.

Chuck Lawless, Ph.D., is Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth and Dean of the Billy Graham School at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of four books, including his latest, “Membership Matters: Insights from Effective Churches on New Member Classes and Assimilation,” and “Discipled Warriors: Growing Healthy Churches Equipped for Spiritual Warfare.” Dr. Lawless also consults with churches on church health and growth and is an instructor with Church Central’s Church Consultant Training.

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.’

This article ‘Moving New Members into Ministry’ written by Chuck Lawless, was excerpted from: web site. May 2006. It may be used for study & research purposes only.