New Convert Care Involvement
By Carlton L. Coon, Sr.
Email from Mike Martling, Outreach Director in Longwood, Florida (Home Missionary Bill Hobson) we recently had our first Newcomers Dinner. Fifty-one attended. It was awesome! Department heads were mingling with new people and meeting people at a personal level. Because of the great success, we plan to do one each quarter.” Disciple-makers, give this a try whether in Home Missions or a “mature” church. A regular “newcomers social” works to connect people.
After generations of study, physicians still have not come up with a viable reason for the appendix to be a part of the human body. I have survived and even thrived after having my appendix removed. It appears I could take it or leave it – my body simply did not require an appendix to function. Paul used the term “body” to describe the church in at least four epistles. His emphasis included:
* Diversity of parts make up a single body.
* Each diverse part has a distinct function. Each component is needed for the body to be complete.
* The unity of the body even in its diversity of parts.
* No part of the body would treat another part with disdain.
Paul spoke of the foot, hand, ear, eye, nose, head, uncomely parts, and comely parts. Ever noticed -even as he talked about “uncomely parts,” Paul did not mention the appendix? Might it be that every single person in the body of Christ is intended to play some significant and meaningful role? Now think with me a bit who is the appendix of your local church body? Is there someone who could be removed from that local church without impairing a single ministry? (Being present to help gravity keep a chair in place does not count as having a ministry.) For the sake of thought, take it beyond the financial impact of various attendees those whose sole contribution is financial.
Is it just me or do many local church bodies seem to have multiple appendices? Members of the body who seem to fulfill no significant function. Those people who, if surgically removed, would not be missed because no function of the body would be impaired. If so, it is a shame, for it is in contrast to the model of the early church. The truth is that the body of Christ the church has no unnecessary parts. We do need people to fill seats. Home Missionaries usually start with “warm bodies.” Sunday and midweek attendance numbers are important. However, at least as meaningful is the involvement of those who attend. Are people actually serving? Do they have a ministry? At the end of each week, who or what have they impacted in a specific way?
Are the “doers” around your church perpetually over-worked? Does the way we “do” our church services resemble a sporting event, where a few dash madly about doing everything while the majority sit in the bleachers? Is being part of the church a spectator event rather than a participant event? Do I pastor warriors or watchers?
A Pastor’s Wake Up
Was it Jesus’ plan that His church be a collection of the uninvolved? The late Quaker Elton Trueblood wrote, “Perhaps the greatest single weakness of the contemporary Christian Church is that millions of supposed members are not really involved at all and, what is worse, do not think it strange that they are not there is no chance of victory in a military campaign if ninety percent of the soldiers are untrained and uninvolved. Most alleged Christians do not understand that loyalty to Christ means sharing personally in His ministry.” Does Trueblood’s statement resonate with anyone? It hits home with me.
I’ve noted that there are three keys that exist to discipling new people:
* Teach and train them at the level of their understanding.
* Provide fellowship that develops new friendships.
* Involve the new believer in a meaningful way. The late David Gray said, “Use them or lose them!” It still holds true.
The church can be a storage unit in which the gift and potential of human resources become dusty and rusty. Could church be a place where people discover their gifts and passions? What if they then mobilized those resources for God’s work? Think specifically about the people who have been saved in the past five years:
* How many of them are still around?
* How many of the converts are maturing disciples of Jesus’? Three things Jesus said defined His disciples: abiding in God’s Word, showing love one to another, and bearing fruit.
* How many of those saved over the past five years now have a functional role of ministry within the church body?
Just an observation to do with as you will: It is interesting how easy we find a place to put a transferring saint to work, while new additions to the body languish and eventually die.
Let me share my experience:
* One Sunday, I asked myself, How many of the crowd at Truth Tabernacle; those who call this, ‘My church,’ are active in a defined role of ministry? They consistently serve in some capacity and would be missed if they did not serve?”
* The next day, I went through the church directory asking the same question. To my dismay, only 18% of those who called Truth Tabernacle home were consistently engaged in a defined role of service.
* The disappointing answer to my question started a process of stretching me. It involved study about how “body ministry” is supposed to work and a discovery of the many undervalued and under-appreciated gifts referenced in the Bible.The study and discovery resulted in an adjustment in philosophy as to what mattered most. Sunday attendance numbers did not become insignificant, but they became only part of the equation. A crowd of uninvolved spectators does not fulfill the definition of a church.
* Results: it was not a quick change, but in time our level of involvement increased. Eventually 62% of those who called Truth Tabernacle their church had a defined role of ministry.
Why So Many Appendices?
We allow people to be guilty of spiritual embezzlement if they rob the Lord of the use of their talents and abilities. If what I’ve discussed describes your church and piques your interest, it is probably important to think about how we got here. If this is not the way Jesus planned for His church to function, then how did we get to this place?
Again, my own observations:
* We’ve not been taught about every person having a role of ministry. In my upbringing. one gift and calling was validated. It was the call to be a preacher. Those who volunteered to clean the church were not validated and affirmed as accomplishing a significant ministry.
* North American consumerism. People connect to church because of “What’s in it for me.” rather than as a place to become a servant for Christ. Many consume ministry as opposed to supplying ministry. Churches have not been measured by ministry participation but by attendance.
* Challenging people without giving them a path to follow. I had given lip-service to “every man a ministry,” but I did not fully grasp its application. If I say, “Go win souls,” or “Do something for God,” without equipping the person to fulfill that directive, I’ve created festering frustration and demotivated them. Mapping paths to service for new believers is hard work.
* Is it possible I was insecure about empowering saints to make decisions and take actions? Did I (or more often Norma, my oft over-laden wife) have to be the one who went to Office Depot to purchase supplies? What compulsive behavior requires me to have to be the one who gets the mail? Insecurity prompts overt control.
* We did not have a structure to discover people’s abilities. Sitting on pews were men and women with specialized skills who eventually made the church so much more effective. Nor have we had a process by which we could connect people and their gifts to the right place to serve.
* Developing people was much harder than baptizing them. For some years we baptized quite a few but did not really have much growth. When our Discipleship process began to include the expectation of every single person having a functional ministry we moved forward. A professor described one under-achieving student as having a great gift, but being too lazy to unwrap it. Perhaps that described me as a pastor. Were there gifts God had provided to our church that I was too lazy to unwrap and put to use? Creating consistent processes that move people toward involvement is hard work. We tend to like the quick-fix. Activating inactive people and new converts is not a quick-fix.
Perhaps my experience was an oddity. Unfortunately, research says my statistics regarding involvement were actually beyond the norm. A survey by pollster George Barna said that as little as ten percent of Christians actually do the work in the local church. The question is, what are we going to do about it?”
Getting a Head Start on Increasing Involvement
* E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for the lessons we used to draw people into involvement. The name of the series is “Fitly Framed.” The material is not particularly smooth, but it may give you a starting point.
* Develop a statistic for your church’s percentage of involvement.
* Read Don and Katie Fortune’s book: Discover Your God-given Gifts.
* Research how many of those converted five years ago are actively involved in a defined role of ministry.
* Think about the following and answer the questions: How does someone move from being a new convert to being on the church cleaning staff? Where would a newcomer go to learn about it? How might a new convert become part of the choir? How might that same person be developed to eventually be the leader of a praise team? Choir Director? Music Director? What process is there for intentionally developing people toward having a ministry? How would a new convert be equipped to teach Home Bible Studies? To lead a team of teachers? To become a “Staff Evangelist” doing follow-up and teaching Home Bible Studies? If the answer to the questions is a bit unclear, it may indicate a breakdown in having processes to disciple people, discover their gifts and talents, and fully develop their capabilities.
Let’s work together over the next few months to build involvement levels in our churches. Envision the possibilities of every member in your church having a role an active role. Paul reminded us that we are the body of Christ and members in particular; the body of Christ has no non-essential parts. The body of Christ has no appendix!