Fri. Mar 5th, 2021

NEW CONVERT CARE: SEVEN PROVEN STRATEGIES
S. G. BRADEN

STRATEGY I: VISIT YOUR NEW CONVERTS

Some experienced pastors, lay leaders, and observers of congregational life recommend that if a church is to be intentional about outreach and growth, an active, vibrant visitation program is essential. Furthermore, it is argued that people today are more open to visits from church members than they have been in some decades. One recent study surveyed the subjects of an aggressive confrontational visitation program. Only 6 percent of these people reported negative reactions to the visits they received!

This is not to suggest or recommend aggressive, confrontational visits. We believe that people have deeper, more meaningful experiences when relationships are nurtured so that trust and mutual concern become part of the foundation on which faith grows. Nevertheless, the study does tell us that people may be more receptive to discussions about faith than we have thought. At the very least, people have positive reactions to the interest shown in them.

When people take the first step toward the church by attending worship or other activities, or when they have expressed interest in becoming a part of the congregation, they are very likely to welcome a visit from a church representative. Although the pastor is a very important person to newcomers, a person with whom they hope to have a personal relationship, not all visits made to newcomers should be made by the pastor. On some level almost everyone wonders if the pastor or staff person is visiting because he/she is interested or because that person’s job description says he/she must visit. A visit by a lay person offers the newcomer the opportunity to know some of the others sitting with them in the pews, and it says to them that the lay people are so excited about the congregation that they want to share their enthusiasm with others. This is a powerful realization to the newcomer.

A well-designed and executed visitation program provides the following opportunities:

* To learn more about the newcomers, their personal history, faith, hopes and hurts.

* To share what is happening in the church’s life and ministry.

* To provide spiritual nurture and challenge for those being called upon and for the callers.

* To help newcomers know some members.

Effective visitation programs require a lot of management. Often we are tempted to just do the work ourselves.

We should resist the temptation. To recruit, train, and encourage participants in ongoing visitation program is to help them grow spiritually, to grow in ability, to love God, and neighbor.

Visitation programs should be designed according to a congregation’s style and the needs of those to whom the congregation is reaching out. Resources listed at the end of this section describe various models and styles. A congregation would be wise to look at several resources and then to design a system that fit its concerns.

Several areas do need consideration in any program:

Recruitment/Visitors

1. Recruit, in person, people who have a genuine concern for others and a love for the church, as well as ability and willingness to talk about faith concerns. Help people determine whether or not they are called to this ministry.

2. Have visitors make a commitment to visit at specific times; for example, every Tuesday or every fourth Sunday, etc. Release them from any other church responsibilities that hamper their energy for this work. Nothing they do will be more important to their neighbors, themselves, or the congregation.

Others Needed

Most congregations have several members who understand the need for a visitation program but who are unable (housebound, poor health, etc.) to make personal visits or who are uncomfortable doing so. These people are often eager to support the program by managing the card system and follow-up needs, by providing food or by praying for those involved in the program. Such people play an essential role in the success of any visitation program and should be recognized and thanked for their contributions.

Training

An absolutely essential ingredient in an effective program is education. It need not be long or elaborate. People learn much more visiting than they do in a training session; but regular opportunities to increase skills and to clarify their own faith experiences encourages people and helps them grow spiritually. Many churches with effective visitation report that they provide short training periods for people almost every time they visit. All the resources listed at the end of this section include material to be used for training visitors. Topics to consider:

* Bible study-especially stories of the interactions between people
* Listening skills
* Faith-sharing skills
* Information on ways the church can support those they visit

Those people managing the information cards also need specific detailed instructions, although recurring training may not be necessary.

Pastors/Staff

The congregation’s pastor and staff must demonstrate their commitment to this important ministry by being visible visitors themselves. Certainly, they should not do all the visiting, but they must not delegate all the visiting, no matter how well trained or dedicated the laity. Ken Callahan, in Twelve Keys to an Effective Church (Harper & Row), suggests that a pastor visit one hour per week for each minute of preaching!

Many congregations with effective visitation programs are organized for making at least two types of visits with newcomers: 1) a friendly, “We’re glad you are here and we’d like to know you better” visit, and 2) an intentional faith-sharing and invitation or “spiritual formation” visit. Visiting Two-by-Two (Discipleship Resources) calls these types of visits “Good Neighbor” visits and “Good News” visits.

Some churches find that several friendly visits (Good Neighbor visit) which deepen friendships and trust are required before most people are truly receptive to an invitation to make new faith or church commitments (Good News visit, Spiritual Formation visit). While the content and intensity of these two kinds of visits may differ, organizational structures can be shared. The following outline is recommended by many growing congregations.

Visitation Program Outline

* Lay volunteers or staff prepare cards with the names and addresses of those to be called upon. Pertinent information such as ages, children, interests, and friends in the congregation should be included. Appointments, if deemed necessary, should be made and noted on the cards.

* At designated time, pastor/staff meet lay visitors, preferably at the church.

* If appropriate, a simple snack meal is waiting.

* A brief (twenty minutes) training session is worked through-perhaps as people eat.

* Cards, prepared with names and pertinent information about those to be visited, are distributed. Two or three cards go to each team making first-time, friendly visits and probably only one card does to teams making “spiritual formation” calls. It is best if the “spiritual formation” calls have been pre-arranged with the newcomer and a time agreed upon. Thoughts differ on whether or not to call ahead to schedule a friendly visit. Certainly, teams run the risk of finding no one home or the time inconvenient if they arrive without an appointment. But many people report that newcomers are reluctant to agree to a visit and will put them off repeatedly. Nine times out of ten the newcomer will be appreciative of an unannounced call and quite receptive-especially if the visitors are careful to keep the call short and friendly.

* A time of prayer, silent as well as audible, is shared. Every effort is made to avoid allowing this prayer time to become perfunctory or rushed.

* Teams leave to make their calls. Detailed guidelines for the visits are given in the resources listed at the end of this section. Visiting Two-by-Two and Visitation Evangelism: A Relational Ministry (both available from Discipleship Resources) are especially helpful.

* If travel time allows, teams return to the church to share their experiences and to make suggestions for possible follow-up with those visited. The visiting teams agree upon standards of confidentiality which must be strictly followed. This time for reporting can be vitally important to the whole program and should be required if at all possible. In fact, it would be better to ask each team to make one less call than to forego the report. If someone has come upon a puzzling situation or reaction, he/she can ask for suggestions about how to react in similar situations in the future. Even so, almost everyone will have some positive experience to share that will encourage and spiritually energize the other visitors.

* Volunteers or staff update church records, noting the date of the call, visitors who made the call, and any pertinent information learned.

Spiritual Formation Calls

Many people today are suggesting that one of the best ways of training laity to make spiritual direction calls is to have two lay persons join the pastor or an experienced lay person for these calls. The lay people are prepared to take the lead in parts of the visit, but in general they watch and learn as the pastor lovingly asks a version of John Wesley’s question: “How are things with you and God!” After several months, when the lay people feel comfortable and confident with the question and responses, they each take two new lay people with them to train as they were trained.

Rarely can a team make more than two of these calls in one evening or afternoon. In fact, some teams report that their involvement level is so high that only one visit per day is feasible. These calls should not surprise the newcomer. They should be scheduled with the newcomers when there is reason to think they will be receptive and for a time when they will be able to give the call their undivided attention.

The purpose of these visits is to help people clarify their relationship with God. The callers will be skillful listeners. They will be able to explore with those they visit possible next steps for growth. They will not have easy, pat suggestions or blunt judgments, but they will be able to share what helped them grow or resources that have helped others.

Equally significant, they can report to the congregation spiritual needs or interests that can become the topics of sermons, Sunday school classes, or study groups. Whenever, four or six people express an interest in an area, there is an opportunity to begin a short-term study group. See pages 59-61 for guidelines for beginning new groups.

For individual study there are numerous available resources. People making spiritual growth visits will want to be familiar with the Pass-It-On-Books available from Discipleship Resources which present in easy-to-understand language the major facets of the Christian faith and experience. Also, they will want to note the broad range of topics and situations addressed in tracts and leaflets also available from Discipleship Resources. Some of these address a multitude of life situations; others, United Methodist history and traditions; others, creeds and prayers of the church; and still others encourage People to
consider the ministries in their communities to which they are being called. All of these resources arewritten in concise, non-dogmatic language, and many people have found them very helpful.

These resources can be shared with people with the understanding that the visitors will return at an agreed-upon time for further discussion and mutual exploration.

Visiting Two-by-Two provides excellent practical guidelines for making spiritual guidance visits.

Begin a Visitation Program

1. Review resources.

2. Recruit visitors.

3. Recruit people to support the program

-to provide meals;

-to prepare cards on those to be visited;

-to post information gathered by the visitors;

-to pray for those making calls and for those being called upon.

4. Write job descriptions.

5. Provide training, both initial and ongoing.

6. VISIT-VISlT-VISIT.

7. Keep the congregation informed, celebrate the growth, and thank those who participate.

STRATEGY II: CONDUCTING AN EFFECTIVE NEW CONVERTS CLASS

Membership classes traditionally are classes required or expected of new members. Often they are essentially orientation classes attended by people before or immediately after they join the church.

There is some controversy about the question of membership classes and their purposes. Some say that The United Methodist Church should be more specific about our distinctiveness and more demanding in our expectations of loyalty from our members. They mention John Wesley and his insistence that people belong to societies for nurture, accountability, and training. They feel that new members think that little is expected of them; therefore, new members invest little and soon drop out. They insist that new member classes are the place to teach people about the Christian faith in general and specifically about The United Methodist Church and a particular congregation. Once people have been through the course, they can decide whether or not they are ready to commit themselves to Christ and to the congregation.

Others argue that it is important to communicate obligations and congregational expectations, but this should not be the focus of the new member class. This position holds that the purpose of the new member class (which can be attended after joining) is to continue the incorporation process. The purpose of the new member class is to help people develop relationships with other members and find a meaningful service ministry in the congregation.

Still others insist that the new member class should do all of the above: ground people in the faith and practice of Christianity, a denomination, and a congregation-as well as challenge them to deeper personal, spiritual growth while they are making friends and finding their place of service within or through the congregation.

To be sure, new members usually have all of these needs, and each congregation has a process for meeting the needs. The process may not be an effective one; it may even be a version of “Let’s see how long it takes them to guess what’s going on around here.” Your congregation should evaluate your current process for helping new members.

Goals for a Membership Class

* Acknowledge the gospel story and challenge for commitment.

* Discover the distinctiveness of The United Methodist Church.

* Experience the sacraments and the worship style of the congregation.

* Decide what commitments new members are ready to make.

* Listen to the history and practices of your congregation.

* Meet and develop friendships with other members.

* Identify new members’ gifts and find a place of service.

* Accept the promise and challenge of participating in the basic disciplines of the Christian life.

To accomplish all of the above in one series of membership classes would require months of meetings and, at least, six to eight class members. Many people are unwilling to commit themselves to twelve, sixteen, or twenty-four weeks of classes. Many churches do not have enough new members to start new member classes every few weeks, and the new member who must wait months for a class may grow impatient and drop out.

One solution to both problems is to offer as often as feasible a four- to six-week class designed as closely as possible to address the needs of those in the classes.

Components that cannot be scheduled into the four- to six week period, or which need further elaboration, can become the subject matter of another series of classes. Free catalog available from Discipleship Resources, P. 0. Box 189, 1908 Grand Avenue, Nashville, Tennessee 37202.

For small membership churches, these classes might be individual or small group study sessions with the pastor at a time other than Sunday morning. Larger membership churches with a regular flow of new members would do well to consider the possibility that each new member class will become a new class or group within the life of the congregation. People who have spent four to six weeks together can be already far down the road of becoming significant in each other’s lives and may want to continue to explore together the faith, a new place, and new relationships. Each group could then decide the order in which it would address the issues important to newcomers.

Start a Membership Class

Set a congregational policy for new member classes.
Questions to consider include:

1. Will they be required of all new members?

2. Will they fall before or after reception into membership?

3. When will the class meet? Where? For how long? What is the general purpose(s) of the class?

4. Will there be a standard course of study?

5. What study material will be made available?

6. Who will lead?

7. Will members for whom there were no such classes or who did not participate in confirmation classes be allowed (or expected) to attend?

Begin a Class

1. Make a prospect list of newest members, those considering joining, adults who haven’t been through a confirmation class, etc.

2. Talk with the people on the prospect list. Analyze their needs, interests, concerns, and hopes. What components of a new member class will best suit their needs? List. What day and time is best for them? What else, such as child care, needs to be considered?

3. Secure leadership for the class. The leader should be someone with a firm understanding of the issues to be discussed. Many pastors like to lead or closely oversee the class because they are comfortable with the material and because this is a good opportunity to get to know newcomers.

5. Choose resources.

6. Begin!
Resources

To understand the history and practices of the congregation:

1. Have storytellers meet with the class to tell their stories (carefully prepared!).

2. Share a written history.

3. Tour the grounds and buildings, describing the significance of what you see.

4. Talk about typical worship services of the congregation, using printed orders of worship if available.

5. Have congregational leaders meet with the class to describe program and ministry areas.

6. Prepare a brief leaflet on the history of your congregation.

To help newcomers meet and develop friendships with other members:

1. Spend part of every meeting getting to know each other.

2. Plan a purely social time for the class.

3. Design classes that are not only lecture but also opportunities for class members to share their experiences and hopes.

4. Give the class the opportunity to continue as a class.

5. Help newcomers become part of an existing class or groups.

To help newcomers identify, claim, and begin to use their gifts, see:

1. Gifts Discovery Workshop. Leader’s Guide (no. STO46K); My Giftbook (no. STO45K).

2. Persons with Gifts to Share (no. STO2OB).

3. The worksheet in this booklet entitled “Identify, Claim, and Use Gifts.”

To understand and begin to develop spiritual disciplines, see:

1. Workbook of Living Prayer (no. UR323).
2. The Workbook on Spiritual Disciples (no. UR479)

A Meaningful Service of Reception

For most newcomers, joining a congregation is a significant event in their lives. The time in the service when they are formally received into membership is likely to be uncomfortable for most. However, this does not mean that the service of reception should be perfunctory or impersonal. Congregations will want this time to be remembered by newcomers as a special moment in which their faith commitments were acknowledged and celebrated and in which they heard the congregation’s commitment to them verbalized.

People involved in the ministry of incorporating new members can work carefully with their congregation’s pastor and worship committee to develop a service of reception that:

* Introduces newcomers in a personal way to the congregation;

* Shares with the congregation at least one of the reasons the person is joining;

* Indicates briefly what the congregation offers the new member and what the congregation expects from members;

* Provides a ritual in which newcomers and other members reaffirm their vows to God, to the church, and to each other.

Various United Methodist resources, including the United Methodist Book of Hymns, offer guidelines that can be used for the ritual part of the service of reception. Congregations currently not using these rituals will find that their use would enrich their worship experience. Congregations using the rituals may want to personalize them more by giving very direct attention to the new members and their individual reasons for joining.

To be sure, not everyone will want to make a personal statement during the service. After checking with the new member, a pastor or other appropriate person could share with the congregation one of the reasons the person is joining with a statement like: “John is joining us partly because he wants to participate in our ministry with street people.” Or, “Maureen has found friends and support in our widows group and now wants to join us to continue her faith journey.” Or, “Denise says that our sanctuary and worship service help her feel close to God.”

Such short statements, whether made by the newcomers themselves or by church leaders, help the congregation know something about the newcomer and also help the congregation learn what is attracting newcomers. Furthermore, when attention is given to newcomers’ reasons for joining, commitments can be made to help them continue their particular faith journeys.

Likewise, as the congregation voices its commitments to the newcomers, it can gently restate what the congregation expects from the newcomers. For example, a sentence or two about the expectations for prayers or presence or gifts or service could clarify for members and newcomers ways in which they can grow in these areas. This mutual commitment might be symbolized by having new members sign, during the service, the congregation’s membership book.

The reception of new members must never be merely tacked on to the end of the worship service. Congregations which have new members joining often will devise ways to keep this part of their service fresh and invigorating. Other churches which receive new members only a few times a year can consider building their whole service around the reception of the new members.

What could be a more fitting climax to any worship service than a reception of new members that celebrates the commitments we make to God, to the church, and to each other!

STRATEGY III: INVOLVING YOUR NEW CONVERTS IN THE CHURCH

One of the primary ways we grow as disciples of Jesus the Christ is to identify our God-given gifts and to use them.

Vital congregations understand that their purpose centers on helping people hear God’s call to them and on helping them act on God’s call. Clearly this was the pattern of care used by Jesus as he worked with the first disciples. He helped them recognize God’s call; he trained them, sent them out to practice, helped them evaluate what happened, provided more training, and sent them out again. This continues as the purpose of the Body of Christ, the church. All of our people are our responsibility in this area, but often it will be our newest members who will be the most responsive to our efforts. Often a congregation decides to begin a serious effort to help its people identify and use their gifts, it would do well to begin with its newer members. Many growing churches are consciously seeking to involve each member, new or old, in a ministry that fits a person’s gift(s). Note carefully, the emphasis here is on people and their gifts, not on the institutional needs of a congregation.

Several excellent resources are available from Discipleship Resources to help people identify and claim their gifts and callings:

* Gifts Discovery Workshop Leader’s Guide (no. STO46K);

My Giftbook-1 for each participant (no. STO45K).

A two-and-one-half hour workshop to help identify gifts and begin to see them in relationship with some of the needs of the community and world.

A more informal approach is to spend time with new members exploring questions, such as:

* Who are the three or four people you admire most? What have you done well! List ten things you like to do. How many are you doing now?

* When you consider others in your family, neighborhood, country and world, what is your gravest concern? What would you like to see done about your concern?

* What “gift” do you wish you had? Why? What area of ministry interests you most at this time!

As questions such as these are explored in counseling sessions or in small group discussions, many people develop a clearer understanding of their gifts and are encouraged to use and to develop their gifts.

DON’T FORGET Every commitment to help people discover their gifts must be accompanied by a commitment to help them find a place of service in the church or in the larger community.

STRATEGY IV: JOBS, ROLES, LEADERSHIP
Many people report that they felt they “belonged” to a congregation when they were given a job and felt they were needed. Other people drop away from congregations because they have felt pressured to accept responsibilities they either did not want or did not feel competent to undertake. Any committee charged with matching people and jobs will want to be very sensitive to the needs, concerns, and gifts of the people they are considering. The growth in discipleship of their fellow members will be their main concern rather than the filling of the job slots.

Also to be considered is the fact that people sometimes discover that they are, indeed, gifted as they dare to take on a new job or role in or through the congregation. Likewise, many firm friendships have been developed as people worked together toward a common goal.

The Institute for American Church Growth in Pasadena, California has determined that growing churches have sixty jobs or roles for every one hundred members. When a congregation has sixty responsibilities (legitimate jobs-committee member, teacher, choir member, circle leader, Boy Scout leader, etc.) for every 100 members, there will be few inactive members, and newcomers will soon find a place of service.

Effective Use of Gifts and Callings

Review Chapter Two to decide how your congregation accepts newcomers and integrates them into the life of the church. Your congregation will have a unique way of assigning responsibilities as you seek to provide every member with a specific ministry. Thus the person(s) who make these assignments will vary, but an effective use of the gifted persons in your congregation will require:

1. Recruiting people for jobs that match their identified or longed for gifts.

2. A written job description of the job which includes a time line and expected results. They should participate in developing the description, and it should be kept simple.

3. Providing adequate training for every job, never assuming that a person already knows how the job is done. This maxim applies to the most routine of tasks. Even people who have seen the offering collected thousands of times may not know what to do if asked to be collectors. A brief “walk through” may be all that’s required, but those first steps make a difference in the experience of the nervous worker.

4. Building in mutual evaluation times when we call to ask how the job is going and to offer to help if things aren’t going smoothly. These can also be times when people can admit that they made a mistake in accepting the job and that they wish to be relieved of their responsibility. If further training and assistance cannot insure that volunteers will have a positive experience, it may be best to allow (encourage) them to look for another place of service. Far too many people drop out of church because they accept jobs for which they have no gifts or to which they are not being called. They quickly burn out or become embarrassed because the job isn’t being done or is not interesting. Sometimes the only way to be rid of the responsibility is to drop out! Our prayerful desire is to help the newcomer become an important part of the congregation, so honest, mutual evaluation is a vital skill to be cultivated.

5. Thanking people for their contributions. This simple courtesy is overlooked time after time in many congregations. We must not assume that people know we appreciate their efforts. In fact, they will assume we do not appreciate them unless we make it clear we do! One large “appreciation banquet” will not do the trick either. People need to be thanked personally and separately. Often a phone call, a short note, or brief public recognition is enough.

6. Asking, when one task is finished or a rest has been taken, “What do you feel called toward now?”Some congregations have for each job or role a 4″ x 6″ card similar to:
______________________________________________________________________
____________________________
Job/Role

People with compatible gifts:
_____________________________________
_____________________________________
_____________________________________

General job description (to be modified in consultation):

Training to be provided:
______________________________________________________________________
When a job or role has been accepted, the following 4″ x 6” card
is used:
______________________________________________________________________
_________________________
Job/Role

_____________________________
Person responsible

Job Description:

Training to be provided:

Date completed:_______________

Check-ins
_____ _____ _____ _____
Date Date Date Date
Results

Formal “Thank you”: _______________ ______________ _____________
What Who Date
______________________________________________________________________

Leadership

Leadership functions in the church differ from leadership functions in the secular world. The business of the church is to enable the people inside the church as well as those outside the church to love God and neighbor more fully. The question that church leaders ask first is “Where do we see God leading us!” The next questions are: “How can we help each other use our gifts and exercise our callings?” “How can we support and challenge each other?”

Churches that are serious about these questions will be careful to include newcomers in their leadership groups. Newcomers often are more familiar with community needs and concerns than are long-time members whose primary focus is the congregation’s life. Newcomers can help congregations see where God may be leading the congregation, for they may be aware not only of community needs but also freshly tuned to the congregation’s strengths. Their vision isn’t so blurred by years of history and old assumptions.

Some congregations have decided that each of their church committees will have a minimum percentage of newcomers, if at all possible. Others have a policy of calling long-time members with job opportunities only after newcomers have been asked.

How do you include new members in your leadership circles? Many newcomers to our congregations will be receptive to accepting a job or a leadership role in our congregation. Several helpful resources on developing and using people in leadership roles in our congregations are available from Discipleship Resources, 1908 Grand Avenue, Nashville, TN 37202 (615-340-7285):

1. Volunteers: Hope for the Future (no. 8110C). A basic resource designed to help pastors and leaders gain skills in working with the potential of volunteers.

2. How to Mobilize Church Volunteers (no. LDOO4B). This insightful, practical book by Mariene Wilson, an international authority on volunteerism, will help you answer these and other questions about volunteers in the church. Points out common problems, establishes management principles, answers questions, and offers a plan to turn volunteer challenge into a reality.

3. Guidelines for Leadership in the Local Church: 1985-88 (set: no. 163528). This set of thirty booklets provides guidance for those persons responsible for the administration and program of the local church. The booklets in this series are designed to help local church leaders identify their basic responsibilities and relationships, develop a plan for carrying out their work, and locate additional resources in all sizes and types of churches.

STRATEGY V: MULTIPLY SMALL GROUPS

It would be hard to overstate the importance of small groups in the life of all congregations. It must be noted here that single-cell churches are themselves small groups, albeit large small groups. These congregations which value, above all else, everyone knowing everyone resist mightily any attempts to divide their membership into smaller groups. Large groups in larger congregations may do likewise. Nevertheless, when a small membership church or any group grows beyond its capacity to care for newcomers, it must create new groups or cease growing. Small groups often can be a lifeline for people.

It is in small face-to-face, heart-to-heart groupings that we find the courage to talk about how we are experiencing God, or how we long to experience God. Often it is in small groups that we are challenged to take the next steps in our faith journey. Often it is in small groups that we find the love and support that sustains us in hard times.

Indeed, Warren Hartman, Research Director at the General Board of Discipleship, has discovered a definite correlation between the number of adults involved in Sunday school classes and the number of adults who remain active in the life of the church. And the Institute for American Church Growth in Pasadena, California says that congregations need at least seven groups per hundred members.

Almost every congregation would be more effective in recruiting and incorporating new members if its small group life were more dynamic. Church growth research tells us that rarely is it possible for existing small groups to incorporate all newcomers. In fact, small groups tend to become essentially closed to new members. This is not the result of ill well or lack of concern. After a couple of years, small groups or classes usually have developed deep, meaningful relationships. The group will need to spend a great deal of energy maintaining those relationships. There isn’t much time for newcomers.

Furthermore, newcomers usually prefer to be part of new groups which they can shape to suit their needs and interests rather than to try to bend themselves into the mold of a long existing class or group.

Other factors also play a role. When a room is so full that newcomers cannot easily spot a seat, they will hesitate to enter. When a group has developed a very interactive, verbal style, newcomers may hesitate to join out of fear that they will be expected to speak up before they are ready. In short, successful long-term classes or small groups cannot be expected to meet the needs of newcomers. Churches do well to evaluate closely which of their current small groups may be “closed.”

Concern for small group life leads to close working relationships with other committees. Are new Sunday school classes needed? New United Methodist Women’s groups? What about a singles group? Or a new parents group? Or a “meals-on-wheels” group? A tutoring group? Or, a study on current issues group? Don’t be tempted to think that one group will meet everyone’s needs or that every group will last forever. Once the need for a new class or group is uncovered, consider:

Steps in Beginning New Classes

1. Make a prospect list. List all members, especially new members, constituents, and prospects currently not in a group.

2. Talk with these people and analyze their needs, interests, concerns, and hopes. What would they like to do or study? What day and time is best for them? What else, such as child care, needs to be considered?

3. Call people together to discuss possibilities for new classes or groups. Make personal contacts through visits, calls, and letters, and use friendship networks to get people to come to the organizational meeting.

4. Decide what classes or groups are needed and can be supported.
Usually a nucleus of five or six is plenty to get a new group started.

5. Set a time and place for the group(s) to begin meeting,

6. Help the group secure the best leadership available. Be flexible about methods of teaching and about frequency and length of meetings. New classes or groups often have better luck if the first teacher/leader is asked to serve on a temporary basis to help the group through the early stages of development.

7. Help the group choose curriculum.

Remember, not every new group will “make.” Some will disband, but others will last and will be life-giving means of grace in the lives of members.

STRATEGY VII: NEW MEMBER SPONSORS

Large membership churches report that one of their most effective ways of helping new members move into a complicated organization or situation is to find members who are willing to befriend them, introduce them to other members, help them find appropriate classes or groups, and help them find a place in the life and ministry of the congregation.

Each congregation will want to decide what will be accomplished by a new member sponsor program and then work backwards from that decision. One congregation gives the following job description to its members who agree to sponsor new members.

Job Description for New Member Sponsor (Mentor, Friend)

Our hope is that sponsors will befriend newcomers and help them move deeply into the life and ministry of our congregation. This process will take a minimum of three months.It will probably take longer. Our primary concern is that the newcomer’s religious needs and belonging needs be met as fully as possible. Suggested activities include:

* Get acquainted with the newcomer before he/she joins.

* Give a packet describing church activities, group life, outreach ministries, etc.

* Attend worship services together-especially first few weeks.

* Monitor worship/Sunday school attendance; call after two or three consecutive absences.

* Learn interests, previous experiences in the church, hopes for participation.

* Invite for a meal.

* Introduce to other members.

* Help find a Sunday school class.

* Help find a small group-for study and for service (outreach project, choir, UMW, men’s and women’s Bible studies and discussion groups, committee work, etc.).

* Invite (pick up) to special activity (or find someone else to invite him/her).

* Report, appropriately, misunderstandings or disappointments experienced by newcomer.

* Make periodic reports to incorporation committee.

* Evaluate whole process at the end of the formal arrangement.

Some churches with a diverse membership or a large membership may discover they need a committee of people to recruit sponsors. No one knows a broad enough spectrum of the membership. Usually, newer, well incorporated members make the best sponsors. Those recruiting sponsors will want to be especially aware of this group.

Like many other programs in the church, this ministry can be very effective and fruitful if it is carefully monitored, clearly explained to the participants, and if follow-through is consistent.

The number of expected newcomers will determine some organizational issues. If a church expects 20-30 new members a year, one coordinator, who knows the membership very well, may be able to recruit sponsors and monitor the developing relationships between the sponsors and the new members. Churches with more new members may need quarterly or monthly chairpersons.

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