The Importance of First Contact with New Members

The Importance of First Contact with New Members
Erwin McManus, Ken Fong, and Cheryl Sanders

How do you connect first-time guests to the church body? Plug Them in, Quick!

The number one indicator that a new member will be here a year from now is if we get them serving somewhere, so first contact is critical. A lot of times trying to assimilate guests is like fishing in the rapids. They’re rushing in and out. We create shallower pools, places where people slow down so we can talk to them. We have art galleries, for example, where worship guests can stop and talk with the artist. Our members are trained to include first-timers and guests in their ministry.

We create service opportunities for people who aren’t even seekers yet. Our next monthly “Quest Experience” includes a special musical piece where it’s appropriate for an unbeliever to play with the band. And we welcome artists and designers who are friends of our regular attendees.

We include seekers as greeters in the coffee area or on the medical mission team to Mexico any way we can get people involved. We sometimes forget that people without Christ are often looking for places to serve, too.

Create a Mingling Place.

In 23 years, we’ve never really had a consistent way to manage our stream of visitors until now. Our church had not provided an inviting environment for people to linger after services. So I insisted our new ministry center have a section like Borders to grab a cappuccino and peruse the books, or sink into comfortable chairs and have good conversation. Caf Evergreen has become our hospitality hub.

We offer coffees, Hawaiian shaved ice, and Taiwanese milk tea with tapioca balls on the bottom (“boba naicha”), which is hugely popular here. We have teak tables with umbrellas on the patio and benches throughout the plaza.

Soon we will add computer terminals to access our Web site, print the newsletter, register for groups, or ask for help. One Sunday each month, board members and I are there especially to meet with folks looking for a new home church. They receive a letter about this opportunity, and I use my mini-digital camera on my PDA to add their photos to my address book. People love that I learn who they are! Kingdom hospitality is a core value. We’re making progress toward turning strangers into friends.

Make the Tried and True Work.

In five years as senior pastor, I’ve struggled with connecting guests to the body of Christ. Our church welcomes visitors in a manner familiar to most black churches: We ask them to turn in a visitor’s card, and then during the worship service, we have them stand to be introduced. One of our greeters hands each visitor a brochure and a pen as a small token of their visit. Within a few days we mail a welcome letter. Sometimes I write in a brief personal note. We do not often do in-home visits, but mostly communicate with prospective members by telephone.

Our church does not have a consistent approach to receiving new members. We ask visitors to speak with a pastor if they desire membership. We invite them to a new members class. For new converts, we offer baptism by immersion.

We need to diversify our worship so more of our guests will feel included, and we need a better system for enabling new members to get connected via a small group setting. One of my goals this year is to commission a board of deacons who will assist the pastors in welcoming and nurturing new people.

This article The Importance of First Contact with New Members by Erwin McManus, Ken Fong and Cheryl Sanders was excerpted from: Christianity Today Journal. web site. January 2010. 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.’