WELCOMING IN NEW MEMBERS
M. G. RICKARD
We sat in a comfortable room, the five of us ministers on our church staff. It was a relaxed discussion, but all of us were very alert and interested. The subject was, “How can we do a better job of bringing new members into the mainstream of our church!”
To gain membership was easy. People either transferred in as immersed believers from some other church or they automatically became members following their conversion and baptism.
We believe in local church membership. Unless people say in some manner, “We’re with you in the essentials of faith, and we want to help you reach our area for Christ,” we can’t really ask them to take responsibility. We often encourage believers who have no local church fellowship where they are active for Christ to join our fellowship and to serve with all their hearts. It is also scriptural to add to the church day by day those that are being saved. But then what? How will the new ones learn what we expect of them in our fellowship! How will we determine who is mature enough to assume personal responsibility!
Our “old way” was to prepare New Member packets with various tracts, by-laws, materials, and schedules inside and ask deacons and elders to deliver them. Unfortunately, this was never a glowing success. Many packets never got delivered as planned. Some were merely handed over at church with a “Let’s get together one of these days.” I am afraid that some of those packets slid around in the trunks of cars until they fell apart!
Then we tried another plan. We invited new members over a certain period of time to come to a specific evening service. They were invited to the front where we introduced each one and then handed them their packet plus a new Bible. After church we had a time of refreshments during which the kids grabbed all the cookies and the rest of us met new members.
Our discussion had reviewed all of this, with a few laughs. Finally I asked, “Well, just what is it that we really want to do!” Someone said, “They need to know what they believe. We have to ground them in the Word on the basic doctrines.” Another said, “But not all of them need that. Some could probably teach it. After all, one in four comes to us already a Christian, and some of them are mature believers. Some have been teachers, deacons, and even ministers.” The discussion continued. “Wait a minute, I think they need to be warmly welcomed and made to feel loved and wanted, first of all. Why does it have to be so heavy and serious!” “Why not a special class at a convenient hour just for new members?” “I’ll bet some others would want to take it who have been with us less than a year.” “What subjects will we cover!”
“Who will teach it!” I said, “I think it ought to be led by one of us.” Sudden silence as we all looked each other over. Everyone was already teaching at least one class except Tom Moore and me. I was preaching four times each Sunday, three times in the morning and once at 7:00 p.m.
All eyes fastened on Tom. “Why don’t Isabel and I take on the new members’ class!” he offered, as we all broke up in laughter. Then Tom offered a new thought. “Why not run a continuous class which never ends. Just graduate out each week those who have completed the six subjects and bring in the adult new
members who are brand new!” Someone said, “Great idea! That way we can invite people who were baptized the Sunday before and transfers who just came into membership.”
Eventually, six subjects were defined. Different staff people and lay people would cover the various subjects. Tom and Isabel would be host and hostess and always be there. Introductions, name tags, coffee, “graduation,” and developing a congenial, relaxed atmosphere would be their responsibility. A
secretary would have added to her job description the task of personally inviting, almost insisting, the new members to the class. A letter would follow, with time, place, and a further word of warm welcome.
The first six subjects were as follows:
Adult Ministries/Women’s Ministries
Eventually the number of sessions was extended to nine weeks, as at present, adding these subjects:
These classes were for the purpose of acquainting our new members with out church methods or philosophy on the various subjects. We discovered that we had developed a definite point of view on youth work. For example, we build our whole youth ministry on the Word of God and discipleship and have strong convictions about the use of rock music or gimmickry to get a crowd. And music. We want servants who sing, not soloists who want to be seen and heard.
Church government, the faith promise approach to missions, our no pressure method of trusting God to supply our financial needs-all of these topics needed to be understood by our new members. We believe that this plan for the process of assimilating new members from diverse backgrounds has contributed greatly to unity of purpose in our total membership.
A secondary purpose was almost a byproduct of the major purpose, and that was to provide a means of drawing the mature, newer members into an effective place of service.
New members need to feel like they are a part of the church. We could think of no better way to accomplish this than such a class. We assumed that each one desired to know as much as possible about the church. But, even more, they needed to know others. Thus the weekly activity of introducing the newest members of the class and those graduating out became of great value. In addition we introduced each person weekly. As a new member heard the name of each person up to nine times, (in his nine weeks in the class) he grew to know them. He was no longer a stranger. As he went to services, he could see several whose names he knew and who could greet him by name.
Each week we assured the roomful of comfortable people that we wanted to help them grow to Christian maturity, but they had to supply the commitment. Nearly all of them responded with enthusiasm. They could sense and see that we loved them and cared. In a warm setting, even those who might have remained on the fringes were drawn along farther than they had originally intended. Such a new members class is essential for building new people into the church.
PRINCIPLES TO PONDER:
1. New members need to be added to the fellowship of a local church in some definite way.
2. Many new members will respond eagerly to leaders who plan for their growth.
BUILDING UP NEW MEMBERS
Rain dripped steadily. Inside, the room was warm and the coffee was fragrant and hot. The subject was once again new members.
“We need more than a six-week class. Some of them know the Lord, but they don’t know much more than that! They need some basic knowledge of the Word.”
“Are they continuing on in a Sunday school class!” “Most are. We encourage them to continue to come at the hour of our new members class but to find an adult class. We give them a schedule.”
“Our statistics keep going up. Attendance in the adult department is keeping pace. Why don’t we offer another six week class on `Basics in Christian Doctrine,’ and encourage all new Christians to take it, following their graduation from new members!”
I asked, “What subjects!” He had thought it out. “How to share your faith. Assurance of salvation. The ministry of the Holy Spirit.” He named some other subjects.
“Great! But I don’t like that class title. `Basics in Doctrine’ sounds too heavy, even though it really isn’t. Why not call it . . . ” He tapered off, unsure of a better title. Another picked up on it, “How about `Basics in Christian Living’!” We all yelled, “That’s it!”
The subjects of that original class were as follows:
Assurance of Salvation
Forgiveness of Sin
The Spirit-Filled Life
Uniqueness of the Bible
Overview of the Old Testament
Overview of the New Testament
Two more ideas emerged which proved to be of great value in assimilating new members.
Tom Moore brought up both of them, again assisted by remarks, humor, and eventually definite plans from the others of us. “The new members need to meet you and Joyce,” he said, in response to my lament that we felt we had no good means of meeting them. “Why don’t you invite them to your home in groups of whatever your living room will hold?” He said, “We’ll hold that out as an inducement to complete all six sessions. Let’s call it something like “Dessert with the Pastor.” Further refinements included the same kinds of pies each time, purchased at the expense of the church and brought to our house by the Moores, who always helped us host the event. My wife prepared the coffee and punch, assisted by my secretary. Incidentally, we discovered that people preferred cream pies to fruit pies and that they didn’t drink much coffee in hot weather!
The “Desserts with the Pastor” occurred about every four weeks, sometimes more often, usually on Thursday evenings. My wife maintains a rather orderly home at all times, a home furnished in antiques. She has never let entertaining become a difficult ordeal. We would rather call it “hospitality.” Many an
evening we were finishing the dinner dishes and moving chairs as the guests began to arrive! Paper plates and cups simplified things.
Tom Moore, acquainted with the new members through the new members class, welcomed the people, each one wearing a name tag. Then he introduced me. I carried a stool or small chair to a strategic place where I could see everyone and began the evening.
“We’re glad to welcome you to our home and are honored that you took the time to come. And we’re thrilled to have you in our church family. Let’s just take a few minutes to meet each one. Could I start with you, Mr. and Mrs. Spangler! Have you been Christians long! When did it happen!” I would ask, “Tell me about your family” or, “What is your occupation?” “How did you find Los Gatos Christian Church ?”
By the time we heard from thirty to forty people, it was a good time to break for dessert, then we reassembled. Seated again, Tom said, “Now it’s your turn. Ask our pastor whatever you want to know about his family, his background, the church, how to refinish antiques or whatever you want to ask. Now who has the first question?”
It was usually, “How did you and Joyce meet!” Or it might be, “Where did you go to school!” or, “How often do you have these desserts?” Then the questions would began to fly. Keeping track of the time, I always led to a close, often joining our hands for prayer, by 9:30 or 9:45 p.m. Usually some lingered on to help us clean up and to ask questions which they hadn’t wanted to voice in front of the whole group.
The second idea has also proved to be worth continuing. A new member dinner is held about six times a year to which the most recent new members are invited. We try to confirm each reservation so that the right number of tables is set up, although there is no cost to those attending. Usually the menu is a roast beef dinner, complete with dessert, prepared by one of our kitchen teams.
A new members dinner committee hosts the event, sitting with the guests, along with staff and elders. After dinner, we clear the tables and have each member introduce himself and those with him or her and tell where they work.
Our slide show contains the history of our church, an introduction of all staff by pictures, and then includes a little idea of our future vision, dreams, and plans. The new members always applaud this interesting portion. As pastor, I talk to them informally and extemporaneously for a few minutes at the end, challenging them to grow in commitment, knowledge, service, and stewardship. Usually, I tell the story of the “Miracle of Financing,” chapter 10 of this book.
We in leadership feel that our efforts to draw new members in and our challenge to them to move ahead in their walk with the Lord is worth every effort.
PRINCIPLES TO PONDER:
1. A church that isn’t taking in new members is dying.
2. To ignore new members is a sin.