Wed. Apr 14th, 2021

WINNING AND RETAINING CONVERTS
BY DAVID K. BERNARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR

Every church wants to win new converts and retain them. But what is the best way to do so? One article cannot do justice to this vast subject; however, we can glean insights by analyzing past results.

My wife and I started a new church in Austin, Texas, in 1992. From the beginning, I noted information about our converts in the hope that we could discover factors that are effective in winning and retaking converts. This article shares what we have learned in our own situation.

Of course, each church, city, and area of the country is different, so not everything may be applicable or relevant to other churches, at least not to the same degree. Nevertheless, I hope that this information will provide fresh insight and encourage you to analyze your own field of labor.

For church growth to take place, we must be successful in three phases: (1) We must attract visitors. (2) We must convert a significant percentage of visitors through repentance, water baptism, and especially the baptism of the Holy Ghost. (3) We must retain a significant percentage of converts through discipleship. It is instructive to analyze how effective we are in each area then we can seek means of proving our weaknesses.

I have based the following statistical observations on the total number of people who have received the Holy Ghost in our church over seven years, from 1992 to 1999. I included backsliders from other places who were renewed in the Spirit at our church, but I excluded converts in our jail ministry.

Attracting Visitors

Here are the methods that we A have employed in attracting visitors who ultimately received the Holy Ghost, along with the percentage of total converts attributable to each method:

1. Church Sign……………………………………………………………………..2%
2. Internet……………………………………………………………………………1%
3. Newspaper, radio ads ……………………………………………………….1%
4. Yellow Pages…………………………………………………………………….8%
5. Canvassing, etc………………………………………………………………….1%
6. Nursing home ministry………………………………………………………1%
7. Referrals (UPCI churches)………………………………………………….9%
8. Family…………………………………………………………………………….43%
9. Friends……………………………………………………………………………34%

The first four methods represent various forms of advertising. Individually, they are small, but together they add up to a significant 12 percent. They also serve a less tangible function of giving name recognition and credibility so that when people are contacted by another method, they are more receptive. Another form of advertising that we have used is direct mail. While we have not yet traced any
convert specifically to mailouts, they have attracted visitors, and they are helpful in raising visibility. In addition to reaching prospective converts, our Yellow Pages advertisement has also been quite effective in reaching move-ins who already have the Holy Ghost.

Methods 5 and 6 represent cold contacts, including door knocking, passing out tracts, and street meetings. These methods, along with advertising, helped us to get started, but since other methods quickly became more productive, we focused mostly on them. Perhaps if we had canvassed more, we would have more results from this method, but even so, it seems clear that it is not as effective as others. We still plan to knock more doors near our church to increase visibility.

The last three methods–using preexisting personal relationships –are responsible for the vast majority of our converts 86 percent! A referral means that another United Pentecostal pastor or member recommended that someone visit our church or asked us to contact someone. The number of converts from referrals 9 percent–represents one of the benefits of belonging to a nationwide organization with
years of ministry, geographical breadth, and name recognition. Of course, referrals from other United Pentecostal churches have also helped us receive move-ins who already have the Holy Ghost.

We have tried to maintain a balanced, diversified approach that would appeal to people of various ages and backgrounds. We had to establish a base first, but once we did, we were able to increase our
growth by consciously targeting different groups. For instance, since I am white and the majority of our city is white, it is not surprising that most of our converts have been white. At every opportunity, however, we have tried to reach other ethnic groups and make them feel welcome. We conduct services in Spanish and Korean, and provide interpretation for the deaf As a result, our congregation now includes people from 15 nations on 5 continents.

As another example, in the first four years we had relatively few young married couples. After we built our own building, we finally had enough space to begin a Sunday school class for young marrieds, and we targeted this group. Today it is the largest group in our church.

Here is a breakdown of our converts by ethnicity and age:

Asian……………………………5%
Black……………………………6%
Hispanic……………………..24%
White Non-Hispanic…….65%

Children (under 12) ……………….12%
Youth (12-17)…………………………19%
Young singles (18-39) ……………20%
Young marrieds (18-39) …………29%
Midlife (40-65)………………………55%
Seniors (over 65) …………………….5%

George Barna, a nationally known religious pollster and statistical researcher, recently concluded that most people convert to Christianity as children. He therefore recommended that churches gear most evangelism to children, while focusing other activities such as youth programs on retention instead of evangelism. Obviously, he interpreted his finding as indicative of human nature. Our experience, however, indicates that he simply discovered a weakness in denominational churches. Perhaps they could be more effective in reaching teens and adults if they tried a different approach (or had a more biblical message and experience!).

This example illustrates that statistics do not tell the whole story. They must be interpreted. They may reveal areas of greater and lesser productivity, thereby indicating how we should allocate our efforts and resources. Or they may reveal areas of weakness, thereby indicating where we should try harder. In most cases, the proper approach is probably to shift more resources to areas of proven productivity, while also experimenting with new approaches in areas of weakness.

The main lessons I have drawn are these: (1) We should employ a variety of methods to contact people. Even less productive methods add up! (2) Belonging to an organization provides tangible benefits. (3) By
far the most effective methods of evangelism are those that rely on personal relationships. The key is to inspire, equip, and mobilize each member for personal evangelism among family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. (4) We can grow in several areas if we will target various groups through focused prayer, attention, and planning. (5) In short, we should emphasize our strengths but diversify our methods.

Receiving the Spirit

Here is how our converts have received the Holy Ghost:

1. Rally, camp, conference……….16%
2. Home, car, work…………………..7%
3. Revival, special speaker……….33%
4. Regular church service………..44%

With the first category, we see another significant benefit of belonging to a fellowship that sponsors camp meetings, youth camps, youth rallies, men’s conferences, women’s conferences, and so on. Our
converts have received the Holy Ghost at each of these kinds of meetings. Especially when our church was new and small, such meetings were a significant means of winning converts, and they still remain
important to us–both for winning and retaining converts.

The second category stems primarily from an emphasis on personal evangelism. When lay members witness and teach Bible studies in homes and offices, some people will receive the Holy Ghost in these settings. An emphasis on faith will also encourage repentant seekers to receive the Holy Ghost anywhere, anytime. One of our converts was filled with the Spirit in a van as she rode home from a women’s conference. Another received the Holy Ghost as she knelt at a small sofa in the ladies’ restroom at work!

Revival services and other services that feature special speakers provide important opportunities for people to receive the Holy Ghost. Although these services can be expensive, especially for a small
church, the investment is necessary and worthwhile. Special services attract visitors, encourage members to invite family and friends, create expectancy, inject fresh zeal, provide new insight, and inspire faith. At key times in the life of our church, an evangelist has helped us to achieve a spiritual breakthrough or to move into a higher dimension.

Ultimately, the most effective way to turn visitors into converts is for a revival spirit to permeate the regular services of the church. Over time–and it can seem like a long time–a church can develop such
an atmosphere through persistent prayer, heartfelt worship, positive faith preaching, sound doctrinal teaching, love for people, and sensitivity to the move of the Spirit. When people have confidence that
every service will be visitor-friendly, positive, uplifting, and spiritual, they will invite people to come, and many who come will receive. As our church has matured, the greatest number of converts have received the Holy Ghost in our regular services.

Retaining Converts

Retaining converts is a challenge, especially in our transient, unstable, uncommitted society. Converts not only have to learn biblical principles in order to become established, but many have to learn basic
life skills and principles of faithfulness and diligence in all aspects of life. Informal conversations with fellow pastors reveal that it is common to retain only 10 to 20 percent of converts. According to Jesus’
parable of the sower, even in the best of circumstances a significant number of converts will not persevere to the point of fruitfulness.

Of the total who have received the Holy Ghost in our church, about 25 percent are not prospects for long-term membership: They visited from out of town, visited from neighboring United Pentecostal
or other Apostolic churches, soon moved out of town, or in a few cases, soon died. The following discussion and statistics relate to the remaining 75 percent.

We seek to integrate converts as soon as possible by connecting them to our church in three ways: (1) Age groups: Sunday school classes, youth, singles, young families, “progressives” (age 40 and over), seniors. (2) Geographical groups: care groups that contact people regularly and minister to individual needs. (3) Interest groups: men’s fellowship, ladies fellowship, departments, ministries. Even though new converts are typically not qualified for some ministries, we try to find areas in which they can be involved, such as helping with dinners, yard work, paperwork, etc. Our goal is for everyone who regularly attends our church to be involved in some activity or ministry.

If converts, or even visitors who attend regularly, become connected in these three ways, they will quickly make three sets of friends in the church. They will have to alter their lifestyle to accommodate their new activities, and they will lessen their ties with worldly friends. At this point, it becomes difficult for them to drop out of church.

We give each new convert or move-in an orientation packet that contains a directory of members and information about our departments, activities, and staff. Once a month, at the same time as midweek Bible study, we conduct an orientation class for all converts and move-ins. It covers our mission, fundamental doctrine, history, present operations, and vision for the future. We encourage all converts to enroll in a home Bible study if they have not already done so. They can take one by video if necessary. Finally, we urge them to enroll in our discipleship class–a small group where they learn basic doctrine and principles for Christian living, with plenty of time for discussion and questions.

In the short-term (one year or less) we retain 75 to 80 percent of our converts by these methods. Over the long term (two or more years) we retain 50 to 60 percent. Overall, our retention rate for seven years stands at 60 percent. (That is 60 percent of the 75 percent active prospects, or 45 percent of the grand total who have received the Holy Ghost in our church.)

We have discovered another important statistic, however: If converts will commit themselves to three specific involvements–(1) Sunday school, (2) midweek Bible study, and (3) discipleship class–the
retention rate rises to about 90 percent! Based on this track record, we assure them that if they will be faithful in these three areas (in addition to Sunday worship services), then they will be able to preserve their new experience with God and sustain their new spiritual life.

THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY THE FORWARD, SPRING 2000, PAGES 2-4.

THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.

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