Blessing of belonging
By Gene Burgess
Ive been concerned about new people who come into the church and fall through the cracks. Like most churches, weve spent heavily on such things as centrally located, functional facilities, advertising, and staff. Yet about the time we thought new people were putting down roots, some have left.
To help stabilize newcomers, we developed a 3-week class, Blessing of Belonging. Newcomers who show interest in the church are invited by a personal letter and phone call from me to attend the class. They understand that the class will answer any questions they have about the church, and there is no pressure or obligation to join.
This class for prospective new members is held on 3 consecutive Sundays during the regular Sunday school hour. An attractive syllabus is prepared. Topics include privileges and responsibilities of church members (what the church should do for you and what you should do for the church), church constitution and bylaws (including 16 fundamental truths), the annual financial report and projected budget for the year, and history of First Assembly. We also discuss short-term and long-term goals and seek to involve newcomers in our future. Board members actively participate in this class and get acquainted with the newcomers.
Finally, we urge those who have not been baptized in water to do so on the Sunday night prior to Church Membership Day. At this time we also ask each person to complete a family record, which gives dates when each family member was saved, filled with the Spirit, and baptized in water. On the reverse side of the form various ministries are listed. Each new member is encouraged to select a ministry to know more about and possibly participate in.
In one class session we had several questions on doctrine. Interest was so great we now have a 16-week study of This I Believe* by Charles T. Crabtree. These classes have been a time of getting acquainted and developing friendships, as well as increasing our Bible knowledge.
The idea of premembership classes was not received enthusiastically by some who bad attended the church for years without joining and felt the classes were unnecessary. They were allowed to join without attending the classes. We didnt make it a big issue; however, as the church saw that the classes were fun, instructive, and produced stable members, the idea was well received.
At First Assembly of God in Jackson, Mississippi, we only received members quarterly. This meant instead of two to four joining per month, we had about 15 quarterly. One Sunday, I asked each new member two questions: "Why did you first come to our church?" and "Why did you decide to stay?" Their testimonies made the congregation realize that people are drawn to the church through their love and friendship. The testimonies were so stirring that some of the congregation spontaneously came to the altar. After receiving the new people on Sunday morning a reception was held in their honor that evening after service.
Our church board is also involved in stabilizing new people. Each of the 10 board members is assigned about 20 families. When their people are absent, board members phone them and offer encouragement. During board meetings members share their flocks needs.
All this didnt happen overnight. Some segments of rooting new people took over 2 years to implement. The Lord is helping us. In the past 2 years 100 new members have discovered the blessing of belonging.
Your church does not have to be large to implement some of these ideas. None costs money. Once you institute these preparatory classes you will wonder why you didnt do it years before. When you have thought and prayed this program through, share it with your church board. They will be excited to see how they fit into the plans by helping in the classes and stabilizing newcomers.
*This I Believe by Charles T. Crabtree is available from the Gospel Publishing House (order #02-0758, $3.95).