Most churches have new members join. It is the life and future of a congregation. No new members equals no new growth. Healthy churches not only reach new people but they keep and involve them. Most people that join a church do so with excitement and anticipation. A new member wants to be a part of the church and that is why they joined but sometimes we lose people because we do not have a clear plan for involving them.
Chuck Lawless suggests seven ideas to correct this problem.
1. Compare the church’s addition numbers with corresponding attendance. If, for example, a church reports 25 new believers in the last two years with a corresponding attendance increase of only 10, further review is warranted. There may be legitimate causes for the discrepancy (e.g., job transfers, deaths, or church conflict), but one leading cause is poor assimilation of new believers. Most churches would have grown significantly if they had kept at least 50 percent of their new members over the last 5 to 10 years.
2. Review attendance and participation records of specific new believers. In the above scenario, review the records for the 25 new believers. Are they actively attending a small group? Participating in some type of ministry? Accountable to someone for their spiritual growth? If all new members are attending and participating, the cause for the membership/attendance discrepancy may not be related to poor assimilation—at least not of these new believers. However, we have seldom found that to be the case in this scenario.
3. Evaluate the church’s current strategy for keeping new believers. Our studies of growing churches have shown four components of effective assimilation:
* Convictional teaching/preaching.
Stated expectations help the new believer understand up front what God and the church expect; the growing believer is then held accountable to these expectations through participation in a small group.
Ministry involvement—even in an “entry” position—gives the new believer purpose in the church. Involvement begins with a strategy to help believers understand their giftedness and callings.
Healthy relationships help form the “glue” that draws new believers back to church; discipled members then turn around and reach out to others.
Convictional teaching and preaching meet the needs of new believers who long for Christian growth; these same believers then mature and grow under that preaching.
In many cases, though, churches have no intentional strategy in place. Expectations are few, involvement is by accident, relationships are shallow, and the preaching is weak. Where there is no intentional strategy based on these components, it is not surprising that new believers do not remain long!
4. Determine the church’s primary approach to evangelism. Sometimes new members fall away because the presentation of the gospel they hear is incomplete or misfocused. A gospel call that lacks repentance is insufficient, and the result is often new members who fall again into previous sin patterns. A gospel message that speaks only of blessings, without sacrifice and commitment, commonly leads to new believers who depart when those blessings are not immediately realized. A poor presentation of the gospel often reaps what it sows.
5. Review the church’s covenant. If indeed the church has a covenant that is relevant and utilized, does it require members to participate in the church? How and when do new members learn about the covenant? If no covenant exists, how do new believers learn what the church expects from them? And why is it surprising when new members do not live up to expectations about which they have heard nothing?
6. Listen to new believers who no longer attend the church. Interviewing church members is one of the most helpful and productive strategies of church consulting. With the church’s help, locate non-attending new believers and ask them why they no longer attend. Again, the causes may be several (e.g., laziness, church conflict, recurrent sin, “never really fit in,” etc.), but the church must recognize that something is amiss when new believers no longer participate. Interviewing them may be the first step toward drawing them back to the congregation.
7. Interview new believers who have remained in the church. Just as something happens to leads to non-participation, something usually happens to keep new believers in the fold. The new believer may not be prepared to articulate that “something,” but a good consultant can interpret answers as needed. “It’s just a friendly church” may mean, “They connected with me relationally.” “I feel important here,” may mean, “The church has given me some purpose.” “I get answers here” may well reflect the church’s commitment to teaching truth.
Ideally, the church’s new believers will all fit into this camp—remaining in the church and serving God through its ministries.
Keep the Son in Your Eyes,