fusion

Very few church leaders need to be convinced that assimilation is important. And very few church leaders need to be convinced that some upfront mechanism, like a new members’ class, is important. The question I am asked frequently is: “What are the best practices for this upfront orientation or new members’ class?”

I have the advantage of research, input, anecdotal information, and ongoing conversations with church leaders. From these sources, I have derived seven ways to help new members stick. Obviously, my list is not exhaustive, but I do think it represents some of the best practices I see in churches today.

  1. Keep the initial orientation brief. Some churches have new members’ classes that last multiple hours over multiple days. These orientations are counterproductive. They engender information overload and have little impact. If there is much information you need to share, do so over a longer period of time, but not in the initial new members’ class. The new members’ class works best if it is two to three hours in one setting.
  2. Tell them what the church believes. These new and prospective members must know the key beliefs or doctrines of the church. Don’t let them be surprised later. Such could prove messy for the members and the church as a whole.
  3. Explain to them the church’s polity. Polity is the organizational and authority systems of the church. Many new members assume the church they are joining makes decisions like churches where they have been in the past. Such assumptions can cause problems later.
  4. Share with them what is expected of them. Too many churches are shy about sharing expectations with members. But clear expectations lead to both happier and healthier members. I was recently with some church leaders who told me they were very explicit about four minimal expectations of members: they should attend weekly worship services; they should get in a small group; they should be involved in at least one church ministry a year; and they should be faithful financial givers to the church.
  5. Let them know how they can plug in. Don’t merely let them know what is expected of them; share with them the specifics of how they can carry out the expectations. For example, if the church expects them to be in a small group or Sunday school class (a key to assimilation health), give them clear and detailed information on who to contact, where and when the group meets, and when they should get started.
  6. Orient them about the church’s facilities. I know it’s basic, but it’s important for members to understand the details of the church’s facilities, even in smaller churches. When are the offices open? Who can use certain parts of the church buildings? Where are the nursery or preschool areas? Where are the restrooms?
  7. Have someone stay in contact with them for six months. You will typically retain or lose members in this time frame. Have well-trained members checking with the new members. It may be a simple call or an email once a week. It does not have to be overbearing. The veteran member can ask if they are orienting well, if they have found a small group, or if they have questions.

The reality of assimilation, or new member stickiness, is that it is usually effective or ineffective in the first few months. Some churches err with too much upfront and drive new members away with information overload and lengthy classes and inventories. Others churches err by doing too little. But the most effective churches tend to shape their strategies on these seven simple efforts.

What do you think of these seven ways? What would you add?


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Comments

  1. roger hetnandez says

    Thom, i appreciate your posts. One way to increase the probabilities they stay is involve them in evangelism. New members usually have most unbelievers as friends. Teach them to reach their friends for jesus.

  2. says

    Hi Thom, I love this article. We have a similar model here at The Journey, covering 1-6. Although we have a follow up process in place as #7 suggests, it’s not nearly as robust as I would like. Great to have that reinforced as important!

    After our initial ‘membership class,’ we have a second short class where people can take a spiritual gifts assessment + personality test. It’s a great segue from them learning about us in the first part of the class to us learning about them in the second part!

  3. says

    Regarding #2: it is indeed important that people know what the church stands for. But there is a balance to be kept here. Clearly, hiding what you stand for is a bad idea, as is de-clarifying it so as not to offend, or saying it doesn’t matter what one believes (even atheists no that’s not true. At the same time, what people deeply need, and what will keep them coming, is not beliefs about Jesus/God but closeness to and relationship with God. People are transformed into believers by the love of Christ, not transformed into lovers of Christ by beliefs. The more you make the acceptance of doctrines and teachings the price of entry into the Christian community, the higher you make the barriers to entry, the more roadblocks you put between the people and Christ’s love, and the more susceptible the congregation to schism.

    Regarding #7: Important, but need to take care that the people doing the following aren’t pretending to be friendly. My wife and I where really turned off by the “new member shepherds” at one church, because they invited us to dinner, acted like they wanted to be our friends, but seemed taken aback when we invited them to our place, and said “We’re not supposed to become friends with people, just make them feel welcome and guide them into the church community.”

    • Melody says

      Stepford Christians – I worry about that with the mentoring and discipling trend we have with young people. The intentions are great but the heart is not genuine most of the time. It becomes a check list just like all the other things we become legalistic about.

  4. Mark Dance says

    It is not my job to correct you Dr Rainer, but #8 should be “Give them a copy of I AM A CHURCH MEMBER.” Our church in Arkansas not only gives them away in our membership class, but I am currently preaching a sermon series inspired by the book. We have made hundreds available for purchase during this series (only $5 if bought by the case). Why? Because the book lays out to our members what Scripture clearly expects of them and what pastors desire from them – love, loyalty and a servant spirit. This book lives up to what Andy Stanley calls it, “a membership manifesto.” There is a reason it is the best selling Christian book in the nation right now.

    • says

      GREAT idea! But some churches don’t want any “ideas” coming from “outside” of their “walls”! Such a GREAT idea, Mark! I wish EVERY CHURCH would hand the book out to new members.

      • Ashley says

        I completely agree with Mark! It is an amazing book and completely changed the way I looked at my church membership. If people (including myself) do what the book teaches us to do, it will wake up churches every where. I truly believe if church members across the U.S. and anywhere else this book is sold, live this book, it could spark a revival throughout our nation.

  5. says

    These are such SIMPLE things to do, but some churches want you have a Daniel 3 experience when joining their church! Sad, but true……. especially your more “traditional/doctrine-heavy” congregations.

    Great tips. Keep them coming.

  6. Mark says

    Just have simple online form or paper form that asks for details and where you feel your talents and expertise could best be used? Have some check boxes and a blank for “other.” Examples are visitation ministry, building and physical plant, finance, legal, etc. You never know when a banker,,lawyer, or engineer might join and be willing to help in that way. Don’t just allow men to serve in the heavy weight division and don’t relegate women to the kitchen ministry and toddler division.

    Put most of the info in a few documents on a website. Today, many people will read a lot of it before ever thinking about joining.

  7. says

    Our church gives out and goes through a booklet that explains who is God, what is a Christian, who are Southern Baptists, and our history as a church family for new members or even just seekers. Also in the 4 session non-mandotory class we hand out “I Am A Church Member” to help explain expectations. Finally, folks have an option to fill out a form that lists ways they might be interested in helping or getting involved. Then we put that form in a data base. So, for instance if we need greeters for an event, we know who to call to help. So many people say “if someone would ask I would help” this let’s us know who to ask. It seems to be working out so far.

    • says

      Melody, I like the ideal of having the form to be filled out. Would there be any way you could e-mail that to me. We are always looking for ways to improve our systems.
      Thanks.
      Dr. Rainer, spot on article, After Easter I will be doing a 9 week series on “I am a church member” If you would be free to travel a little South of St Louis I would love to invite you to come up after the Easter rush and share with our Church Community about being a church member. Esther Baptist Church Park Hills, MO. Never hurts to ask!

  8. Jeremiah Marshall says

    What I like about this is size does not matter. My wife and I just started our pre-launch bible study for our church two weeks ago. A lot of this is useful to us.

  9. Mark Dance says

    It is easy to forget how intimidating it is for most people to come to a new church. New folks would not likely ask about polity, facilities, vision and doctrine – but they sure want to know. What they want to know more than anything however is, “Does this church care about me?”

    If we contact them within six months of joining to see how they are connecting (#7), we have answered their greatest question. Even the most basic church information systems can easily help us to implement that follow-through component to our ministries.

  10. Desiree Driver says

    I immediately started serving, but my lock in connection was the close connection that was fostered within the team, the value in my participation, and the encouragement to grow one step at a time. As the Holy Spirit continues the work that God began.

  11. Hayden says

    Thom,

    I agree, appreciate and greatly value your thoughts and points on this matter. For some time now, a new believers class has been on my heart to implement in my church by suggesting it to my pastors. However, I would love to know what you might say in the way of a new believers intro class as you’ve spelled out here vs. a foundations of the faith class and how that might play out and be distinguished and/or beneficial. Thanks for the post and taking time to read this.

  12. says

    Thom, I have been doing a new members class since I have been a pastor. I use this class not only to share information with the new member or potential new member, but also have during our Sunday school time frame to get hem in the habit of going to a small group. The class usually last for five Sundays.

  13. says

    #8 – Tell them why this church matters

    We let people know they’re joining something that’s bigger than them and bigger than this church. We’re not a group of “this church is here for me” folks, we’re a “we’re here to serve Jesus” church. If your hungry for a life that daily bears the weight of glory, this may be the place for you.

    This comes somewhere around #2 (what we believe) or #4 (what we’ll expect from you).

  14. says

    Great info Thom! This is very helpful. We have a quarterly “New Members Dinner” at our church and focus on three sessions that evening lasting about 90 minutes total.
    1. History of our church (which includes very brief description of our distinctive beliefs)
    2. Life Cycle of a Church Member
    3. Connecting through Life Groups small groups) & getting involved in Ministry

  15. Mark says

    May I suggest if you are in a big city with professionals or a university town, have the minister invite the young professionals to dinner during the week. Ask those who plan to attend to bring something that all can share or everyone get together and order Chinese for delivery. There no rules for the evening nor are any topics off limits, even the really controversial ones. If I were the minister I would ask what people are dealing with on a daily basis and go from there. Then the next time you have the dinner, perhaps have two or three of the church members who have experience within that area. If some of the group are law students or newly minted lawyers, have a few of the lawyers or judges in the congregation come the next time and help them with anything they are struggling with such as legal ethics, working with a particular judge, keeping faith on the job, etc. The same could be done with physicians and scientists and business people. Those in science frequently have to deal with legal issues which affect science. Physicians deal with the law and all can learn from business. Ethical business actions could be discussed. Ministers would turn lots of colors but learn a lot when the med students, resident physicians, and scientists started talking to those who practice that professionally. Most of this discussion would likely start out focusing on ethics issues. Put gender aside at the dinner and don’t be afraid of the discussion. Jesus was not afraid of anything.

  16. John W Carlton says

    In my home church they do a series of 6 weeks of lessons. It is good and it is not so good. It does get people used to coming at the time for Sunday School, but it also turns some away. I am retired now, but I do interim work. I am in the 4th month of an interim, and I just took all the members through a study of your book, I Am A Church Member. Very good response and a book that I would recommend giving to a new member, but taking them through a 6 week course before membership is a little much. Thanks for your insight and experience.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Thom Rainer: Keep the initial orientation brief. Some churches have new members’ classes that last multiple hours over multiple days. These orientations are counterproductive. They engender information overload and have little impact. If there is much information you need to share, do so over a longer period of time, but not in the initial new members’ class. The new members’ class works best if it is two to three hours in one setting. […]

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