I was at a planning meeting for small group evangelism recently when someone posed the question of integrating new believers into the main church community. After all, she reasoned, even with short-term follow-up programmes, new converts can’t stay in their new convert silos forever – church life happens in community, hence integrating them into church family is important.
These thoughts struck a chord – looking back when they first joined our church as a new Christian, many of my friends muse that while the community was diverse and friendly, being rooted in community was not easy. They didn’t know the members who were rooted in church community, nor were they familiar with aspects of church life.
How can the Church help them integrate with ease into the larger church community? Here are some thoughts on the matter.
4 WAYS TO INTEGRATE NEW BELIEVERS:
1. EXPLAIN “CHRISTIAN TERMS”
This is a small step, but it goes a long way when churches explain Christian ordinances that take place during a church service. I know some churches who do – before the offering is taken, before Holy Communion and when the pastor says a corporate prayer, the process and significance of each of these ordinances are explained publicly.
This has the dual benefit of acquainting the new Christian with the procedures of the ordinances, while being a fresh reminder to the mature Christian on the significance of the ordinances. With a clear understanding of the meaning behind these new encounters in the Christian faith, I envision that this helps the newcomer feel less alienated as they observe it happening.
2. PUBLICLY WELCOME AND FOLLOW-UP
I’ve visited other churches before, and it can be distressing for a first-time visitor to be unable to find the way to the church gathering.
In the effort to retain newcomers to church, a number of churches I know distribute welcome cards to first-timers – they hope to get the contact details of the newcomer for follow-up and to build contact. I see the value of these cards for keeping record of first-timer numbers, but note that they should be used in a manner that keeps newcomers at ease.
When I first joined my church, the norm was for the presiding pastor to read out the names of newcomers for the congregation to welcome them. Observing that not everyone likes to be welcomed in such a conspicuous manner, the welcome card has since been tweaked to include an option of not being publicly introduced – this might be helpful for introverted guests, like me.
3. INTENTIONALLY INVITE TO EVENTS
I have a friend who had been exploring the Christian faith over the past couple of years before outwardly expressing a desire to follow Jesus over this year’s Good Friday season. My friends from young adults’ ministry and I wanted to get him plugged into the young adults community, hence invited him to our Trivia Night social event.
Over pizza and random trivia, my newly converted friend was able to get to know the rest of our community. While he now joins us for regular Bible study as his work schedule permits, I am glad his first experience with us was informal.
I imagine that integrating into a church or cell group with Bible study as the first encounter would be daunting, given the dual challenge of grappling with Bible study while acquainting oneself with the new faces. Having new converts join in a social event as initial exposure helps make things less daunting, as they only need manage one issue at a time.
4. CONNECT WITH COMMUNITY
About five years ago, my church began holding newcomer lunches every couple of months. These lunches are two-fold – intended for the church staff to get to know the new person better, and at the same time, for the newcomer to get to know the various ministries and platforms of discipleship.
While it may not be feasible for every church to replicate this, I see value in meetings of this nature – through this, the church leadership discerns suitable next steps for the new convert, such as plugging them into an appropriate platform that encourages an active participation in church life. At the same time, new converts find out more about suitable discipleship platforms for continued growth.
BY THIS THE WORLD WILL KNOW
Why, though, is it important to do all these things? The Bible tells us that community serves a purpose – our love for one another is the distinguishing mark that we are Jesus’ disciples (John 13:34-35).
Explaining these new experiences to newcomers is a way of loving them, so that they do not feel alienated in a new environment. This love for one another stems from the knowledge that we are going to be with other Christians throughout eternity – and we are called to start living in that light, beginning now. In Hebrews 10:24-25, we are called to mutually encourage each other to persevere, until Christ comes again.
As these newcomers join the family, they are included in this exhortation to obey the command to love and encourage the church family too. As the local Church loves and encourages them in this manner, may they pass on this love to others someday, too.