by ed stetzer
Getting people to visit your church is one thing, but getting
them to stay is another. Neither is easy, but both are necessary to build God's
Kingdom. In previous issues of On Mission we've discussed church outreach as a
process that looks something like this: The church has a vision for outreach
that sees evangelism as more of a journey than a destination. They generate
guests with key factors such as strategic prayer, guest follow-up, helping
members bring friends, creating a special ministry or service and casting a
wider net through advertising and marketing.
Next, they welcome guests using greeters at multiple locations
and strategies to make sure guests feel as welcome leaving as when they
The process isn't necessarily easy, but with the right vision
and worship service (see On Mission Winter 2005), church members are more
encouraged and motivated to bring and welcome guests (see On Mission Summer
2005). The next step is to help guests make relational connections within the
Jeremy Morton, pastor of Crosspoint Baptist Church, Perry, Georgia, recalls
what happened when one young nonbeliever, Willie Taybor, began attending church
with his girlfriend. As Willie participated in church activities, he served
alongside Christians. The day the church community worked together on a
building project was the day that Willie committed his life to Christ.
Today, Willie mentors teenagers at the church, leads a young adult Bible
study, heads up a Tuesday night outreach gathering for young adults and is
enrolled in ministry training at a Christian college.
People frequently come to faith in Christ after they've been around
Christians for some time. Research shows they're more likely to consider the
claims of Christ when they are in community with His followers. We help them
make a journey toward Christ when we invite them into our fellowship and tell
them about our relationship with Christ.
The lesson we learn from Willie is that a key part of reaching guests or
newcomers, especially those who aren't yet believers, is to encourage
meaningful, long-term contact with active members. The question is: how?
Let's face it. Many congregations are too big to connect with people during
the main service. At this point we're not talking about simply greeting guests
or making them feel welcome. We're talking about meaningful connections that
provide opportunity for growth. Dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people
sitting face forward and looking at a stage or pulpit is not the right
environment to connect people to one another. And this is a challenge, because
newcomers choose the main worship service as their first point of connection to
a particular church.
The key is to move them from the worship service to the small group. Some
churches use Sunday school; some use small groups that meet in homes. Whichever
you use, you need a connection strategy that uses your small group leaders as
an integral part.
First, let's talk about finding out how to contact guests-especially the
ones who have potential for becoming regular attenders, believers and
Remember that guests in most churches are, in effect, giving permission for
follow-up when they provide their name and contact information-they realize
someone from the church will contact them. Nobody is fooled by the "Free
Drawing for a Health Club Membership if you fill out this card!"
By the way, don't become frustrated when your guests don't fill out a card.
Recognize that they simply aren't ready. Tricking them into giving their info
(by taking it from the nursery sign-in sheet or having all the regular
attendees stand) does nothing to build the guests' confidence in the church to
go at their own speed and not be pushy.
After a guest fills out a card, the first follow-up should include a letter
and call from the pastor or outreach leader. But I recommend another step, and
here's where the follow-up really has a chance to be effective in drawing a
newcomer into fellowship. Because providing info implies the guest's permission
to be contacted-and because the most effective place for connecting with the
church is in the small group setting-let a small group leader make the next
contact. This can be accomplished with a phone call or visit from a leader or
even a strategy like F.A.I.T.H. which uses evangelistic visitation to also talk
about the benefits of Sunday school classes or small groups.
The main reason people need to connect in community is to consider in a
safe, intimate environment the truth claims of the gospel. I've illustrated
this as an evangelism journey (see diagram above). With few exceptions, people
come to Christ in steps, and those steps usually involve being in conversation
and community with believers. There really are two conversions-the first to
community ("I like and trust these people and want to learn with them") and
then to Christ ("I make a dangerous decision for Christ in a safe community of
friends"). One is earthly and one eternal.
The first type of conversion is to community. This
means that guests connect relationally with a community of believers, because
they feel "safe" in that environment. The funnel-shaped lines (representing
community) stretch all the way to the top of the diagram to illustrate that, at
any point along their journey with the small group, a person can decide to
begin a spiritual journey toward Christ because of his or her experience with
The circle in the diagram represents the church. Experiencing Christian
community and becoming part of the church are not the same thing. Nonbelievers
can and should be encouraged to connect relationally with a community of
believers, but that doesn't make them part of the church. A local church is one
expression of the body of Jesus Christ.
When a person experiences the second type of conversion, a conversion to
Christ, that individual becomes part of the church in an eternal way, not just
an earthly way.
Each curved arrow represents different kinds of evangelistic encounters. For
example, a person who has rejected Jesus as God's one and only Son and who is
living in rebellion regarding Jesus can be challenged in a small group setting
by committed believers to consider the claims of Christ. In this context-in
conversation with Christian friends-the lost person can decide to consider the
validity of Jesus' identity. He or she may begin to believe that Jesus is God's
unique Son and then consider accepting the claims of Christ. Through conversion
to community, guests can begin to consider truth claims within a safe community
of believers and then experience conversion to Christ.
The journey will not be the same for any individual, people group, worldview
or culture. For each individual, the misconceptions and reasons for rejecting
the gospel may change, but each person must make the journey along the center
column. By connecting people in community where they can hear and consider
truths about Christ, they are more likely to make the journey of connecting
Moving from being a guest to becoming a member involves two issues: a person
makes a commitment to Christ first, and second, to Christ's church. Every
person who moves from attendance to membership will need to be challenged to
turn away from his or her sinful lifestyle and trust Jesus Christ. In addition,
people need to be presented with the challenge of living out the privileges and
responsibilities of church membership. Both of these can be done effectively
through a membership class led by the pastor, and every newcomer should receive
a personal invitation to attend.
Plus, the discipline of membership classes works to
make more active, loyal members, according to a study conducted of 601 new
Southern Baptist churches. We found that those requiring membership classes
experienced a much higher average attendance than churches not requiring a
Thom Rainer, in his book High Expectation Churches, describes in detail how
churches with high membership requirements and expectations grow faster and are
more evangelistically effective than those without high expectations.
A membership class includes several elements-a clear presentation of what it
means to be saved, issues regarding the church's organizational structure,
church ordinances (baptism and the Lord's Supper), the church's vision and
mission, the church's significant historical events, etc.
However, teaching about salvation is indispensable. Studies show that most
non-Christians seeking to be church members do not understand the fundamentals
of the gospel itself. They want to be "good," and church membership seems to be
a helpful part of being good. They want to be "right," and membership seems
like a step in that direction. However, each person needs to be taught that no
one is "good" and no one is "right" and that only the gospel can make someone
truly good and righteous.
I take about one hour in every membership class to teach the truth of the
gospel which I find is about 25 to 30 percent of the total time necessary to
complete an effective membership class.
Many of our churches have an unscriptural view of membership. Any church
which has twice as many members as attenders is not and can not be living up to
its responsibility to care for, nurture, watch over and disciple its church
members. Membership is meaningless when our church roles are filled with names
and no accountability. Moving guests from being attenders to members
means leading them to Christ and then into a covenant relationship with the
body of Jesus Christ, called the Church. This process of assimilation can be
greatly enhanced through the introduction and use of a church membership
Effective evangelistic churches are not just about leading people to make
decisions to accept Christ; they're also interested in discipleship. If we've
connected them to Christ, involved them in a small group and helped them commit
to membership, they have made real and significant relationship connections.
Discipleship should occur organically, meaning naturally and as a result of the
process of members influencing one another as iron sharpens iron.
However, churches need to be sure that each member has encountered biblical
teaching on the key habits of discipleship: reading scripture, prayer, small
group connection, tithing, witnessing, etc. Often, there are many things that
people want to learn (end times, spiritual warfare, etc.), but there are some
things they need to learn-basic doctrines and basic habits of the Christian
life. These are best done when a church has an intentional post-membership
strategy to lead people to maturity. The most important thing is that our
people are intentionally and systematically led to deeper maturity in
By now, its pretty obvious that it takes a lot of hard work to do outreach
well. Outreach involves much more than just getting people to visit your
church. Many churches will expend more energy planning annual homecoming events
than they do planning outreach-helping more people get to their heavenly
If we're going to see the waters of baptism being stirred more often, we
will need to be more intentional with church evangelism and discipleship. That
process involves having a vision to reach people, planning and working hard to
generate and welcome guests, intentionally and systematically connecting and
assimilating guests, then completing the process with effective
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