Today I want to talk about assimilating new people into the church body. As you begin to eat, drink, and sleep the Great Commission (impacting YOUR world with the Gospel) you will find two churches developing in your congregation - the veterans who have seen many a battle and have remained loyal to the church through thick and thin, AND the new Christian (or at least new member) who is filled with zeal, but has little appreciation for the wars of old. Both groups tend to be impatient with the other. An unnecessary tension that is often unconsciously (or consciously) encouraged by the Pastor. Don't be a reactionary leader. Don't wait for fires to start popping up BEFORE you do anything to put them out. Naturally assume your church is no different than others and that the enemy looks for opportunities to press his advantage to thwart growth. There are a few things you can do as a leader that will head off SOME of the division that develops with growth:
1. Present a vision your church can own. It may take a couple of years of preaching/teaching to lead them to a place where they are ready to own your vision. As John Maxwell once said, "People must buy into YOU before they will buy into your vision." It takes time to earn credibility as a leader. The Holy Spirit will give your people a new heart... a tender and compassionate heart that will help them endure through many of the sacrifices they will have to make for the church to grow. What sacrifices?? They have been accustomed to their opinions carrying greater weight than they will after the church experiences growth. Some will have to move over and give up positions of ministry and leadership to people they don't know and haven't been to battle with. Facilities will need changing - even if they don't see the need. Services will be structured differently and they won't understand why we 'no longer sing happy birthday' to the veterans. They will likely have to serve in areas they don't like - for example - their nursery will need updating and staffing each service, and "Before all these new people started coming, I could sit in the service and I knew everybody..." They will have to get used to you paying OTHER PEOPLE attention - attention you once gave to them.
All these complaints ARE legitimate AND can be headed off with good leadership. If you don't cast the vision and prepare your people, they will resent you and the growth of the church.
2. Form a 'new-comers' class. The class should be structured to answer three basic questions: What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to be a Free Will Baptist? What does it mean to be a member of this local church?
What does it mean to be a Christian? This segment should cover the basics of Christianity. Why and how is a person saved? What is baptism? How do I grow in the word and prayer? What if I sin? How do I share my faith with my friends? What is my spiritual gift? What is 'stewardship?' Answering these and similar questions are absolutely essential for discipleship. They need the material printed with blanks to fill in as they listen to the lesson. It will be a tool they can reference for years to come.
What does it mean to be a Free Will Baptist? While Christianity is certainly bigger than Free Will Baptists, we ARE talking about assimilating new believers into a Free Will Baptist Church. It is important that new-comers learn the doctrines and distinctives of the FWB church. One day some of these people will be leading the church or teaching your grandchildren - you want them to be grounded in the word and able to defend it.
What does it mean to be a member of this local church? Here you have a wonderful opportunity to pour your vision into others. They learn what is expected of members - from their personal lives to their public service. They learn that the expectation is that they find areas of service immediately. Christians will not grow WITHOUT serving others. Here they learn about the leadership structure of the church, who the leaders are, how they are elected, etc. They are acquainted with the constitution and by-laws of the church. They learn the purposes of the local church and how they fit IN those purposes. They learn the importance of tithing - yes, I said TITHING.
While you are leading them through this study, you need to constantly remind the class that WHEN you are finished with the study, they will become a part of another class or classes. I have ideas about this that I will share in the future.
3. Develop a mentor program. In Titus chapter 2, Paul instructs the veterans of the faith to mentor the younger men and women of the faith. This important ministry will head off any sense of rivalry that sometimes develops between the two groups.
4. Remember - not EVERY idea is a GOOD idea. As a leader, you will have to exercise extreme caution when new ideas for the church are presented to you. New folks are FILLED with ideas. Some of them will be very helpful. Others...not so much. You as a leader have to learn when to say NO (graciously).
Be proactive in leading your church in building healthy relationships. Keep your circle of friends ever growing. Often the veterans will feel disappointed that you spend so much time building new relationships and pay so little attention to them. Learn to balance yourself. Also, don't create an unhealthy dependence in your people where they need you for everything. We will talk about THIS in the days to come...