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Next Steps

Raising children helps you to understand the concept of the game, follow the leader.  Children copy and mimic whatever the one who is first in the line is doing.  Children mimic adult behavior whether that behavior is good or bad.  Most parents can tell about an embarrassing moment when their child repeated what they said even though they did not want it repeated.  One day they will no longer be as compelled to mimic your behavior but will determine for themselves what they will or will not do.  We must teach them why we do what we do not only show them.

We are told that most adults leave the church between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two.  Could it be that they were shown what to do but were never taught why they were suppose to do it?  Maybe we have not done well at discipling them in understanding how essential and critical being a part of local congregation is to their spiritual walk? If the only reason a teenager attends the church is because of the friends they have there then they might not need the church anymore when they make friends outside the church.  

Fellowship is important and needed but there is much more to church membership.  Church membership does not seem to matter to many any more because there are such low expectations.  Churches seem to be experiencing very low levels of commitment.  Have we knowingly or without realizing built a culture of low expectations?  Low expectations usually equal low commitment.  This is why a new member class is important because it can explain what is expected as a church member and what they can expect from their church.

You will need to decide what your new member class will look like, how long it will last, and what information you will include in the class.  This class is a great on-ramp in connecting new people to your vision and mission statement, the way your church functions, and how they can get connected in building relationships and serve in a ministry.  Thom Rainer says the three key ingredients of any new member class are information about your church, expectations of members, and a clear assimilation process.  Think expectations, information, and attitude.  

Some ingredients to include within these areas are clarifying the gospel, doctrine, leadership in the church, and how to get involved.   You want to clearly present what they can expect from your church, and what your church expects from all of its members.  Give them a copy of your doctrinal statement to read and come back ready to ask questions. Focus on the essentials of the faith such as salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone and the inspiration of the scriptures.   Help them to better understand the importance of Biblical truth.

One goal of this class is giving them the information they need so that six months down the road you will hopefully not hear, “If I had known that I never would of joined.”  Another goal is to challenge them to be functioning members of your church and not spectators.  It gives them a clear process of how they can get involved.  They are taught the importance of small group Bible studies, serving on a ministry team, and how they can be discipled one-on-one.  You clarify your purpose (the what) but you also show them your process (the how).  

Make this entry level class a priority by asking all prospective members to attend.  This is not meant to be a qualifying school but rather a way of informing them of what Biblical membership looks like.  A great inexpensive resource you can give those who attend is I Am a Church Member by Thom Rainer.  This is a great reminder to those desiring to become a part of your congregation of how important it is to have the right attitude.  There are six pledges in the book to help them understand the gravity and responsibility of becoming a church member.

Some churches have decided to not use the term “member” because of what it has come to mean in our culture.  When someone thinks of membership it usually refers to what rights you have.  Thom Rainer says, “We join our churches expecting others to serve us, to feed us, and to care for us…God did not give us local churches to become country clubs where membership means we have privileges and perks.  He placed us in churches to serve, to care for others, to pray for leaders, to learn, to teach, to give, and, in some cases, to die for the sake of the gospel.”

You must determine how long your class will last but make sure it does not last too long.  Some churches do an overview with a luncheon and others last as long as twelve weeks.  Do not feel like you must cover everything but rather give an overview of how your church carries out the mission of God.  The temptation is that more is better but not necessarily.   Stress Bible truth and expectations but also show them how they can step into an environment where they can grow.  Clearly state your expectation for maturing in Christ through your process of discipleship.  

Teach your vision and mission statement in the new member class by explaining the action steps required.  These action steps describe what the member should do next in order to grow and move through the process.  The process does not guarantee transformation, only God transforms, but it places the member in a position that encourages movement and growth as they desire to become more like Christ.  Make sure your mission statement clearly describes what they should do next. Higher levels of commitment will require higher levels of expectation.

Should We Have A Strategy?

Some seem to think that having a strategy or planning out our ministry is unspiritual. We just need to pray, trust the Lord, follow His leadership, and allow Him to work out the details.  Certainly, we can sometimes lean way too heavily on our plans, methods, and strategies but God has always had a plan from the very beginning.  The word strategy is a military word that is used to refer to large-scale planning and directing of operations toward a certain goal.  A method usually refers to a scaled down way of going about a task. Studying Paul’s life we see that he did have a strategy as well as a complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

We must be very careful of not organizing Christ right out of our ministry, planning, and our churches.  Dynamic Church Planting International gives an excellent perspective for making sure we proceed with prayerful planning.  This training stresses 12 Biblical principles. The first is  “The BOSS Principle.” Christ is the Lord of church planting and
He has a vision for your new church. Christ has a vision for the church that He wants you to plant. Your job is not to
invent a vision. Your work is not to appropriate a successful vision from another church planter and church.

The second is “THE POWER PRINCIPLE” that states prayer is the indispensable source of God’s power and wisdom in each phase of church planting. As often as possible, emphasize the need to prayerfully seek God in all stages of the church planting process and not to move to the next stage until you have a clear vision from God for the new church plant. Your job is to prayerfully discern the vision that Christ has for your church.  We should be strategists and tacticians and applying biblical church growth principles can help us. Good research is essential. Learning good leadership skills is crucial.

The right kind of practical church training and planning is vital but the message of the gospel will have impact only through prayer. Unless the gospel is proclaimed, no one will be saved. But without prayer, hearts will remain closed to the transforming power of the gospel. Prayer is as essential to the harvest as preaching the gospel.  DCPI gives great advice in their training on how to have the proper perspective about strategy and methods with the goal to always be driven by principles and not models.  While it is almost impossible to remove all models from any training these principles are pretty universal.

A Time Driven Approach
 means moving forward in your planning based on pre-set dates, no matter what progress you’ve made in building your team and planning your strategy.  In this approach, the calendar rules and you must keep moving, but sometimes we need to wait on the Lord.  You may be pressured to move ahead, ready or not.  You have a group of people eager to get going and you may feel pressured to start your project before you feel fully prepared.  There definitely are some challenges to taking a purely Time Driven approach.  The reality is that your timing might not be God’s timing

An Objective Driven Approach means moving ahead based on reaching objectives and goals you have planned for.  Paul’s plan was to go into Bithynia and reach the people there but the Lord had a different plan.  Have you communicated the vision to all of your team well?  Have you answered their questions and do they understand what your expectations are in reaching the goals you have agreed upon?  Even though you have a plan that was agreed upon, you need to make sure that everyone has “bought” into the vision and they are ready to execute the plan and carry it out.  There must be team buy-in.

A Spirit Driven approach combines the time and objective driven approaches under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is by far the best approach.  “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25 ESV).  A Spirit Driven approach looks at the calendar plus the objectives and brings everything before the Lord for His timing. Timeline dates are pre-planned, but are always “written in pencil” so they can be erased and changed based on the Spirit’s leading.  You make plans and decisions only after intense prayer and waiting on the Lord. Everything is subject to revision by the Holy Spirit!

  1. Herbert Kane puts it this way, “We might begin by asking: Did Paul have a strategy?Some say yes; others say no.  Much depends on the definition of strategy.  If by strategy is meant a deliberate, well-formulated, duly executed plan of action based on human observation and experience, then Paul had little or no strategy; but if we take the word to mean a flexible modus operandideveloped under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and subject to His direction and control, then Paul did have a strategy.”  It is wisdom for us to learn from the 2,000 years of trial and error as churches have tried to plan and effectively reach people with the gospel.

David Hesselgrave says it this way, “church planters and planners should always be faithful to biblical principles, and they should always be attentive to biblical precedents.  In every phase of both planning and planting they should both give themselves to prayer and exhort coworkers and converts alike to do the same.  Little or nothing will be accomplished without prayer!  Little or nothing will be accomplished without thinking and working. Ask the apostle Paul.  Consult the biblical record!”  Yes, we should plan our strategy as we seek His face and ask for Him to direct, guide and help us is in every area!

Mission – Why we exist?

Vision – Where are we going?

Strategy – How do we get there?

Team – Who will do it?

Assimilation System


Every church needs to take a hard look at developing systems that enable them to be more effective in caring for the people God has given them while remaining focused on reaching those who are far from God. There is no system where this truth is more important then in the area of assimilation. This is where you develop a clear process of next steps that help and enable unbelievers to become fully functioning followers of Jesus. How will you or will you follow up on the first time guest? Do you have a plan to help a first time guest to attend again?

It has been well said, “When we lose our why we lose our way!” If your church forgets that you exist to welcome sinners then you will lose your primary purpose for being there. It is natural to begin overly focusing on maintaining and servicing what is already there while ignoring Jesus’ call to seek and to save those who are lost. The older your church is the easier it becomes to drift from its mission. Are you a welcoming church? Are you friendly to those who decide to visit or are you only friendly to those who are already there?

Dynamic Church Planting International says this, “When a person visits your church for the first time, they are a gift from God. Likely, someone prayed diligently for this to happen. God himself has probably been tugging at them to attend. What did Jesus do with sinners who came to learn about spiritual truth? He welcomed them warmly. The ones who opposed truth-seeking sinners were the self-righteous religious leaders. Share with them what a wonderful gift it is to welcome sinners. Some church members will be tempted to act like the Pharisees.”

In U-Turn Church the authors say, “The gravitational pull of the church naturally pulls us inward, toward each other. If we are going to move outward toward those who are lost, it will take more energy than most of us dream.” Many church members are focused on their personal needs and their family’s needs. New people can be seen as a potential threat to their power and/or position. Assimilation is warmly welcoming those who come to our churches. You want to do all you can to help them to be touched by God and have the desire to return.

Those who attend your church can be described in four categories.

  1. Those who visit and are looking for something to connect with.
  2. Those who are beginning to take the necessary baby steps required to follow Christ.
  3. Those who have developed into mature disciples and are serving others. The reality is that once you begin to grow in your personal walk with Jesus, serving is the natural by-product.
  4. The ones who think they are mature but are unengaged and serving no one. This must be challenged the most!

As we focus on the first group (guests and seekers) you must develop a clear system of showing them how glad you are they came. They are not looking for a friendly church as much as they are looking for friends. What will you do with them when they do come? God has been working on their hearts and through people in their lives to get them there, so don’t blow it. Have a system that welcomes them and follows up on them because your desire should be for a first time guest to become a second time guest. What clear path do you have to reach out to them?

If your church forgets why you are there then you will begin to lose your passion and zeal for the unbeliever and those who are far from God. How can you tell that is happening? It did not happen overnight but occurred slowly and quietly. No one can really point to a specific time or day when you were overly focused on those inside the church and unconcerned about those outside. Somewhere along the way you naturally began to focus on maintaining and serving everyone that was already there. Internal ministries tend to overwhelm outward mission.

Follow-up is crucial but just as important is how they are received when they arrive.

  • Are there greeters ready to welcome them and show them where they need to go?
  • Do you have people in the parking lot to help them in that process? Train and empower your people to realize that they should all be welcoming hosts and hostesses. Train them to welcome guests into your church the same way they would welcome them into their homes. Tell them to always be on the outlook for someone they do not know, introduce themself, and engage them in conversation.
  • Are you creating a positive first impression? Some guests determine if they will ever come back in the first three, seven, or fifteen minutes. By then they will been either been greeted or not, lost in the building or guided to where they need to go, and have sensed whether people are truly glad they have come. The one thing that has not happened yet is the sermon, which has not even been preached. Some seem to discourage thinking about this and say we should not worry so much about first impressions but what happened to “given to hospitality?” Jesus welcomed sinners.

First impressions should never be left to chance.

Every leader and greeter should know how to make people feel welcomed. Be looking for those you do not recognize and make sure you introduce yourself to them and tell them how glad you are they came. Every aspect of the facility should be viewed through the lens of a first time guest. It has taken an unbelievable amount of courage to come into an environment that is completely foreign and uncomfortable to them. Do your best to make sure everyone is friendly, the place is clean, and they know they are loved.