Texas churches walking newcomers through steps

The Holy Rollers Ministry at First Baptist Church of Euless came about when a new church member had completed “Step Three” in the church’s assimilation process, a six-week class on spiritual gifts and service. But he couldn’t find an area in which he really wanted to serve.

“We asked him, ‘What do you like to do? What do you enjoy?'”

“I like working with my hands. I like to paint,” the member said.

And from that came the Holy Rollers, a volunteer painting ministry.

“They do a tremendous job. They’ve restriped our parking lot, painted and touched up walls in the buildings, and painted some set decorations for our pastor’s new sermon series,” Bradley Thomas said. “That’s a perfect example of what we hope people get out of this process.”

The “process” to which Thomas referred is four six-week classes offered to new members to help them first of all become devoted followers of Christ, and second, to involve themselves in meaningful service in the life of the church. Topics of the four classes include: the vision and purpose of the church, keys to growing as a Christian, spiritual gifts and service, and how to share your faith.

FBC Euless has designed its assimilation program to fit its own needs and priorities, but, like many churches, it might borrow elements of other proven programs such as Willow Creek’s NETWORK and Saddleback’s C.L.A.S.S.

Willow Creek’s NETWORK course guides participants to discover their spiritual gifts, passions and ministry styles.

“Just as the human body cannot function unless the eyes, the hands, and ears do their part, your church cannot function effectively unless each believer does his or her part. NETWORK can help you get the right people in the right places for the right reasons,” an ad for the program at willowcreek.com says.

Willow Creek also offers a new four-week total church experience called “Living Beyond Myself: Launching a Volunteer Revolution,” “designed to raise the value of servanthood and volunteerism in the local church.” The Living Beyond Myself kit provides four weeks of sermon transcripts, drama scripts, video segments, an implementation guide, a participant’s guide, and Bill Hybel’s book “The Volunteer Revolution: Unleashing the Power of Everybody.”

Saddleback’s C.L.A.S.S. (Christian Life and Service Seminars) is a four-step process “for moving people from unchurched and uncommitted to becoming mature believers who fulfill their ministry in your church and their life mission in the world,” states the web page at saddlebackresources.com.

C.L.A.S.S. 101 covers basic doctrines of the faith: salvation, baptism and communion, and provides the venue for sharing the purpose, structure, and affiliation of one’s own church. C.L.A.S.S. 201 teaches tools for spiritual growth: time in the Word, prayer, giving, and fellowship. C.L.A.S.S. 301 helps members discover how their S.H.A.P.E.?their unique blend of spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality and experiences?can be used in ministry. C.L.A.S.S. 401 helps members to share their faith openly, discover their life mission and serve in their own community and in the world.

Thomas of FBC Euless said, “We actually use a version of Saddleback’s S.H.A.P.E. material in our step 3, the “First Purpose” class, which is our spiritual gifts class. We use it as a launch point to teach about finding your spiritual gifts, which in turn, helps you find your area of service.”

The First Purpose class also includes a tour of ministries. New members receive clipboards with a list of ministry areas and the opportunities to serve in each. They spend 5-10 minutes with leaders of each ministry, and check off areas of interest as they go. They then have the opportunity to try those ministry areas until they’ve found a place that matches their spiritual gifts, abilities and passions.

Thomas reports that 50-60 percent of the new members there are completing the four-step new member process.

Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church in Allen has made strides to keep the message and the processes simple. New members and prospects are invited to a Membership Workshop that takes place every other Saturday evening and Sunday morning during their Adult Bible Fellowship (Sunday School) hours. In the PowerPoint Presentation, they hear about the church and about the “3 D’s”?Develop, Disciple, and Deploy.

The workshop strongly emphasizes connection in one of the Adult Bible Fellowship (ABF) groups, and gives new members an overview of the various ministries in which they can become involved.

Following the workshop, attendees may make the decision whether or not to join. Later, at a new member fellowship in the home of the pastor, the priorities of the church will be communicated again and re-emphasized.

Part of the workshop includes writing one’s own testimony?what the person was like before they met Christ, how the person came to know Christ, and what it has been like since. The testimonies are read by Assimilation Pastor Scott Erwin, who then passes them along to the appropriate adult ministers. The Married Adult ministers are held accountable for following up, and they meet weekly with Erwin to give a report.

Plans are in place to add an emphasis concerning understanding your spiritual gifts. This will be for all new members and existing membership. They are also developing tools to help each member discover his or her unique leadership style and personality make- up.

Erwin stated, “My passion is for it to not only lead people toward membership, but also to equip them with a deeper understanding of how God has created them to serve others through their gifts and talents.”

Currently, a periodic “Focus” magazine highlights different ministries and different things being offered. A volunteer center in the foyer provides the information needed to connect and serve in any area of ministry in the church.

Associate Pastor Joe Patton said: “Having recently gone through “The Simple Church” [by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger], what we’ve done is distilled the essence of what we need to say. Instead of 500 choices we give them ‘the priority of the week.’ That goes for our worship service, our bulletin, everything. The simple process gives them the message ‘I need to go to church, I need to go to ABF, and I go to the Volunteer Center to get involved.'”

Who’s slipping out the back?
A formal strategy such as that at FBC Euless can address several issues that cause many new members to slip out the back door. An article at LifeWayresearch.com, “Why They Flee,” noted two types of people who slip out through the back door of the church: the formerly churched who might be gone permanently, and the church switchers who leave to find a new church for reasons other than a move.

LifeWay Research’s 2006 study on the formerly churched reported that 37 percent of those who completely stop attending church do so because of “disenchantment.”

Yearning for a relationship with God was the number one reason former members would consider returning to church?a finding implying that during their former church experience they were unable to develop an enduring relationship with God.

Brad Waggoner, who most recently was LifeWay’s vice president of research and ministry development before being named vice president of Broadman & Holman Publishers, noted: “Many members are vulnerable to attrition because of either a nonexistent or immature faith. When individuals begin to seek out membership, they should be guided through a process whereby they are clearly taught the gospel, and then following salvation, grounded in strong biblical truth. Far fewer people would drop out of church if their spiritual foundation w

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