In part three of this series looking at New Member’s classes, we now need to look at the issue of structure and timeline. Churches and church families carry extremely busy calendars and sometimes it is difficult to add one more thing to the busyness. So how can a church begin to disciple new members and make sure their first steps are straight and true without overloading them or neglecting them? The church must see discipling new members as a priority or the new members won’t see it as a priority. Oftentimes the way a new believer/member starts has a large impact on how they finish.
Every church needs to understand that discipleship is not automatic and that discipling new members/believers is the church’s responsibility. This is an ongoing process that involves more than just curriculum. There needs to be intentionality in everything a church does and discipling their new members is no exception. So how can a church structure a New Member's class to begin the discipleship process with new members and be effective and intentional about it without overloading an already busy schedule?
The structure of the New Members’ class depends on the information you want to convey. Listed below are four basic approaches to structuring and scheduling a New Member’s class. There needs to be time for relationship building between the new members and the staff/key leaders in all four approaches. The identity of the church, expectations of the new members, and opportunities for ministry are important issues to cover as well. A plan for spiritual growth beyond the New Member’s class needs to be explained to each new member. New believers need instruction in the first steps of the discipleship journey and more seasoned Christians need to know the opportunities they have to strengthen their relationship with Christ.
Four Basic Models
1. Orientation luncheon/banquet - The orientation/luncheon model is a quick and easy introduction to the church and its ministries.
- It is convenient for everyone. Most people can commit to a two hour luncheon banquet following Sunday morning worhip.
- It can be offered many times throughout the year. Most churches will offer this once a month or once a quarter.
- It's a great way for people to have an introduction to the church, what it believes, and how it functions in a relatively short period of time.
- Sharing a meal with new members is a great way for them to get connected with one another and for them to connect with the staff and key leaders.
- The one caution is that this can only be an introduction for new members and not seen as a complete introduction to the church and the Christian faith.
2. Two Hour Sunday Morning Class - This approach incorporates the New Member's class on Sunday morning during Sunday School and Worship.
- Most people will be at church on Sunday morning already, so maximize that time and do a New Member's class all in one day.
- Like the orientation luncheon or banquet, information can be communicated in a relatively short period of time and almost everyone should be able to attend.
- Without a lunch involved, more information about the church, its ministries and opportunities for service, and its beliefs can be covered with this approach.
- If done on a Sunday morning this class can serve as a natural transition into Sunday School.
- The one caution is that the pastor and some of the staff will have difficulty participating during both Sunday School and Worship.
3. Weekend Class - Doing complete new member training in a weekend retreat type format.
- Once again New Member training can be done in a relatively short period of time, over one weekend, opening up the possibility of more people participating.
- Taking a couple of hours on Friday night, maybe coupled with a meal and finishing up by noon on Saturday is a great schedule for communicating a lot of information and a lot more detail about the church and a relationship with Christ.
- There is more time for each new member to get to know one another and also more opportunity for each new member to get better acquainted with the pastor, staff and key leaders.
- The major difficulty with this model is getting people to give up one weekend for the class. The reality is that it is only one weekend though, which should help.
4. Multi-Week Class - The most comprehensive approach conducted over a four to eight week time-span either through Sunday School or as a small group study.
- One primary advantage of doing a multi-week class is the amount of information that can be covered over the course of a few weeks. More time can be spent on all facets of church life and the Christian life.
- New members will have a lot more time to process the information they are receiving and also more time to ask and have specific questions answered.
- This approach will require more of a time commitment from new members, but if those expectations are laid out clearly before they join, this shouldn't be an issue.
- This model can be done as a New Member's Sunday School class or small group and can help them transition into an ongoing class or group.
- There is greater opportunity for significant relationships to form as members work through this process over several weeks. The more significant relationships new members build, the more likely they are to stay in the church.
Regardless of which approach your church adopts, let experienced believers come alongside these new members to be encouragers to them. Those encouragers then become one more significant relationship the new members have. There is no replacement for life on life discipleship especially in the beginning with new believers and members. Jesus called us to make disciples and the better the start, the stronger the finish.
Part 1 - New Members Matter - Benefits of Starting a New Member's Class
Part 2 - New Members Matter - Content of a New Member's Class