Being a new church member can be a little intimidating. I know because I am one. This spring my family and I moved from western Arkansas to Benton, and shortly thereafter we joined a great church in the area. Research and personal experience have taught me that it is vital for new members to genuinely connect to the church if they are to continue as active members. Consider these ten ways your church can help new members enjoy the kind of connection that makes your church their church too.
1. Establish Genuine Relationships
New members will not connect to your church if they do not form genuine friendships. Therefore, church members need to take the initiative to build relationships with new members. For example, learn their names, sit with them at a church gathering, and go out to eat together. People can usually tell when they are loved, and a church is far healthier when the routine Sunday morning “it’s good to see you” comment is accompanied by actions that prove you mean it. The bottom line: the following nine ways to connect new members matter little if your church does not value them as friends.
2. Provide a New Member Packet
A new member packet is a valuable tool for informing new members about your church. The packet could be a folder, a three-ring binder, or bag. It should contain information that your church considers valuable. For example, it might include information such as beliefs, organizational structure, church purpose/vision/mission/goals, contact information, gospel presentation, spiritual gifts survey, potential areas of ministry, church history, and a directory.
3. Encourage Connection to a Sunday School Class or Small Group
Active participation in a Sunday School class or small group is perhaps the best way for a new member to connect to the church. It is within that group setting that friendships are formed and one another is cared for. Do not assume that a new member will automatically attend a Sunday School class. Pray that God will give your Sunday School classes a genuine desire to include new members, and encourage them to invite new church members to class fellowships and other informal gatherings in an effort to help them feel comfortable and wanted within the group.
4. Distribute a Picture Directory
A picture directory is an excellent resource for helping a new member connect. It enables the new member to put faces to names and to clarify family relationships within the church without having to ask. Make sure your church uses a directory format that allows for periodic updates. For example, at the end of each year you could distribute additional pages which have on them the pictures of everyone who joined the church that year.
5. Maintain a New Member Bulletin Board
Picture directories help new members learn current members’ names, but a new member bulletin board helps the current members remember the names of the new members. On the bulletin board post the names and color photos of new members. Place the board in a highly visible area in the church so that people can glance at it as they pass by. You may also wish to print their names and photos in the church newsletter.
6. Wear Name Tags
This is a very simple way to help a new member connect. One major obstacle to relationship-forming conversation is the inability to remember other members’ names. Imagine how much it would help the new member engage in conversation if he or she did not have to worry about remembering others’ names (it would probably help long-time members too!). At the very least, you could have permanent or disposable name tags on hand within your Sunday School class to use when a guest or new member starts attending your class.
7. Identify Entry-Level Tasks
New members want to feel needed and valued. In order to accomplish this, a church needs to consider identifying tasks that are specifically suited for new members. Examples include such tasks as serving as greeters, taking up the offering, serving in the nursery (background checks are strongly suggested), assisting in VBS, and singing in the choir. It is important to note that few new members will volunteer to serve, so plan on personally recruiting them for specific service opportunities, and then show your appreciation in a way that leaves them with a desire to continue serving.
8. Forge Intentional Friendships
Recruit godly individuals and couples in your church that would enjoy being assigned to new members for the purpose of befriending them and helping them connect (take gender and life-stage into consideration). This could include showing them around church facilities, familiarizing them with the community if they are new to the area, helping them learn other members’ names, and having them over for a meal.
9. Offer a New Member Class
There are several benefits for having a new members’ class in your church. One of the main benefits is that it provides an excellent opportunity to help new members understand how best to connect to the church. During the class, explain the value of being a connected member. Also, provide other information that will help the new member connect such as Sunday School and small group options and potential areas of service.
10. Create a New Member Team
Your church may wish to consider creating a New Member Team. This team would be responsible for developing and implementing your church’s strategy for intentionally connecting new members to the church in the ways mentioned above.
Unfortunately, connecting new members to the church does not happen automatically. It takes effort. Help your church do everything it can to make a disconnected member the exception, not the rule.