Assimilating New Members [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Lyle E. Schaller
eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: How do you reach new members and help them adapt to the local church more effectively? In Assimilating New Members by Lyle E. Schaller, a recognized church planner, shows how to reach more people, bring them into the local church family, make them feel at home, and keep them active.
Mr. Schaller discusses those things that attract and hold new members. he shows how to evaluate the local church recruitment and assimilation processes, recognize and avoid counter-productive behavior, and make the congregation more effective by involving more members in the ongoing life of the church.
eBook Publisher: United Methodist Publishing House
Fictionwise Release Date: April 2002
Preface How can we reach more people with the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior?--How can we bring them into our church?--How can we help them feel more at home here--How can we keep our new members from dropping into inactivity?
These are representative of the questions being raised in an age when there is a renewed emphasis in the churches on evangelism, new member recruitment, and church growth. To some extent this renewed interest in the evangelistic outreach of the churches reflects a concern over the decline in total membership of several of the mainline denominational families. It also reflects some frustrations among church leaders over their efforts to reach the young adults of today, who constituted the baby boom of the post World War II era, as well as a basic evangelistic concern.
In looking at the responses to these concerns and to related questions it may be as important to understand the underlying assumptions on which those responses are based as it is to understand the content of what is said or written.
This book focuses on the outreach of existing congregations to people who are not actively involved in the life of any worshiping congregation. It is directed to the leaders, both clergy and lay, of those congregations which are concerned about reaching and assimilating new members into the life and fellowship of that worshiping congregation. This is not a book on new church development. It is not a book on evangelism. It is a book that should help the reader to examine and evaluate the processes for the recruitment and assimilation of new members into the congregation to which that reader belongs. It is a book that should help the reader understand more clearly why some congregations have more difficulty than others in reaching and assimilating new members. It is a book that should help the reader see more clearly what is happening in his or her own congregation in reaching and assimilating new members. This book should help the reader identify and avoid counter-productive behavior patterns. Most important of all, it is hoped that this book will challenge the reader to identify and reflect on his or her assumptions about the evangelistic outreach of the churches, to identify some of the barriers to church growth, and to respond creatively and constructively to many of the most common problems in the assimilation of new members in the typical congregation.
For this to be a productive endeavor it may be necessary for you as reader to articulate and reflect on the assumptions which you carry with you on this subject of reaching and assimilating new members.
It is unfair, however, to ask the reader to do this unless the author of a volume such as this is willing to identify the assumptions on which the book is based. To do so may help the reader understand the perspective and bias of the author, to identify the basic reason behind any difference of opinion between the reader and the author in the subsequent pages, and--perhaps--even help the reader to articulate his or her own assumptions on this subject.
While they are not listed in order of importance, these assumptions are essential to an understanding of the contents of this volume and the reasons behind the sequence in which the material is presented.
First, it is assumed that most Christian congregations in the United States and Canada have the potential for a net growth of at least 5 percent per year. That rate of growth would mean doubling in size in fourteen years since the rate of growth would be compounded annually. In almost every community on the North American continent there are enough people who are not actively involved in the life of any worshiping congregation to make that rate of growth possible.
For example, while in the United States the proportion of adults (age eighteen and over) who identify themselves as Protestants dropped from 71 percent in 1960 to 62 percent in 1976, according to the Gallup Poll, the actual number of self-identified Protestants climbed from an estimated 74 million in 1950 to 82 million in 1960 to 93 million in 1976. During a typical week about 37 million of these 93 million adults attended church at least once. This suggests that every congregation could double its average attendance at worship without even touching the 10 million adults who claim no ties to any religious group. In fact, if every Protestant church doubled its average attendance at worship, it would still leave more than 20 million self-identified Protestants as non-attenders for that week. That more than covers those who are in hospitals, nursing homes, sick, traveling, or out of town for the weekend.
Another useful comparison can be found in the fact that approximately 93 million American adults identify themselves as Protestants, but the reported membership of all Protestant churches of all denominations in the United States totals less than 80 million--and this figure includes at least 10 million members who are under eighteen years of age. In other words, the American population includes 23 to 30 million adults who idenhfy themselves as Protestants, but who are not reported as members by any Protestant church.
These are simply two pieces in a huge pile of evidence that suggest Protestant churches have difficulty in reaching and assimilating adults who identify themselves as Protestants. This book represents an attempt to identify some of the factors that keep the Protestant churches from reaching more people with the good news and to suggest more effective approaches.
The second assumption on which this volume rests is that it is good for persons who identify themselves as Christians to be a part of a worshiping congregation. God calls his children to worship him. It is good for the individual Christian to be a member of the worshiping, nurturing, caring, sharing community we refer to as a Christian congregation. Christians are called to live in community--not as hermits. Being a part of that community is a means of nourishing the personal and spiritual growth of the individual Christian. That called-out community gives the individual the opportunity to express that Christian commitment in and through the worshiping congregation.
A third basic assumption is that it is not Christian to invite a person to unite with a specific congregation and then not accept that person into the fellowship of that congregation. This process of entrance, acceptance. and assimilation is the major theme of this volume. There is considerable evidence which suggests that at least one-third, and perhaps as many as one-half, of all Protestant church members do not feel a sense of belonging to the congregation of which they are members. They have been received into membership, but have never felt they have been accepted into the fellowship circle.
A fourth basic assumption that is a part of the foundation for this book is that evangelism is not necessarily the same as reaching out and receiving new members. It is proclaiming the good news. Every Christian and every Christian congregation is expected to do that by word, deed, and lifestyle. It is bringing individuals to a personal confrontation with Jesus Christ.
Evangelism is not the same as inviting people to unite with a specific congregation and welcoming them into the nurturing fellowship of that worshiping congregation. The evidence suggests that there are many more adult believers than there are active church members. Evangelism and receiving new members into a congregation are two separate actions. Some congregations are very articulate in proclaiming and witnessing to the good news, but rarely receive new members except for persons who are born into or marry into families in that congregation. Many congregations direct their evangelistic proclamation to one segment of the population spectrum, but receive nearly all their new members from a different segment of the population spectrum. Frequently the evangelistic efforts of a congregation are almost completely unrelated to the processes by which that congregation receives and assimilates, or fails to assimilate, new members.
The fifth basic assumption on which this volume rests is that there is a difference between what God expects of his Church and what God expects of each individual congregation. The church is expected to reach and serve every one of his children. The individual churches each have a distinctive part of that total responsibility, but no one congregation is expected to reach and minister to all the people in the world. One of the popular heresies of the day is that "our congregation" is God's only resource here on this planet.
The sixth, and perhaps one of the three most significant assumptions in explaining the theme of this book, is that nearly every congregation has two barriers around it. The larger outer barrier is composed of several methods, techniques, and traditions that have the combined effect of keeping potential new members from joining that congregation. The first three chapters are devoted to a description of these barriers. One group of barriers can be identified most easily as the organizing of individuals into a cohesive and unified community. Several of these organizing principles usually are perceived by outsiders as exclusionary forces. These are described in the first chapter.
Another group of barriers consists of the unintentional exclusionary dimensions of the congregation. Every congregation, by the nature of the people who are members, by its history and traditions, by the design of the meeting place, by its schedule and program, by its congregational lifestyle, and by the priorities in the allocation of resources, causes many people to feel excluded. This fact of life constitutes the theme of the second chapter and is touched on again in the last two chapters.
A third group of barriers can be seen in the skills, procedures, techniques, and practices that a congregation develops as a part of its operational system. While these tend not to be perceived as exclusionary or as contradictory to church growth by the members, in fact, many of them do tend to prevent the church from receiving and assimilating new members. A dozen of these are described in the third chapter, and several other counter-productive techniques are identified in the fifth chapter.
A seventh assumption that may help explain what is included in this volume and what is excluded represents a strongly held personal point of view. This is the belief that most people have a greater capability to overcome obstacles, to solve problems, and to change the conditions they are confronted with than they give themselves credit for possessing. Frequently, however, people need help in diagnosing problems and in distinguishing between symptoms and problems. In other words, the central emphasis is on diagnosis--not on prescription--although many prescriptive suggestions are scattered throughout the book, especially in the fourth and sixth chapters.
The eighth assumption overlaps this last one. It is assumed here that in many situations it is more helpful and more productive to ask questions than to offer prescriptions or to give directions. Therefore there is a series of questions at the end of each chapter. These questions are intended to be used by the reader in diagnosing what is happening in a specific congregation. Obviously they arc loaded questions, for each question carries with it a value or a bias. In many congregations these questions can be used by an evangelism task force or the membership department or a self-study committee.
The ninth assumption on this list is there is a natural tendency in every organization to place survival goals and institutional maintenance at the top of the agenda. Frequently this pattern not only is tolerated, it also is encouraged by the leaders of that organization or institution. The worshiping congregation is not immune to this expression of cultural religion and institutional blight. A common result is a congregation begins to seek new members in order to perpetuate that institution, rather than to be responsive to the needs of the people that congregation is seeking to reach. The typical result is an effort to "sell our church" to that prospective new member rather than to be sensitive and responsive to the needs of that individual. One result of this is the members tend to assume that when a new member unites with that congregation they have consummated that sale. The contents of this volume are based on the premise that frequently it is easier to become a member of a Protestant congregation than it is to be accepted into the fellowship of that community of believers.
One result of these institutional pressures is to encourage church leaders to place the highest priority on selecting members to staff the business positions and committees of the congregation. A lower priority often is given to staffing ministry committees such as an evangelism committee or a board that is responsible for the assimilation of new members. In some congregations these committees are not staffed or do not function. By contrast, the trustees and finance committees often are two of the best staffed and most active committees. This may represent a drift away from evangelical Christianity and toward cultural religion.
Another result of institutionalism is a lack of clarity on the definition of what constitutes church growth. For some it is simply gross numerical growth, regardless of the source of the new members. For others, it is growth by conversions only. For a few it is growth in the quality of the spiritual life of the members.
The tenth assumption is that every congregation has a system for reaching, receiving, accepting, and assimilating new adult members. In many congregations this is a very passive system and consists simply of receiving adults who walk in on their own initiative and ask to unite with that congregation. In other congregations the basic system is to delegate the entire responsibility to the pastor. The thesis of this book is that it is better to have a broader-based, more active and more intentional system. For many congregations this will require changing the current system. The normal response to innovation or change from within an organization is to resist it, to explain why that will not work here, to change the agenda to legalistic issues, to shift the discussion to another subject, to suggest postponing the subject to another time, to ask for another meeting, or to defend the present system. These are the kinds of responses anyone should expect who seeks to change the present congregational system for receiving and assimilating new members. A better approach is to recognize the price of growth and prepare to pay the price.
Finally, it is assumed that one of the most effective pedagogical models is to encourage the individual to reflect on his or her own experiences. There is an intentional effort to present the material contained in this volume in a manner or style that will encourage the reader to reflect on what is happening in the reader's congregation, to reflect on and order the reader's own experience, and to challenge the reader's own assumptions on this subject.
I am grateful to the thousands of lay persons, pastors, and denominational staff members I have met in parish consultations, workshops seminars, and retreats who have stimulated my thinking on this subject. They have enriched me with hundreds of insights and scores of illustrations on the subject of reaching and assimilating new members. This volume represents an expression of my gratitude to them.
Copyright © 1978 by Schaller, Lyle