Monday is for “kingly” administration: The Assimilation Process, Part 2 (Attenders – New Christians)

I know today is not Monday, so I apologize for this post being a little late.

Last week, I took up part one in the assimilation process, focusing on first-time guests.  After people visit for the first time, there is typically an in between period where they are no longer new but also not in the membership process.  The regular attender is what I want to focus on this post.

Before I begin, I have to clarify some assumptions here.  First, people who visit our church do not become members by walking down an aisle, filling out a card, and then are presented to the church.  While there is no set time frame, the typical new member attends Grace for 3-6 months before pursuing membership (though there are exceptions).  This is intentional on both ends.  We want those who visit Grace to understand our philosophy of ministry, gospel rhythms, core values/practices, confessional and covenantal pre-commitments, and so on before making a decision to becoming a member. We want them to take it seriously, as we do.  This time also gives us the opportunity of getting to know them better, to understand their previous church experience, have them in our homes, and gain a better understanding of their life story. Our commitments to regenerate church membership and gospel centrality encourage us in the assimilation process while guarding the “front door” of membership.

Just to clarify, I am referring to attenders as those who have visited our church on a repeated basis (at least 2-3 times within a short period of time).  The make-up of these attenders in our context are:

1.  Unbelievers seeking to understand the gospel (conversion growth)
2.  Christians seeking to understand Grace Baptist Church (transfer growth)
3.  Snowbirders who attend while down for the season (seasonal growth)

There are other cases than these three, but generally this is where we find most of our attenders.  In this post, I will only have space to address unbelievers seeking to understand the gospel.

Unbelievers Seeking to Understand the Gospel

Ideally, we desire to see the majority of attenders from the first group.  This speaks of conversion growth and people being reached by Christians living on mission.  A recent example of this at our church is a Russian couple who were both Communists and atheists, having never owned or read a Bible.  One of our members, who is in the same business with them, developed a relationship with them and invited them to church.  Two months later, God has gloriously saved both of them, and they cannot stop talking about their new life in Christ.  However, when we read portions of Scripture, they have to rely on the Table of Contents to find the page number of where the book of 1 Corinthians is located.  They also do not how to use theological words but definitely explain the life-transforming power of the gospel!

When you know that there are unbelievers who have little to no knowledge of God, the Bible, the gospel, and the church, you cannot assume anything.  You will lose them if you speak Christian-ese or use technical theological language without explaining the terms to them.  So part one of the assimilation process for unbelievers is creating a culture in church gathered where unbelievers don’t feel embarrassed if they don’t know the Bible or what to say or how to act.  Do you have pew Bibles available for them, that they can take home with them if they don’t own one?  When you preach, do you bring the text of God’s Word into the context of their lives, answering the questions of the baseline narrative with the truths of the gospel?  When the church is gathered, is there a warmth and hospitality in the community that embraces sinners rather than evaluate them?  If these kinds of questions aren’t asked and answered, then it is likely that you will not see many unreached folk in your community attending on a regular basis.

If the first aspect deals with unbelievers in church gathered, the second has to do with church scattered, namely seeking to welcome them into gospel communities where they can see how gospel-centered Christians live, apply God’s Word, and respond in repentance and faith.  Unlike membership (which is believing before belonging), our small groups encourage belonging before believing.  We want unbelievers to join us, ask questions, see the gospel at work in the community where repentance and faith are taking place on a regular basis (hopefully).  How are they to know and respond to the gospel with repentance and trusting Christ if they have never seen it before or understand what it means?  When Christians are living in the good of the gospel, they put it on display and encourage unbelievers to trust in Jesus in a loving and welcoming environment while humbling call them to abandon their sinful ways.

The third aspect of assimilation for those seeking to understand the gospel is providing a context for new believer’s to be taught and trained in the basics of the Christian faith.  While there are various methods and approaches to helping new Christians get established in the faith, I would emphasize more relationship/community and less classroom/programs/studies.  The three areas of interest are their

* context (deconstructing their identity from life before Christ [put off] and helping them change through gospel-driven repentance),

* text (reconstructing their identity from life in Christ [put on] and helping them in areas of applying God’s Word and other spiritual disciplines), and

* subtext (helping them see their life story through the story of the gospel, and to become fluent in the gospel’s message and intentional in the gospel’s implications).

Again, I am not suggesting that you use a certain method or curriculum for establishing new Christians, but what I am saying is that they need to be taught to continue in the gospel and experience genuine Christian community.  If we would be honest, transfer growth (Christians seeking to join the church) is much easier and less messy (sometimes), but that should not make it more desirable.  If we are a healthy church embracing God’s mission, then it should be a regular thing to see people birthed into the kingdom and nurtured in a local church where there are spiritual mothers and fathers awaiting their opportunity to raise “infants” in Christ.

Next week, I will pick up on assimilating regular attenders who are seeking to understand the church.  Now it’s your turn.  Let me know what you are doing in the area of helping unbelievers understand the gospel and become assimilated from regular attender to follower of Christ to member of your church.

Explore posts in the same categories: I Love the Local Church, Kingly Administration

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8 Comments on “Monday is for “kingly” administration: The Assimilation Process, Part 2 (Attenders – New Christians)”

  1. Sherie Says:

    Tim, As a four month old church plant we have not had much exposure to unbelievers yet, although that is definitely our heart. We do have some very young/new believers that are asking questions and seeking to learn, but only have one unbeliever. We are trying to engage both the young believers and the unbelievers in conversation, provide opportunity for questions, and engage them in life with others. Our church right now is just meeting weekly in home groups and once monthly as a large group.

    We believe that personal connection and walking with others is the key. We need to share life with each other, know more than just what gets presented in a weekly worship gathering. We want to invite others to homes, to share meals together, and to engage all genders, ages, marital statuses, economic levels, etc. together. Through this not only is there opportunity for questions to be asked and answers to be given, but we provide opportunity for transparency, authenticity, and for the walls of secrecy to be torn down. Not only does this provide opportunities for the unbelievers to learn from the believers, but it brings our real lives together into true community.

    The key in our church is that this community is not just about social times of meals, games, talking, but that it is Gospel-centered time where we focus on how and why our lives are different because of the Gospel. I have been in a different church that had similar structures, but where the focus was on social rather than Gospel connections and the Gospel makes all the difference!

  2. Jim Pemberton Says:

    We are blessed with exposure to unbelievers. We have done much to build a positive corporate relationship in the community. We provide a safe place for parents to bring their kids on Halloween. We distribute Christmas gifts to a couple hundred of the poorest families in town. We have a Sunday evening several times a year where we distribute water at local recreation parks, play street ball with kids, canvas parking lots across town with a type of “drive-by” evangelism where we hand out Bibles and other materials. We use our healthy music ministry and present concerts where we present the gospel. We have a festival of tables for women to bring friends to hear the gospel over a fancy supper served by the men of the congregation. (This used to be nothing by older ladies, but the younger generation has caught on and we are seeing the youth getting involved to bring their unsaved friends in to hear the gospel.)

    But these types of events are merely to open the door. Once we get them to come back, we have a weekly fellowship meal for the whole church that is open to the community. We have a one-on-one discipleship movement that is easily adapted to teaching the gospel to unbelievers, and I know that it is occasionally used as such. We also have a ministry to motorcycle enthusiasts that allow bikers in our congregation to minister the gospel to non-Christian bikers on a weekly basis. (It’s actually caught on like wild fire and we have several hundred bikers coming each time they meet.) The gospel is often preached to the group as a whole and we have built up several new Christians from this to turn them around and have them sharing the gospel with their friends who come.

    Sunday mornings are typically not used for evangelism to unbelievers being a time for believers to worship God. However, we recognize that unbelievers come anyway and are careful to make the gospel explicit in such gatherings being as it is our identity in Christ anyway.

    As such, members and staff of our church often pursue individuals we know are not saved. We pray and build relationships. It pays off over time. Even just last week we baptized into membership a family of former Rastafarians who came to Christ through one of our members after moving to town from Jamaica and have been attending and growing in their relationship with Christ.

  3. Don Elbourne Says:

    Timmy,

    Great stuff. Speaking of “unbelievers seeking to understand the gospel,” what do you do in your services to point them in the right direction? Do you rely on your members contacting them, and if so, how do you encourage them to do this? Do you also give the unbelievers an opportunity to take an initiative to seek further contact?


    • Don,

      Thanks for your questions (I apologize for getting to them late!). Let me try to answer them one by one . . .

      Speaking of “unbelievers seeking to understand the gospel,” what do you do in your services to point them in the right direction?

      In our services, the most basic thing to do is to have a gospel-centered hermeneutic in your preaching and a gospel-driven form to your gathering. In other words, what is the one dominant thing you put on display? If its anything other than the gospel, then they will get mixed signals. We want to critique both legalism (religion) and license (pagan) and call sinners to flee both their sin and their self-righteousness and find their identity in Christ.

      Another thing is to make sure that the content of your message is contextualized to your audience. By that, I mean how understandable is your message to someone who has no theological education? The challenge is to preach penal substitutionary atonement, the imputed righteousness of Christ, total depravity, etc. in such a way that a child can understand what you are saying, not a room full of theologians. In other words, make the message as accessible as possible.

      Do you rely on your members contacting them, and if so, how do you encourage them to do this?

      Much of the contact happens “organically” in that members naturally take up the opportunity of having them in their homes for lunch or dinner. Other members have a really hard time with this. I think the biggest thing is to model that with your people and work to create a culture where unbelievers are not estranged but embraced, especially those who would feel disconnected or uncomfortable in a church setting. Often times they fill out on the connection card that they would like to talk with a pastor about what it means to be a Christian, and we do that as well. So it is both structured/planned and unstructured/organic. We are currently working on developing a training of text/context/subtext for new believers.

      Do you also give the unbelievers an opportunity to take an initiative to seek further contact?

      Yes. As you know, we do not have an “altar call” but we do have a response to the message through song, and after the benediction, people with questions about the message or desire to talk with a pastor God’s dealing with them are encouraged to come to the guest reception area which is quiet and removed from the crowd and noise. We have several of our small group leaders, deacons, and pastors hanging out there, ready to engage if we are not able. Again, the connection card also has a place where, if they want to talk more about the gospel, they can let us know.


  4. […] Provocations & Pantings Trusting God :: Treasuring Christ :: Triumphing the Gospel « Monday is for “kingly” administration: The Assimilation Process, Part 2 (Attenders &#821… […]

  5. Mike Schuetz Says:

    thanks tim – I enjoy thinking through this. That’s my full-time job here at sojourn, so this resources has been helpful and keeps new ideas before me!


  6. […] new comers at church into membership. The Assimilation Process: Part 1: First-Time Guest Part 2: New Believers Part 3: Regular Attenders Part 4: Prospective […]


  7. […] Assimilation (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4) * Membership (Part 1 | Part […]


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