In the Army we used to have a saying that was “never forget what it’s like to be a Private.” In other words, smart leaders never forget where they came from and where they started. Wise leaders realize they are here to blaze the path for those following in their footsteps.
I spent some time with a friend of mine who walked into a church this past Easter Sunday for the first time in 25 years. He opened his heart to Christ on Easter and has since shown great courage in getting plugged in to the church. In talking with him, I am reminded of some things that all church leaders need to remember and incorporate into their discipleship strategies.
Four questions new believers are asking
1. Will I fit in? New believers coming into the church are wondering if they can be themselves. They are not sure how to approach people who all seem to fit in. Imagine what it was like as a teenager going to a new school on the first day. Everyone seems to know everyone else, but I know no one. Are people looking at me as the “new” guy? Am I dressed the way I’m supposed to be? What if they find out I really have problems and don’t have it all together? Will I have anything in common with these people?
Church leaders need to teach and model how to engage people and make them feel welcome, especially if they are recognized as a newcomer or seem a little awkward in the room. Church goers should go out of their way to find something in common with a newcomer and communicate to them that they do fit in.
2. Will I be accepted or judged? New believers feel like outsiders coming in and wonder how they are going to be received. Many that I’ve talked with who have had positive experiences report that they were very surprised at how well they were received. They are often wondering what will happen when someone finds out what is really going on in their lives.
Church leaders should emphasize environments where people are loved and accepted because they are loved and accepted by God. Leaders should teach members how to deal with sin in a brother or sister without condemning and driving them away.
3. Will the preaching be relevant to my life? New believers are wondering if God really has answers to the situations that they are facing in life. New believers need to know that the Scriptures are relevant for today and that God cares about what is happening in their lives.
Church leaders ought to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in creative and relevant ways that answers the question: “How can my life be different because of what you are telling me?” “How do I live out this life that you are preaching about?” Our listeners should never leave a sermon wondering ‘how’ or ‘what should I do about what you just said’. Let’s equip them and give them the tools they need to be successful according to God’s word. By the way, this applies to everyone not just new believers.
4. Will the church be relevant to my life? One thing is for sure, new believers who publicly profess their new found faith are going to be teased, ignored, ridiculed, and persecuted by people they thought were their friends. They are wondering if there is a way to meet people who can fill this void and help them change their lives. The thought is this; if the people in the church can’t meet me where I am and actually help me through genuine relationships, then why should I change everything about my life and lose all my friends in the process?
Church leaders need to create opportunities for new believers to meet people. There should be multiple gateways for people to break into the church and begin building relationships. Small groups should be easy to join and the steps should be clearly communicated.
Most of us in the church have good hearts and want to genuinely help people. However, we all need to reflect on what it was like to be a new believer walking in to a church for the first time. We need to remember where we came from and create strategies that facilitate the assimilation and discipleship of new believers. Take a look from their perspective.