You want your church to be healthy and vibrant, and you want to see people grow and reproduce their faith. It all begins with how we respond to new—or young—believers. One simple tip can foster a hopeful and encouraging evangelistic culture. And two warnings can protect you from unintentionally crippling the faith formation of new believers.
Tip: Celebrate Good Times!
Following Jesus is more than a casual response. It’s a commitment that transfers the deed of a new believer’s life to Jesus’ control. Kind of a big deal and one worth celebrating. Jesus recognized the value of celebration. In Luke 15:10, after a woman rejoices over finding a lost coin, he says, “In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.” Churches should celebrate a person’s decision to follow Jesus or someone’s recommitment to Jesus. Even look for faith steps anyone takes and acknowledge them publicly or privately.
Celebrating is healthy. It not only commemorates a life-changing decision, but it reminds the rest of the church that a (spiritual) baby has been born. Just as friends and relatives come alongside parents when a physical child is born, bringing gifts and meals and making themselves available to help, the church must respond similarly with the arrival of a spiritual baby. Rally around new believers, offer assistance, help them learn how to feed themselves and teach them to walk. Without this, your church will fill with spiritual babies who fail to thrive and become dependent upon the church for sustenance.
A helpful practice is developing a “sponsorship” program, a simple gesture that connects a new believer with a more experienced believer. There can be a formal curriculum, but it’s best to provide someone available for “need to know” learning. When people need an answer, they are motivated to listen and learn.
Warning 1: Don’t Create Spiritual Orphans
Many churches celebrate, but then cross that off their To-Do list and focus on the next church activity. Beware of busy. Busy churches are not always healthy churches.
Spiritual activities can be constructive, but they can also be destructive. Busy churches don’t strive to be unhealthy. But when a church fills its calendars with classes and activities they’ve “always done,” without considering how each scheduled item fulfills the church’s mission to make disciples, the church is prone to evaluate their success by attendance rather than changed lives. An unevaluated church calendar is a costly mistake and runs the risk of raising spiritual orphans.
A church filled with spiritually immature believers who can’t feed or reproduce themselves is not a church. It is an orphanage. This is not a judgment, but it is both an assessment and a warning. Healthy churches don’t let young believers grow into spiritually immature older believers. We can do better. And we must, or we will negatively impact a generation of new believers.
A church filled with spiritually immature believers who can’t feed or reproduce themselves is not a church. It is an orphanage.
A busy but unhealthy church also reinforces the false gospel of busyness. This teaching says Jesus loves you WHEN you attend our events. It reveals itself through unending lists of activities that targets everyone. This gospel is not good news, especially if you are unable to participate in every offering.
Warning 2: Don’t Serve Candy for Dinner
Some churches show their generosity and commitment to new believers by providing a new Bible as a gift—a beautiful and wonderful idea! It’s a visual reminder of what Jesus has done in their lives, and it reinforces they are part of a church community.
However, a Bible is only beneficial if a person is taught to read it.
Giving a Bible to new believers without helping them understand how to read it and connect with the God who loves them can be dangerous. Imagine giving a child a credit card and asking him to purchase groceries for the week. You hope they buy fruits and vegetables and proteins, but they don’t know how to do that, nor do they want that. Instead, they purchase candy, chips, cereal with cookies in it [Cookie Crisp? Really?], and more candy. In the end, they end up sick and malnourished.
A new believer will be motivated to read the Bible, but he won’t know where to begin. He will likely start at the beginning. By the time he is midway through Leviticus, he will become disillusioned and decide it is best to leave Bible reading to the professionals. As a result, his Bible will become a good luck charm he looks at rather than a love letter he reads from his heavenly father. Dangerous.
Churches and disciple-makers need to strategically invest in the lives of new believers so that they not only learn how to thrive as followers of Jesus but also get equipped to reproduce themselves. Next week, we will look at practical steps your church can take to create a reproducing culture while at the same time developing a system to protect and provide for the new believers God brings to you.
NOTE: I recognize not everyone reading this can make changes at your church. But everyone can pray for their church leaders, respectfully share ideas, and independently act on those ideas.
QUESTION (leave a comment below)
What do you think would be a good first step a church can take in serving a new believer? Or, what has helped you grow your faith?