Thursday, August 11, 2016

Friends are essential to a growing church

One of the most helpful books for pastors that I've seen in many years is What Every Pastor Should Know: 101 Indispensable Rules of Thumb for Leading Your Church by Gary McIntosh and Charles Arn. It is packed with practical information for pastors and church leaders designed to help them be more effective and grow their churches.

Rule #22 says that "Newcomers must have seven-plus friends in the church within the first six months to become fully assimilated." This rule explains why some new members become involved in the life of the church while others seem to disappear. The authors explain that the friends are the bridge for outsiders to become insiders in a congregation. Without those friendships the new member never seems to fit in and eventually leaves.

Nearly every church I've visited have told me they are the "friendliest church in town." I often joke in my workshops that I've yet to meet the second friendliest church in any community I've been in. However, while these churches may be friendly to one another, they are not always friendly to new people. I know because I've been in many of those churches.

When I first became a judicatory leader I was not well known by many of the congregations in my Area. I had been a bivocational pastor of a small, rural church for twenty years. Being bivocational I had not attended a lot of conferences in our region or been very active in the larger denominational family. When I would visit a church for the first time, there was a good chance no one would know who I was. I used that anonymity to see how these churches received first-time guests.

In many churches I was well-received, but there were some exceptions. My wife and I noticed that some people went out of their way to ignore us. While there was often a lot of talking and laughter all around us, in some instances not a single person spoke to us. Had I been looking for a church I would not have chosen those to join.

There are a lot of resources available today addressing church hospitality as it pertains to how the church treats first-time guests. In fact, I have a workshop that I've done for several churches and associations on the subject. However, not much is done around how friendships are key to keeping our new members involved in the life of the church.

This book offers some good tips for doing this. In this post I'll just mention one. The authors suggest regularly beginning new groups for newcomers. It can be difficult for a new person to break into an existing group. However, it can be much more comfortable if everyone in the group is new.

I'm sure some reading this will object saying that this will lead to cliques in the church. Let's just be honest with one another for a minute. Your church probably already has cliques, and many of them may not be open to receiving new people they don't know. We all associate with people with whom we share common interests, and it's no different in the church.

We should be more concerned about losing new members than we are about the possibility of cliques forming in the church. Helping these new members make at least seven new friends is one way to keeping them involved in the life of the congregation, and creating new small groups for them is one way to do that.

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