By Cynthia Woolever
New churches attract lots of new worshipers (42% joined in the past five years compared to only 28% for the typical Presbyterian church). As these churches take in these newcomers, do they assume everyone will just blend in, go native, or adapt without assistance? No! We’ve found that they make special efforts to ensure their worshipers connect with one another and with the congregation.
They make use of small groups or cells. New PC(USA) churches offer small groups as a strategy for involving people beyond just attending worship. These small groups serve as vehicles for engaging people in community service, building discipleship, and bonding with other attendees.
They emphasize religious education for everyone. Our research showed that more people are enrolled in such classes in new PC(USA) congregations than older, more established congregations. The median enrollment is 90 in new PC(USA) churches and 36 in other PC(USA) churches.
They communicate electronically with members. Fully 90% of new PC(USA) churches use e-mail to communicate with worshipers. In contrast, just 72% of other PC(USA) churches do. In addition, more new PC(USA) churches (86%) than other churches (63%) use a website to stay in touch with attendees.
They issue invitations and make personal contacts with newcomers. New PC(USA) congregations are more likely than other PC(USA) churches to use a variety of specific ways to get new people integrated into the life of the congregation (see following table). Leaders in new churches strategically invite new worshipers to take on a church ministry role and/or a community service ministry. Clergy or laity often make follow-up visits to encourage participation.
Not by chance. New congregations do not assume that new worshipers will take on the burden of assimilating themselves. Rather they know that intentional strategies are necessary for newcomers to find their way to active discipleship. What can your congregation learn from them?