Turning Church Visitors Into Church Members

Then, however, seemingly out of nowhere, the new member is gone. The pastor is never consulted, but he is told by another member that the visitor was unhappy with something in the church, usually the friendliness of the people, and they are now seeking another church. Then begins the difficult and time-consuming process of sorting out what went wrong. Blame is placed on the church for her failures and discouragement filters to other members who hear the complaints.

I confess that after almost twenty years of pastoral ministry, I still do not learn lessons very well. After these many years, I should know by now that affirmations like this, and immediate responses that demand becoming a member of the church, typically have around a six-month commitment level, and then the silent departure follows.

The real issue, however, is rarely thought through: Did we really love the visitor with patient discipling, or was this a joint effort in personal and ecclesiastical narcissism?

We see this constantly in Southern California. Evangelicalism is in a drastic state of decline, and I suspect in the years to come that we will see record numbers of people who are currently involved in a broader evangelical church identify as exvangelical. There are those, however, who are genuinely seeking something more substantive. Reformed churches offer a radical alternative to the theological shallowness of many evangelical churches. Visitors attend, often after hearing someone like RC Sproul on the radio, and they are mind blown.

The problem is that detoxification from evangelicalism is a very long process and transition to a Reformed church is not an easy one for former evangelicals. You can take an evangelical out of evangelicalism, but it’s for more difficult to take evangelicalism out of an evangelical. In other words, we have to appreciate that coming to a Reformed church really is a new kind of “experience” for evangelicals—and living with “experience” is all they’ve known. The Word of God is expositionally expounded, the sacraments are valued, and the community is serious about the Christian faith all in ways often not previously experienced.

…There are certainly right and wrong reasons to leave a local church. But departures should not be because there was a neglect of the necessary time to train newcomers in what the church believes and confesses, and to help them integrate into their new community. If they are not willing to take the time to learn the doctrines of the church and the community to which they are joining, then there is nothing wrong with encouraging them to find a church where they can make this solemn commitment before the Lord. These efforts by the leadership will cultivate a more sincere commitment to the body of Christ at the local level. Read More»

Chris Gordon | “Thinking Carefully About Our Approach With Church Visitors” | January 23, 2023


Resources

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2 comments

  1. Having belonged to various congregations for the ~55+ years since moving into adulthood, I’ve seen it all, as they say. Some churches are very friendly and welcoming, but frequently weak on orthodoxy – the two seem to go hand in hand. Others often seemed cold and indifferent to visitors or even to new members and “seemed” to have a good grasp on their denomination’s confessions and belief system, though much of that may have just been going through the motions of something they’ve done all their lives. Also, and this is hardly a secret, the larger the congregation the more sterile and elitist the members often seem to newcomers.

    A good recommendation (in addition to your own interview with her) would be to listen to an interview that Marvin Olasky conducted with Rosaria Butterfield at Patrick Henry College. It’s available on the Reformation21 website. She explains how a neighbor very slowly, never forcibly, encouraged her without making demands that he knew she’d rebel against. Over quite a long period of time she went from just sitting in her car in the church parking lot to slowly entering the church to gradually interacting with the members, etc. It’s an inspiring story.

    Also, it would be a worthy thing for some of a congregation’s members, especially the elders, to read or maybe even re-read Mortimer Adler’s “How to Speak, How to Listen.” I’m frequently turned off by how some members of a small group or even a Sunday morning class love to hear themselves talk and ramble on and on. I recall on one occasion where a lady who was doing this so constantly that some of the group members finally made a few not so subtle remarks about her behavior, to which she replied, “Well, if I have to shut my big mouth I might as well not even come here!” Go figure.

  2. “The problem is that detoxification from evangelicalism is a very long process and transition to a Reformed church is not an easy one for former evangelicals. You can take an evangelical out of evangelicalism, but it’s for more difficult to take evangelicalism out of an evangelical. In other words, we have to appreciate that coming to a Reformed church really is a new kind of “experience” for evangelicals—and living with “experience” is all they’ve known. The Word of God is expositionally expounded, the sacraments are valued, and the community is serious about the Christian faith all in ways often not previously experienced.”

    I can say from first hand experience the above is true. My husband and I left a large Evangelical Church in North San Diego County many years ago. We were leaning toward historical Reformed theology so decided to attend a few church services at United Reformed Church in Escondido. Unfortunately, I was just not ready to make the change at the time so we didn’t stay.

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