How to Help New Members Serve
Below are comments from volunteers who meet with new members
When you welcome new members to your church, help them volunteer! It's not an underhanded recruitment technique. it's true to scriptural truth and something most new members appreciate. (See "New Members Make Great Volunteers").
Here's how we do it at my church, St. Peter Lutheran in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Sit down with one or two people from your church and decide what will work best for you.
In our new member class, we teach these truths. (It's important that these truths come up regularly in weekly worship, too!)
"It's fun because they are always so excited."
- the integral role of serving in the life of every believer
- the giftedness of all believers
- the church as the body of Christ in which each member is needed and each is designed by God for their role
We tell our new members how to access ministry job descriptions. (See these resources.) We tell them we'll provide someone to talk to, but we also encourage them to just jump right in to a ministry if they wish. We also make a gifts discovery tool available.
We provide trained volunteers to meet with these new members. These volunteers are good listeners who are familiar with the church's ministries. They are reliable and spiritually mature, as they will be working on their own with people at varying places in their Christian life.
We train these volunteers with a thorough understanding of how these new member visits fit into and support your church's big picture of helping people serve. We teach them to ask helpful, open-ended questions (ones that can't be answered with just a word or two) and how to listen well (not as easy as it sounds). We unclude all the nuts and bolts of how they'll get paired with a new member, where they will meet, how they'll report back, and whether or not they'll be doing any follow-up.
There is no typical meeting. Every new member is unique, and every meeting is different. But the visit is a purposeful one, and the volunteer leading it needs to have a prepared track to run on, along with the ability to adapt on the fly. I've found it helpful to have three basic topics:
"When the new members see that the church is interested in their success as a member, they become more interested in the church."
- "Tell me the story of how you came to our church." This is usually familiar and comfortable for them. From what they say, or by asking some follow-up questions, I have an idea of their previous church experience, and any prior church volunteer experience. Their expectations of the church also affect their serving. Are they looking for a school for their child? A new church family? A place to worship but not get involved?
- Their skills and interests. I might ask about their job, especially its specific tasks (manage people, work with facts and figures, serve as receptionist, teach, etc.) and whether or not they enjoy those tasks. I might ask a full-time homemaker what she did before having children. I bring up gifts or interests that I've noticed from the conversation so far, or that they've mentioned on a form completed earlier. I want to find out not only what they're good at, but what they particularly enjoy doing, not only in their work, but also perhaps in their hobbies, previous volunteering and home and family activities. I also look for gifts their accomplishments demonstrate but they haven't mentioned.
- "Have you given some thought to how you'd like to get involved at our church?" I'm getting ideas as we talk, but I want to first hear what they say. Responses at this point range from a declaration that they're too busy to get involved, to a prepared list of 16 things (yes, a literal count from an actual visit) they're willing to do. As we continue to talk, I look for places that are a good fit. An energetic person with organizational skills and lots of new ideas would be a wonderful gift to some ministries, but that person wouldn't likely be happy in ministries that are very happy exactly the way they are.
For each ministry the newcomer is interested in, we ask someone from that ministry to contact them. Because we're helping newcomers, we take the initiative rather than expecting the newcomer to initiate contact. We ask our ministry leaders to be prompt, welcoming and helpful as they make these contacts.
"The new member has a seasoned member that they know, and when they see you in church itís, 'Oh, hi!'"
Then we follow up, to make sure no one falls through any cracks. Did our choir director contact Matt, the new member who asked for more info on choir? Did Matt come to a rehearsal as he said he would? Did he join choir? If at any point communication has broken down between Matt and the choir director, or if choir doesn't work out for Matt, someone must notice and step in to continue the process of helping Matt serve.
Data storage is an issue here. How will results of the visit be recorded? Will it be shared with other church leaders? How will gifts and interests be recorded in a way that can be searched as future ministry opportunities arise?
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It takes people to make the visits and perhaps other to do the record-keeping. It's a lot of work. But one of our volunteers who makes these visits describes the results well. "It opens doors for people who might otherwise 'fall through the cracks.' The new member visits let people know that we care about them and want to use their talents in the church."