Thursday, October 25, 2012

From Dropping In to Staying In

Bob Jackson claims in his excellent 'Everybody Welcome' course that if churches could simply retain more of the people who come to visit, most of the would be growing not shrinking. What we need is not necessarily more mission activity, but to be better at integrating new members and helping them to belong.

A recent 'Resourcing Mission Bulletin' from the CofE had a study from Canterbury Diocese on churches that did well at retaining new members of all ages. Here are 10 factors which were seen as significant -

What was it about these churches that helped these newcomers not only to become committed members of their faith communities, but also be transformed from churchgoers into disciples of Christ? Interestingly, the same factors which help adults to do this also help teenagers and children:

1. The children were happy and enjoyed their activities:
Briony (11): It's nice doing all the activities every Sunday with your friends and you have a lot of fun. And you have fun and you're still learning.

2. The quality of the welcome they received overcame their initial nervousness:
Carl: It was very laid-back and very welcoming. I had a lot of fears of what it would be but they were kind of not there when I actually came to it and I actually sat down and walked around and people were talking to me, it was a very nice, great atmosphere.

3. A relaxed and friendly atmosphere, even where the worship was more formal:
Mary: It's very friendly and welcoming and easy to feel that you’re a part of; it's not that you've got to work at it. It's very comfortable.

4. The Christian faith was taught well and made relevant to life and its questions:
Chris: You can kind of slot in what the Bible's saying and what you're being taught into your life. I think that's quite important. I don't think that I would go if it had no relevance to my life at all.

5. Existing church members enfolded newcomers into their friendship networks:
Richard: My first impressions of going to a house group was they were nice; nice people. And some of them I've stayed in contact with I am real solid good friends with.

6. Newcomers were invited not only to participate in the life of the church, but to take on responsibilities of many different kinds:
Ben (16): Before it had been, like, ‘Oh I'm still giving this a try’; after three or four months they decided to lend me a drum kit? And then, like, apparently I was pretty good, so they drafted me into one of the bands? And that kind of kept me going out of duty, but then I also loved doing it at the same time?- so it was a sense of ‘I like doing this; I want to be here’.

7. After initial questions were resolved, new questions of faith were constantly raised and addressed:
Liz: He said to me: ‘You have to read it in the context in which it is written’. And so my reading started to expand and, subsequently, I read the Bible in the context in which it is written, and I still do to this day. Question things constantly.

8. Worship was inspiring, though very different in each faith community:
Lily (14): It helps me, like, focus on God. It gets rid of other distractions. 

9. Children began to make friends and grow into a faith of their own:
Maggie: With Macey (7), if she's upset or someone gets hurt, she'll quite often say, ‘Oh, can we pray about it’… she's learning to build a relationship with Jesus even though he's maybe not aware of that.

10. New members ended up with a new sense of identity, as a Christian who belongs to a particular faith community:
Kate: It's not just about Sunday morning for two hours; as well, it's very much a whole lifestyle.

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