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Who is holding the rope?
By Steve R. Mills
Through the quiet streets of a fishing village that lay at the mouth of the turbulent river, a cry rang out, "Boy overboard!" Quickly a crowd gathered, and anxious eyes searched the rushing water for the figure of the boy. Each anxious mother's heart was asking, "Is he my boy?"
The strongest swimmer in the village volunteered to rescue the drowning lad. Tying one end of a rope to his waist, he threw the other end to the crowd and plunged into the water.
Anxiously they watched him breast the tide with strong, sure strokes, and a cheer went up when he reached the boy and grasped him safely in his powerful arms. "Pull in the rope!" he shouted over the swirling waters.
The villagers looked from one to the other. "Who is holding the rope!" they exclaimed. In the excitement of watching the rescue, they had allowed the rope to slip into the water. Powerless to help, they watched the two figures in the water go down. No one had made it his business to hold the rope.
(Finding Them, Keeping Them; Gary McIntosh, Glen Martin. Nashville: Broadman.)
You may be responding to the needs and cry of the unbeliever. You may be taking risks to reach people, but do you have a plan for following up those you are reaching? Is someone responsible to hold the rope?
The Sunday School structure provides one of the best means to properly follow up people who visit your church. Each class has a teacher. Each class should also have an outreach coordinator and hospitality coordinator. They can hold the rope. This doesn't mean they do all the follow-up, but they can coordinate it with members of their class.
of effective follow-up and assimilation of guests.
1. Time Principle. The follow-up visit needs to be made within 48 hours. In his book How To Build a Magnetic Church, Herb Miller writes, "When laypersons make 15-minute visits to the homes of first-time worship visitors within 36 hours, 85 percent of them return the following week. Make this home visit within 72 hours, and 60 percent of them will return. Make it 7 days later, and 15 percent will return. The pastor making this call, rather than laypersons, cuts each result in half."
2. Personnel Principle. If class members rather than pastoral staff members make the visit, it demonstrates a greater degree of care and concern. This is not to say that the pastor or staff should not visit. The type and size of a community and the type of people one is reaching should dictate the specific approach to follow-up.
3. Purpose Principle. The purpose of follow-up is to get the guest to visit again. Return visits increase the possibility of assimilation . Providing a 3- or 4-week Pastor's Welcome Class or Inquirers Class and giving guests a personal invitation to attend it increases the chances of getting them assimilated.
4. Entry Path Principle. People come to Christ and the church in gradual steps. When a Sunday School sees assimilation as a process rather than a single event, members are more successful and less likely to become discouraged.
The "funnel effect" provides the greatest number of doors for people to gain exposure to the church. It then moves people through a process whereby they ultimately become assimilated into the church. Each step provides multiple opportunities for the church to contact and follow up the unassimilated person. These doors include:
5. Infrastructure Principle. A church cannot grow beyond its ability to assimilate people into the infrastructure (group life) of the church. if groups/classes are ingrown or exclusive, new people have difficulty becoming assimilated into the church. Starting new groups is the best way to guard against exclusiveness .
Win Arn says you know you have an infrastructure problem when:
How do you know if a person is being assimilated into the life of the congregation? In New Member Assimilation Joel D. Heck says you should note: Does he or she have at least seven significant friendships in the church? Does the person regularly attend worship services? Does he or she have a meaningful and appropriate role/task within the church? Does the person actively participate in a small group experience?
If you notice that a person is lacking in any of these areas, you need to find a way to help him or her develop in that specific area.
There is no one right strategy for following up on people who visit your church and Sunday School. Here are some ideas that are being used with success in various churches.
Joel Heck lists several things that a church can do to help people become assimilated before they formally identify with the church:
After they formally identify with the church, several other ideas could be used.
(New Member Assimilation; Joel Heck; Concordia; pp. 34-42).
Make certain that no one is lost once he or she has been reached through the ministries of your church and Sunday School. Be sure someone is holding the rope!