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Who cares?

Identifying and Enrolling Prospects

Who cares that 62 percent of the unchurched feel the church is irrelevant (Barna 1990)? Who cares that they believe church people are not loving and caring, but are concerned mostly about themselves?

Congregations that want to make a difference in people's lives and in their communities care. Churches that take seriously the growth and development of people seek to involve them in life-changing Bible study and Sunday school.

Most people do not seek a church, and most churches do not seek people. But a recent Gallup poll revealed that 58 percent of the unchurched in America "could see themselves becoming actively involved in a church today and are open to an invitation." Reaching, keeping, and discipling people are most effective when done through Bible study groups or Sunday school classes.

What Is Enrollment?

Enrollment in Bible study or Sunday school is how the church builds people. Churches that don't enroll and involve people in Bible study or Sunday school may attract a crowd, but they will not build people. Enrollment is the conscious, deliberate effort to involve people in life changing Bible study so they will be enriched and developed.

Enrollment is a tangible expression of the church's commitment to care for people. It attempts: (1) to cultivate and nurture the friendship of those who are enrolled, and (2) to develop their spiritual growth through ministry, Bible study, and other activities. Enrollment makes each person the responsibility of a group, class, or department that will minister to him.

Enrollment provides a prospect pool. As a group or class actively seeks to build relationships with them, many enrollees will be unable to resist the invitations and genuine expressions of love and concern. They will become active members.

Enrollment is an evaluation tool. It helps a church judge its effectiveness in outreach and assimilation. The enrollment figure helps the church determine the number of classes and departments and the number of workers needed.

Enrollment is the basis for projecting growth. Growth ratios based on enrollment help leaders project worship attendance, Sunday school or Bible study attendance, income, and conversions.

Enrollment is the basis for the church's care ministry. We enroll people so we can maintain appropriate contact and minister to them. Without enrollment, it would be easy to overlook some persons.

The Value of Enrolling People in Bible Study

Of churches that plateaued in attendance and then began to grow again, 78 percent have "increased emphasis upon Sunday school in the past several years (Kirk Hadaway, Church Growth Principles: Separating Fact from Fiction. Broadman, 1991). Churches that grow intentionally make their Sunday school evangelistic. They identify prospects, enroll them, and actively seek to involve them in regular Bible study or Sunday school classes or groups.

Churches are stronger when people are involved in Bible study. John Vaughn, founder and director of Megachurch Research Center, said, "Today's megachurch is tomorrow's empty cathedral" (Megachurches and American Cities, 1993). Any church that doesn't take the development of people through the systematic study and application of God's Word seriously stands to suffer significant loss of people and effectiveness.

Evangelism and assimilation are more effective when people are enrolled in Bible study or Sunday school. Research indicates that life changing Bible study classes and groups are most effective in evangelism and assimilation. In his book The Growth Spiral, Andy Anderson said that two out of four people enrolled in a Bible study group are unsaved. One out of four people enrolled in a Bible study will be saved and baptized in water within 1 year of enrollment. He contrasted this with 400 persons not enrolled in a Bible study group. Only one is saved in the same year. Anderson also said that nearly 100 percent of new converts who are enrolled in Bible study groups are assimilated into the church. With personal evangelism, one out of five will be baptized in water. With mass evangelism and crusades, one out of 10 is baptized. With Sunday school and Bible study, 9 out of 10 are baptized.

Finances increase when people are enrolled and involved in Bible study. People who are regular in Bible study or Sunday school and worship attendance seem to be more obedient to Christ in stewardship. Elmer Towns, church growth consultant, said that the average per capita giving for worship-only attendees is 50 cents per week compared to $10 per week for those who attend both Sunday school or Bible study and worship service.

Enrollment is the first step in getting people to become actively involved in Bible study and Sunday school.

What Should Our Enrollment Policy Be?

Open enrollment is the best policy. Open enrollment means you will enroll anybody, anywhere, at anytime as long as the person agrees to enroll. It further means you will remove names from the roll only when the persons have died, moved out of the area, joined another church, or asked to be removed.

Open enrollment is a practical way for the church to be true to Scripture and the commands of Christ. Jesus said, "Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled" (Luke 14:23).

This policy begs the question, why do we need to enroll anyone? We enroll people so we can minister to them. We remove them when we can no longer minister to them.

The enrollment policy should also include appropriate follow-up. The 4 to 6 weeks following enrollment are critical to ensuring that the enrolled person becomes actively involved. Phone calls, personal visits, and mail are practical ways to follow up. Studies show that 80 percent of those enrolled and followed up will attend.

How is the follow-up done best? Once a person enrolls, he should be assigned to a group, class, or department. Kirk Hadaway, a church statistician, said, "Increasing one's enrollment will not affect Sunday school attendance, nor the growth of the church, unless continual efforts are made to visit, invite, and involve persons who are enrolled, but who do not attend" (Church Growth Principles: Separating Fact from Fiction. Nashville: Broadman, 1991, p. 51).

How do we know we are enrolling enough new people? As a rule of thumb, enrollment should be twice the number in attendance. "Enrollment is the base from which you work. Determine your attendance goal and then double that to get your enrollment goal. Enrollment should be not more than twice average attendance and not less than 70 percent more than your average attendance. For example, if your present attendance is 50, your enrollment should be between 70 and 100. These enrollment goals alone will not increase attendance, but they are the place to start. The primary reason for focusing on enrollment is to help each class become more aware of the people they are responsible for and thus take action to care for and minister to them" (Focus on Administration, Springfield: GPH, 1993, p. 63).

Whom Do We Enroll?

Lost persons need to be reached. People in every church have friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors who do not know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Studies show that the church's extended potential congregation is at least six times larger than the average adult attendance. It is estimated that every person who has been a Christian for 2 years or longer still has between six and eight unchurched contacts. Those who have been Christians for less than 2 years average 12 unchurched contacts.

Generally this group of people is the easiest to reach. Opportunities for ministry to prospects include times of crisis, tragedy, or transition such as death, illness, family problems, financial need, loneliness, changing jobs, children starting school, or graduation.

Those who attend worship services only need to be enrolled. In 1989 and 1990, the Search Institute conducted a study of six different denominations regarding the value and impact of Bible study and Christian education in the lives of constituents. They found that churches with a strong systematic study of God's Word through Christian education (Sunday school) had teenagers and adults whose faith was stronger and more viable, who were less likely to leave their faith, and who were less likely to be at risk. They were less likely to get involved in drugs, alcohol, and illicit sex. People in these churches had a more developed, integrated faith. Their faith, spiritual growth, and development activated their everyday lives.

Whenever guests are present at a church activity, explain the benefits of enrollment and provide opportunity for them to enroll in Bible study. This includes the preschoolers, children, and youth who attend special ministries such as VBS, kids crusades, camps, and midweek programs.

Non-attending parents of children and youth who attend Sunday school, VBS, or other activities also are good candidates for enrollment.

Methods for Prospecting and Enrolling

TeleTOUCH. This method uses the telephone to identify prospects. Contacts who do not attend a church regularly are asked if they would like to receive information about the church and Bible studies. The TeleTOUCH Manual from Sunday School Promotion and Training Department, ($2, #714-899) is an effective tool for setting up this type of outreach.

Enrollment campaign. This is an annual or semiannual effort intentionally designed to find prospects and enroll them in Bible study. The morning worship service is a good place to begin this people search. In addition, encourage members to carry enrollment cards always. They should pray for opportunities to reach out to unchurched people and enroll them.

Operation Andrew. Members identify four or five friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors not currently enrolled. During a 3-month period, they specifically pray for and reach out to these persons.

Encourage everyone to carry enrollment cards. They should pray for and seek opportunity to reach out to unchurched people. An intentional, sensitive effort should be made to enroll them.

Outreach Bible studies. This strategy seeks to involve unchurched people in a 3- or 4-week basic Bible study. The objective is to reach them where they are and lead them to more active involvement in Bible study.

The welcoming process. Invite guests to enroll in Sunday school at the welcome center, in classes, or in worship services. Obtain parental consent before enrolling children.

Becoming a member. Encourage everyone who requests church membership to enroll in Bible study or Sunday school. Criteria for membership should include a commitment to be involved in regular Bible study.

Training Members To Enroll Prospects

Relationships are the most effective basis for reaching and enrolling people. Teach your members to be alert to opportunities that will help them develop these valuable relationships. Share the following instructions with them.

Whenever you meet a guest in a service, class, or event, ask the person to enroll in Bible study or Sunday school. You might say, "We're glad you're here today. We want to do our best to help you in any way we can. If you have a need, we want you to feel you can count on our church to help.

"Our Bible study groups are a caring arm of our church. Enrollment in Bible study shows your interest in becoming all you can be and our commitment to help you. We would like for you to be a part of our group. Would you like to enroll in a Bible study?"

It is positive to assume they would like to be part of your group. In some instances, people will prefer not to enroll, but they will register as guests. If this happens, say something like, "I understand your need to find out more about the church before you make a decision. Perhaps you will want to enroll at the end of the class or in a week or two."

Here is a sample script for prospecting and enrolling by telephone or door-to-door. (The TeleTOUCH Manual has additional information on this subject.)

"Hi, my name is _________ . I'm from [name of church] located [give directions from a easily recognized landmark]. We are doing a survey in this area. May I ask you a couple of questions?"

If the person says no, thank him and leave, or give appropriate literature and leave.

If the answer is yes, continue with the following:

"Do you attend a church on a regular basis?"

If the contact says yes, you respond, "It's great to find other people in our community who have a strong faith. We are attempting to locate people who are not involved in a local church."

If the answer is no, you will reply, "Our church is interested in the people and families of our community. We want to be of service to you and help you as much as we can. Because you don't attend church regularly, we would like to be available to you if you ever experience a need. You can count on us to help you as much as we can.

"We would also like to keep you informed about upcoming seminars, classes, programs, and activities that might interest you. This service is provided through the Bible study groups in our church. Our commitment to you involves three things:

  1. If you call, we will do our best to help you.
  2. With your permission we will provide you with information about upcoming seminars, classes, programs, and activities that may interest you.
  3. With your permission we will contact you periodically to see how you are doing.

"May we enroll you in one of our Bible study groups, so you can contact us if ever you have need? Will you give us permission to contact you periodically and provide you with valuable information about upcoming seminars, classes, programs, and activities?"

If the person says no, ask, "Which of the three options do you prefer not to be a part of?" (Attempt to get the person to permit you to send information about the church and activities. You may also ask if there are children in the home and if you might enroll them in Sunday school. If the persons respond favorably, get information about the children and ask if they would like to attend Sunday school this week. You may offer to arrange transportation if needed.)

If the person agrees to be enrolled, ask for names of all family members and check the address to which you will send information about the church. (See the sample enrollment card.)

Thank the person for speaking with you.

When you identify and enroll people in life-changing Bible study, you are saying that your church cares.

For more enrollment information:

The Church Growth Spiral Manual. Springfield, Missouri: Sunday School Promotion and Training, 1993.

The Church Growth Spiral Kit. Springfield, Missouri: Sunday School Promotion and Training, 1993.

Focus on Administration. Edgerly, George, Efraim Espinoza, and Steven Mills. Springfield Missouri: Gospel Publishing House 1993.


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