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Conserving the Harvest - First Steps for New Believers

In 1984, for every 100 people reported converted in Assemblies of God churches, 44 followed the Lord in obedience and were baptized in water. In 1994 the percentage dropped to 31 and to 23 in 1996.

The same pattern is repeated in Holy Spirit baptisms. In 1984 the percentage of Holy Spirit baptisms to conversions was 35. In 1994 the percentage dropped to 24 and fell to 18 in 1996.

One conclusion seems certain----fewer people reportedly converted are becoming fully devoted followers of Christ. One reason is a lack of adequate and appropriate new convert follow-up.

The first weeks and months in a new convert's life are critical to spiritual life and success. Many are lost through crib death. Inadvertently ignored, they suffer from lack of nurture and nutrition. Left to fend for themselves, many survive but fail to mature. Many others simply die.

Of the nearly 12,000 Assemblies of God churches surveyed in 1996, 40 percent reported they did not have a new convert follow-up strategy. Another 19 percent did not respond to the question. Forty-one percent reported they have some type of new convert follow-up. The extent or effectiveness of follow-up is not established.

Follow-up Defined

Follow-up is the spiritual ministry of grounding a new believer in the faith, which involves helping the new convert discover assurance of salvation and develop the basic disciplines and values critical to spiritual maturity. The goal is to help each believer become perfected in Christ. This was the apostle Paul's objective: "We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me" (Colossians 1:28,29, NIV). Paul was not willing to allow a new believer to die unattended and not nurtured. He followed up conversion with love, protection, spiritual food (teaching), and training. He grounded the new believer in faith.

Why New Convert Follow-up

A church should provide effective new convert follow-up because:

1. A new Christian is most teachable. When someone has truly given his life to Christ, he desires to learn and grow. He is like a sponge soaking in all he can from the Word, teachers, and other believers. The first weeks and months are the most critical in developing the habits that will shape his life.

2. A new Christian is vulnerable. His appetite for learning, combined with spiritual immaturity, leaves him vulnerable to deceptive schemes of men, erroneous teaching, and demonic influences. Knowing little of the Word, a new convert is easy prey as he faces tests and temptations. Immediate and effective follow-up helps to guard the young believer's heart and faith and provides him with necessary knowledge and skills to combat these dangers.

3. A new Christian is changeable. At this crossroad, he faces critical issues and decisions. The example and guidance of a spiritually mature believer can help detect areas in the new convert's life that need more attention and will help him grow into a healthy, balanced Christian..

Developing an Effective
Follow-up Plan

Developing an effective follow-up plan can be done in four steps.

1. Identify the spiritual decision and condition of the person.

When a person responds to an altar call or invitation for prayer, it is critical to understand specifically what decision he is making and what his spiritual need really is.

Frequently, leaders have difficulty identifying when true conversion takes place in a person's life. True conversion cannot be defined as responding to an altar call or repeating a prayer. True conversion has one primary sign: a change in desires.

A person's life may still be a tangled mess; he may be dealing with life-controlling bondages; but he has a change of heart, a new set of desires. He now desires to read the Bible, pray, witness, serve, fellowship with other believers, and please God. He has a new conscience and begins to discern right from wrong.

If this foundation is not in a person's life, there is nothing to build upon. It is dangerous and destructive to lead a person to believe he is a Christian if he really has not given his life to Christ. Such a person thinks he is a Christian and will become frustrated because he does not find the victorious life in Christ. The discipler also becomes frustrated because he doesn't see the new convert growing in Christ.

In some situations the person may move forward in his spiritual journey toward God but has not yet experienced true conversion. The leader must deal with a new convert where he is and not lead him to believe he is at a spiritual level he has not yet chosen.

When a person responds to an invitation for prayer, it will be for one of five reasons:

Spiritual awareness: He is responding to an increased awareness of God in his life but has not yet surrendered his life to Christ.

Personal need: He has a personal need----physically, emotionally, financially----and desires God's help. He may or may not be a Christian.

Conversion: He is repenting of sin and surrendering control of his life to Jesus Christ.

Rededication: He is coming back to Christ after a time of backsliding.

Spiritual hunger: He is a believer but desires a closer, deeper walk with Christ.

Each person has a different need and must be dealt with accordingly. This leads to the second step in developing effective follow-up:

2. Tailor follow-up to each person's basic needs.

Three different types of converts need to receive follow-up, and each has unique characteristics.

The new believer has recently given his life to Christ and has no spiritual foundation. Knowledge of God, the Bible, and Christianity varies from person to person.

The cold believer has had a spiritual lapse for several years in his relationship with Christ. Generally, he was never disciplined or developed in his spiritual life. He was previously unconcerned about spiritual growth and ministry.

The lukewarm believer has had some previous spiritual development and discipleship but has not been fully devoted in his walk with Christ. His values are a mixture of Christian and secular. His spiritual disciplines are weak or nonexistent, and his lifestyle does not accurately reflect that of a growing believer.

With each type of young believers, there are at least five critical areas of spiritual development to be addressed as part of immediate follow-up. The believer needs to:

  1. Receive assurance of salvation.
  2. Develop a consistent devotional life.
  3. Understand the basics for victorious living.
  4. Assimilate into the life of the church.
  5. Learn the basics of sharing faith.

These five areas need to be intentionally built into the church's immediate follow-up strategy. The new convert should gain both knowledge and skills in these areas. New convert follow-up ultimately fails if the new believer only gains knowledge with no skill or life application. Mastery of each area is not yet required, but the new convert needs the basic knowledge and skills to serve as foundation for lifelong spiritual growth.

Although each area of spiritual development needs to be addressed, individual needs, issues, spiritual condition, and knowledge may dictate the amount of attention needed in each area.

3. Involve the new convert in multiple discipling relationships.

Involving the new convert in three different types of discipling relationships will increase the effectiveness of and accelerate spiritual development: Sunday school/small group, personal study/development, and mentoring. Each relationship provides the new convert a different but essential component.

The Sunday school/small group provides group Bible study, fellowship, and prayer in the context of other believers. This valuable relationship allows the new convert to meet with other believers who are living out their walk with Christ in the context of a Christian community. He learns the value of the body of Christ and the importance of accountability and responsibility that promote growth.

Personal study/development is vital because the new convert grows through his own efforts of personal Bible study/prayer, reading books, listening to tapes, watching videos, and participating in seminars. In this context the new believer learns to walk and feed himself spiritually. Personal study is an essential discipline to develop. Without it, he is dependent upon others and remains a babe----always requiring nurturing.

A mentoring relationship is important because the new convert has the personal example and attention of a more spiritually developed believer. The new convert learns the values, disciplines, and character qualities of a true disciple in the context of an accountable, loving relationship, which is the most important but least used in the development of the new convert.

A person who receives Christ as Savior may value what Christ has done and be acquainted with some basic teachings. If he is not grounded in the faith and disciplines of Christ, however, he has not yet discovered the inner secret that gives his personal relationship with Christ its supreme value. A new convert who receives nurture, teaching, and training is much more likely to reflect the character and nature of Christ in his life.


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