There is a definite relationship between the proper receiving of new converts and their remaining active in church fellowship.
What can newcomers expect from the church? This is an extremely important question because it has a direct bearing upon the success of church membership. It is one thing for us to expect much from new converts; it is even more important to be mindful of what we must be and do for new believers.
The responsibility of the church to new believers is clearly explained in the Word of God. In fact, the high point of the Christian charter includes the words “teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). The Great Commission is a command for both evangelism and conservation of church membership. This is what Dr. John A. Broadus had in mind when he made his oft-quoted statement: “Much of the work of discipling has not included that of teaching; and much of the work of teaching has ignored that of discipling.” In other words, establishing converts goes hand-in-hand with receiving converts.
The words of the apostle Paul present a simple and effective outline of the church’s responsibility to new members. Paul wrote to the Christian flock: “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you” (1 Peter 5:10). Obeying the call of the gospel, often through much suffering, new converts expect to enjoy the blessings of church fellowship, to become fully established in the household of God, to become strong in faith, and that the church will be their spiritual home. It is the church’s responsibility to see that these expectations are realized. By the new birth, souls enter the church, but that is only the beginning of new life. A moment is enough for life’s beginning, but the growing of a soul should be the holy, happy business of a lifetime. To a large degree, it is the church’s responsibility to bring about this prolonged, happy experience in the things of God.
New converts have a right to expect certain things from the church. First of all, converts expect that their church will have faith in their sincerity. They are beginning new, unfamiliar lives. Their pasts, doubtless known to others, are still fresh in their memories. With fear and trembling, they enter the household of the saints. At the very least, the saints should believe in the sincerity of these newborn children of faith.
At this time, Paul’s admonition should be very carefully heeded: “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not please ourselves. . . . Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:1-7). An influx of new converts necessitates numerous changes and adjustments in church life and procedure. The receiving of new members into the church is not time for the saints to please themselves and say in their hearts, “I can’t be bothered.” Instead, the saints are to remember when they were first received into the church. They must make room for these new members and receive them in the name of Jesus Christ.
New converts can also expect that the church, in which they assume full responsibility of membership, will give adequate instruction in the meaning of church affiliation. The emphasis here is on instruction, not criticism. New believers are learners. They are entitled to the right kind of instruction. Too often the saints have become set, formal, and inactive in church service and are therefore irked by the earnestness and zeal of new converts. They want to stifle and crush that first love, and in so doing, they deeply wound the newcomers. The attitude of such stereotyped, complacent saints brings to mind a certain incident. A preacher once asked a farmer why oxen always walked so slowly. The farmer replied, “I don’t know, except that they always break in the young oxen with the old ones. The old ones walk slow, and they teach the young ones to walk slow.” Let’s leave this method with the oxen and keep it out of the church.
New converts can also expect a program of Christian education adjusted to their special needs. This education pertains to doctrine, church organization, missionary (home and overseas) information, the essential qualities of Christian character, the successes of Christianity, lives of noble church leaders, and many other areas touching the work and experience of men and women of the church.
Often new converts are bombarded with criticism of church leaders and with policies by which the work of the church is accomplished. Instead of seeing that the church is following a consistent program of positive education of its members, newcomers in the faith are too often confused and left to struggle by themselves. This usually results in discouragement and separation from the church.
New converts can expect the church to provide an atmosphere of heartening goodwill and pulsating, heartwarming fellowship. New members should discover that they are among friends. They should be made to feel at home. Close friends, respected superiors, trusted consultants, and dear companions should be found in the church.
Finally, new converts can expect early integration and enlistment into the life and service of the church. It is a great honor to be a part of and participate in the activities of the church. The part may be small, yet it means much to a new believer to be called upon to serve. In this way, new members become an integral part of the body and feel wanted and needed.
The subject of receiving and holding converts requires serious and constant attention. It is hoped that the few thoughts presented here will serve to stimulate greater concern for those who seek fellowship with God’s people. If followed sincerely and prayerfully, the simple steps described above will result in holding more of our dear people in active, happy fellowship.
H. L. Rudy was the president of the Oregon Conference of Seventh-day Adventists when he wrote this article.