Where have the Millers been?” Guiltily, I admitted I didn’t know. The Millers had joined our church last spring full of enthusiasm. I had not consciously missed them, though looking back, I knew it had been too long since I’d seen them. Had they moved? No one knew.

Sound familiar?

Assimilation of new members is often the missing link between successful evangelism and faithful shepherding. Frustrated by this wide open “back door,” we analyzed the barriers to assimilation.

Some barriers are erected by new members themselves.

Some are emotional barriers. Perhaps a couple has just come from a bad church experience. Or perhaps they had done too much in their previous church and burned out. Now they just want to sit.

Others have a spiritual hindrance. They may not be mature enough to see the need for fellowship and ministry. They prefer fishing, camping, or golf.

Still others have relational encumbrances—perhaps an unbelieving spouse. Maybe the new member does not want “to get involved without my mate.”

How could we overcome these barriers and prevent dropouts?

In 1984, through a survey, I discovered that members who (1) had their five closest friends in the congregation and (2) were socially active with at least five members or couples in the congregation had the greatest involvement in the ministry. Those with no close friends or social contacts in the congregation were most likely to slip out the back door.

As a result, we began a new approach with incoming members.

In the past, our quarterly new-members classes emphasized our church history, doctrine, and practice of the sacraments. Now, the primary purpose has become helping new members build friendships and assume an active role. Our seven-week class centers on the theme “The Family ...

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