(This article is part of the series “Building GenNext.” You can read the previous post by clicking here.)
The young man sat statue-like in the pew, observing the various chattering knots of people. There were hugs exchanged, hands waving, and smiling faces. Three weeks had elapsed since he was baptized. He was supposed to be “part” of this group now, and yet he still felt like an outsider.
The first week, there had been an outpouring of congratulations, exuberance and introductions. He definitely didn’t know more than a handful of names yet. As the weeks had trickled by, he was just… well… he was just there. The sermons were still excellent, but the preacher assumed that everyone in the audience knew all this stuff. He shook his head with a small chuckle. He still couldn’t find books like—what was it—Habakkuk? Well, it was something like that. The Bible classes were hard to keep up with too. A lot of the discussion was over his head. Maybe his friends at college were right. Maybe this was a joke. It was as if his conversion was the end-goal and now these Christians didn’t care if he was here or gone.
He shifted uneasily in his seat, debating whether he should slip out before services started or if he should stay and worship. His roommates had been planning a day at the beach. They would certainly still be there. He was certain that God wanted Him to worship, but his resolve weakened with the mounting sense of ignorance and isolation.
The choice to become a Christian is not an end, but rather a beginning.
Unfortunately, the tendency is to treat it like the finish line instead of the first step.
When a new Christian becomes part of the body of Christ, we need to do more than smile and shake hands with them on Sunday morning. That is not a relationship, it is an acquaintanceship. As with young children, relationships are no guarantee that a new Christian will remain in the church, but a lack of meaningful relationships will almost certainly lead to their exit.
How do we build relationships with new Christians?
Begin with hospitality.
Whether it’s a meal in your home, going out for a cup of coffee, or eating out at a restaurant—invite them to spend time with you, on your dime. Eating out or enjoying a cup of joe is a great chance to visit one-on-one without the pressure of services about to start or people trying to leave. Ask questions about their job, their hobbies, etcetera and give them the opportunity to learn about you as well.
Bring others to meet the new person
I am an introvert by nature. It is not always easy to walk up to someone I don’t know an introduce myself. I remember once or twice walking up to someone and saying hello and they kept looking down at the ground like they were hoping I’d just go away. I got a lot of one-word or three-word answers to my questions and I could tell they simply wanted me to vanish. I would lamely say, “It was great to meet you” and slip back to my seat feeling wrong-footed. It would take weeks before I could pluck up the courage to try something like that again.
If you are one of those amazing extrovert people, put your talent to use. Ask that new person to come meet “this great person over here” (who’s probably an introvert) or bring some new people to meet them. Whenever I’ve been new to a group, it has been so helpful to have someone do this for me. It makes me feel as if I have value to that person and also connects me with more people in the group.
Once you have spent time with the new person over coffee or a meal, invite them again, but this time with one or two people who may have common interests with that individual. In our story above, did you notice how isolated that young man felt? He still had his worldly friends who thought he was a fool for going to church. We are silly to think that Satan will not try to use those old relationships to yank that new child out of the church. We don’t want new Christians to leave their old relationships, because those relationships may lead to others knowing Christ. However, we need to help them establish strong new relationships with godly men and women who will influence this new child of God to make good choices and know the Lord more fully.
Invite them to other functions.
Invite them to a game night, a bonfire at the beach, a potluck, or your kid’s basketball game. Maybe you both play golf or share an interest in books. They may turn you down quite a bit. You’ll have to use some wisdom here as to whether to be persistent. The goal is to engage them with more people than yourself and make them feel like family (because they are now part of the family of Christ!). Maybe you connect with this person really well, maybe you don’t, but new Christians will not likely build relationships with other Christians by accident. Be the type of person who provides an environment for friendships to grow.
Are you ready to engage the new Christians within your church by building true friendships?
What have you found to be effective in helping new Christians feel welcomed into the family of Christ?