Many people came through the front doors of our churches during Easter—and many people were saved. But, as you already know, not all of those who come during Easter return the following week. And not everyone who gets saved during Easter services grows spiritually either.
So how do we make sure those who attend our Easter services return, become active in our churches, and get involved in ministry?
Keeping the fruit of your ministry is as important as winning the fruit in the first place.
What did the early Church do after big evangelistic harvests?
- They preached the Gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said in Acts 14:21-22 (NIV).
- Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them. But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the Word of the Lord (Acts 15:32-35 NIV).
- (Paul) went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches (Acts 15:41 NIV).
- After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples (Acts 18:23 NIV).
Two important phrases come up over and over again when looking at how the early Church in Acts responded after reaching people for Jesus—strengthen and encourage. After reaching large numbers for Christ—as many of you did on Easter—the early Church focused on assimilating those they had reached.
Use an assimilation strategy, not a growth strategy
Assimilation has always been really important to me. It’s what the entire Purpose Driven Church strategy is all about. It’s an assimilation strategy, not a growth strategy.
If you’ve ever read The Purpose Driven Church, you know it goes into a large amount of detail about turning unbelievers into members, members into maturing members, maturing members into ministering members, and ministering members into missionaries.
The reason Saddleback Church has grown to the size it has today is because we don’t lose people along that journey.
So how do you preserve the fruit of your evangelistic outreach?
First, contact every visitor—and particularly every salvation decision—within 48 hours. If you don’t connect with visitors soon, their response will get colder and colder. They’ll simply figure their decision—whether it was to attend your church or make a lifetime commitment to Christ—wasn’t that important to you. If you need to get extra volunteers or hire extra help, do it!
Contact your visitors and decisions by phone, email, and letter. In fact, it’s good to do all three if you can. Whether or not visitors return to your church has a lot to do with the kind of contact you make with them. If you write a letter, write it in personal language, not business language. Sign the letter with only your first name. Make it as personal and informal as you can. Focus on expressing love, not information.
Second, get them plugged in a small group. Whether you have small groups, Bible studies, or Sunday School classes, you need to get new people connected to a small group of people. We can’t know everyone in the church, but we need to know someone. If someone comes to your church and they know six to seven people by the end of the year, they’ll stay. People come to your church for many different reasons. They stay because of relationships within their own stage of life.
To connect people, consider hosting a party for all the people who accepted Christ at Easter. Sit people at tables with a person you’ve designated as a table host, and start small groups from the party.
Third, give them a responsibility. Have new people pass out bulletins or hand out doughnuts during the next month. New people to your church don’t just need to feel wanted, but they need to feel needed. At Saddleback Church, different ministries require different levels of maturity. Some ministries require the qualifications of a deacon. Some require background checks (particularly if a volunteer is working with children). Other ministries require participants to be members. But there are some ministries at Saddleback that don’t even require you to be a believer. Try to connect new people to some of those entry-level ministries.
Fourth, create a caring community. Show visitors love and acceptance, and they’ll want to come back to your church. Position your church as a family, not an institution. No one is interested in joining an institution or an organization; millions are looking for a family.
Pastor, that starts with you. To develop a warm church, you must put the thermometer in your own mouth. Not every pastor is gregarious and outgoing, and that’s okay. But if your church is going to grow, you must learn to communicate warmth through a look, a word, and a touch.