The Gospel Coalition

Over ten years in pastoral ministry I've seen many new people come to church and I've seen a few long-time members leave our church. Some make these moves better than others. While there are many things I have learned about what pastors and current members should do in these situations, I'll save those ruminations for another time. Instead, I want to reflect on what new people can do right in coming to a church and what is helpful from those who decide they must leave the church.

We'll look at the coming today and the leaving tomorrow.

So what should I do when I start attending a new church?

  1. Make a decision to decide and then stick with it. Pastors understand that choosing a church is a big deal. We realize that you may check out different churches for several months. It's okay to tell us that. We won't (or shouldn't be) offended. But make up your mind to make up your mind. And when you do, throw yourself in to your new home.

  2. Introduce yourself. Yes, the church should make an effort to get to know you. But if you really want to make friends also make an effort to get to know people at the church. Wear a name tag if your church has them. Remind people of your name, even past the point when you think surely they must remember you. Make a point to talk to the pastor in the greeting line and make yourself known. Some pastors are great at meeting people. But others are introverted, bad with names, or just very busy.

  3. Start coming to church functions like you've been there forever. In my experience new folks that go to the evening service, the potluck, the congregational meeting, the Christmas program, and join a small group, almost always feel like the church is incredibly welcoming. Those who only come on Sunday mornings, and maybe only 2-3 times a month, struggle to find their way.

  4. Do ask about important doctrines, but do not press for massive changes. I have no problem with newcomers asking me where our church stands on gender roles or homosexuality or justification. It can be a very good sign when someone takes doctrine this seriously. But if you have been at the church for a month and already want to inquire about a new worship style, a new approach to children's ministry, or a new stance on spiritual gifts, then you either need to keep a number of things to yourself for awhile (or forever!) or check out a different church.

  5. Take the membership class. Even if you don't join right away, you'll be glad you got to know more about the church and meet other new people.

  6. Try not to be offended if you don't get asked to do something right away. I'm not letting pastors and church members off the hook. We need to seek out the new person. The welcoming process is most incumbent upon the incumbents. But be patient if we don't single you out for involvement in a special role. I know it feels good to be asked, but it is okay to volunteer too.

  7. Don't worry about saying no if you do get asked to do something right away. If you need a break after a hard church experience or if you just aren't ready for the task, it's okay to tell your new church "not right now." No hard feelings. We'll ask again!




Comments:

David

May 29, 2012 at 01:45 PM

Great post, thanks Kevin! As a church planter I would add this; don't tell the pastor you are 'in' until you are actually 'in'. Can't tell you how many times I've heard "this is my new church!" only to never see them again. Its perfectly fine to change your mind, just be sensitive to how you go about making your decision. Don't tease us!

[...] found some resources with advice on how to get established in a new church, (something we have done before) and on how to leave a church without burning bridges (also [...]

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May 26, 2012 at 05:32 PM

[...] How to Start at a New Church: I’m thinking this needs to somehow get into the hands of people checking out our churches for the first time. Practical and very helpful information for checking out a new church. [...]

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Mark

May 25, 2012 at 10:24 AM

From a new member's perspective, if you are the pastor of a large church, at least act like you are interested when meeting a new member. If you have ever met a politician, they will shake your hand and are immediately looking to move on, or are looking for the next opportunity, as if afraid that you are going to monopolize their time.

[...] How to Start at Your New Church [...]

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May 25, 2012 at 04:19 PM

[...] How to start at your new church — Excellent advice.  We basically did these without the list when we switched churches last year and it worked well. [...]

[...] This is why I am recommending that you read Kevin DeYoung’s  How To Start At Your New Church. [...]

[...] DeYoung provides two insightful posts on How to Start at Your New Church and How to Leave Your Old Church that help one maintain obedience and grace in the midst of those [...]

Melody

May 25, 2012 at 01:09 AM

@AC Mark Driscoll has a book called Vintage Church that addresses when it is time to leave a church.

Melody

May 25, 2012 at 01:07 AM

@Alicia at the risk of sounding weird again. I'm divorced with children and struggle with the income thing. It may be something that God wants to challenge the people sitting comfortable in church about. And He can use you that way. The most grace filled church is going to be the one for you. What Craig said was excellent. I have had single parents tell me that they don't have time to volunteer or it is too hard to do being the only parent. The quickest way to build a support system is to show people that you are willing to give too.

Jim Swindle

May 24, 2012 at 12:38 PM

Here are some quick comments for David.
When going to a new church as the pastor...
1. Be determined to love and to shepherd all of the flock--the old, the young, the stubborn, the loyal, the educated, the uneducated, and every ethnicity.
2. Express appreciation where appreciation is due, including appreciation of those who came before you. (Not flowery flattery; just honest appreciation.)
3. Don't change everything all at once.
4. After prayer and study, immediately change what urgently needs changing...and be very open when asked why you made the change.
5. Be the man God called you to be, not the man they want you to be.
6. Be in it for the long haul. Your most fruitful years at your new church will probably start once you've been there a decade.
7. Don't think that using some other church's method will bring success. Success comes from faith, prayer, work, obedience, and God's mercy.
8. Remember that success is judged by the Lord, not by your fellow-pastors.
9. Never quit on a Monday.
10. Don't hesitate to wound individuals, if it's truly necessary for their good, or for the Lord's glory, or for the good of the flock.

I'd recommend asking a few wise, godly friends of various ages whether these are good tips.

Melody

May 24, 2012 at 12:29 PM

Well I'm fat, old and kind of weird and I have managed to find a spot by volunteering. One of the first years I was there the pastor mentioned that using shyness as an excuse was still having our eyes on one's self and refusing to step out in faith. I had never thought about it as sin before.

If everyone would quit thinking about how no one is paying attention to them and start reaching out to other people, there would be a whole lot less to complain about. Grumbling is a sin too by the way.

Jesus was rejected by the world to the point of death. I really think that we can find some way to get past the "pains" of the American culture.

AC

May 24, 2012 at 12:11 PM

Kevin,

This is super-helpful stuff!

I'd be very interested in some help dealing with the similar topic of "when and how to know you should leave your church". I have no intention of leaving my church - My family loves it and we are increasingly using the suggestions above to become more involved and active and "plugged in", but I know wonderful, godly friends battling through the issue of whether to remain at their church or not. If you've already engaged this elsewhere or know of a good resource, I would love to see it addressed.

David

May 24, 2012 at 12:04 PM

Do you have a list of things to do when the person at the new church is the pastor? In several months, I will be taking on my first pastorate, and would love to know your thoughts.

Rob

May 24, 2012 at 11:25 AM

"It probably helps to be built like a quarterback or cheerleader, oddly enough, those people always get noticed and invited to things."

Dave, we're no different than the world if that's the case. Sadly, you're probably more right on that than any of us would care to admit.

Dave

May 24, 2012 at 11:10 AM

It sure sounds like you are apologising for the lack of love that Churches give new people. My friend gave me some great advice when going to a new Church, 'you must make the effort to get to know them, because they aren't going to make the effort to get to know you'. I pity the poor Christian who is shy, they have no chance at all. It probably helps to be built like a quarterback or cheerleader, oddly enough, those people always get noticed and invited to things.

Rob

May 24, 2012 at 10:54 AM

Thanks, Kevin, for the tips. As someone who could possibly be moving in the next few months because of a job, I always wonder how my family and I would fit into a new church and get to something resembling the same level of commitment that we currently have.

However, fitting into a new church is hard work, especially if the people who are already there do little to nothing to make you feel welcome. I've been to a few churches in my time where the people simply go to their own cliques, preferring to talk with their friends (or sitting by themselves) rather than welcoming a new face to their church. It is kind of a two-way street on both the church and the potential new member, especially if the new person is already a believer.

[...] How to Start at Your New Church – Kevin DeYoung [...]

Melody

May 24, 2012 at 07:58 AM

Introduce yourself.

I like this one, especially in a large church. I don't know why everyone assumes that other people have been there forever and should be able tell that they are new. Depending on what areas of ministry that you connect with it can take years before you run into people that you know from the community, only to discover you have been coming for the same amount of time.

Alicia

May 24, 2012 at 04:41 PM

Very glad to see this article. Looking for all helpful advice. I'm a single mother of a toddler and have been attending services at a few different churches within the two area counties for the last two months, trying to find a home for us. It is finally sinking in that my economic level, unwed status, and not being originally this or that particular denomination has an enormous impact on the level of warmth. It is hard and exhausting and worth it (I keep reminding myself every Thursday as Sunday approaches). I miss having a home in God's house and I'll not let myself forget what the other side of the door feels like once we do find a place to praise again.

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Craig

May 24, 2012 at 02:50 PM

After 20 years in the military, I have had to start at a new church many times. I agree with all of Kevin's points. Just one thing to add - on #3. In my experience, the best functions to jump into in order to become really a part of the church community (besides the regular ones like Sun morning and the mid-week program) are things that take commitment and effort - like church work days and VBS. It communicates your commitment to the church much more than your signature at the bottom of a church covenant. And, there is something about working hard alongside someone that helps to build relationships.

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June 26, 2012 at 12:12 PM

[...] attend on Sunday mornings. Mere attendance will leave you feeling disconnected. Make sure to read How to Start at Your New Church for more help on this. Share [...]

Sunday Orji

June 16, 2012 at 04:22 AM

Really thoughtful a subject. New timers too have to make efforts to know and known by the church.

[...] First, “How To Start At Your New Church”. [...]

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KB

July 7, 2012 at 10:22 PM

Any thoughts for someone with invisible disabilities? It's hard to be as involved and attend as regularly as I'd like, but because my physical disabilities are not readily visible, I tend to get judged pretty quickly and unfairly, yet I don't want to "dump all the details" as a new person either.

[...] found some resources with advice on how to get established in a new church, (something we have done before) and on how to leave a church without burning bridges (also [...]