Initial Follow Up – refers to the communication and interactions with new guests at home church or CT, especially the first few times they come. Members should be able to walk up to a new person before or after a meeting and have positive conversations.
Ongoing Follow Up – refers to a process that may last weeks or months, as a new person moves to receive Christ, become committed, join a cell group and become a disciple.
These two phases in the follow up process involve different goals, methods, and approaches.
Initial Follow Up
Who should try to engage in initial follow up?
In general, the primary person responsible for interacting with new guests is the person who brought them. Bringers should not abandon their guests unless they are satisfied that others have already engaged them. New people should not be left alone during social times before or after meetings.
However, most bringers are happy to have others in the home church talk to their guests, either together, or even instead of the bringer. This could be because the guest is a different gender than the bringer (especially in singles groups), or because the bringer has already made progress, but would now like to have other voices confirm what they have been saying. Typically, other members from the same cell group as the bringer should feel special responsibility to follow up guests. Those from the related men’s or women’s cell would be equally suitable. If a bringer wants others in their cell group to help follow up with a guest, the best thing to do is let them know of the need beforehand.
Finally, anyone who has the chance should engage new people socially in a general way, but with sensitivity to what others are doing. Those with proven follow up ability should exercise their gift aggressively, while those with less experience may want to watch and learn if they get the chance.
Note that, unlike discipleship, members should feel free to follow up guests of either gender. Since the interaction is relatively brief, we usually need not worry about improper conflict of interests like we would with an ongoing discipling relationship or even with ongoing follow up.
In summary, then, initial follow up is an opportunity for any in the group to be used by God. However, an effective home church will learn to read the situation, making people feel welcome, but not overwhelmed. Deference will be shown to those:
- most involved with the new guest
- most related to the guest and bringer (because they are in the same ministry sphere)
- most gifted at follow up
What are some typical general goals for initial follow up?
Name some key general goals:
- That guests feel welcomed by people in the group
- That guests sense people are likeable and seem interested in them
- That guests are challenged spiritually in a positive way
- That guests sense an attractive warmth in the group
- That guests come to a general understanding of what the home church is about, including the gospel
- That guests have any outstanding questions answered to the best of our ability
- That guests at least form an intention to come back again
Background Factors: Setting and Context
- Note the difference in approach to a guest before the meeting, vs. after a meeting. Most people find that conversations following the meeting are far more appropriate for bringing up spiritual matters. Those before the meeting are usually best left to general social interaction.
- Quality follow up conversations usually happen while sitting down. We can have good conversations while standing around after a meeting, however, they will tend to be short and superficial compared to those possible while sitting around a table with food and/or drink, or while sitting next to each other on a deck, porch, etc. When guests agree to sit down with members, they have made an implied commitment to engage in some conversation, rather than take off right after the meeting. Home churches should provide for sit-down conversations by having tables and chairs or couches available in a suitable setting. Then we can frankly ask guests to sit with us for a few minutes. Home churches that go out after meetings to a restaurant accomplish the same thing, but run the risk of losing some people in transition. Also, going to venues like nightclubs, that are too noisy for conversation, are clearly poor for follow up. In general student groups do better going out, while adult groups do better staying in.
- Notice that even when sitting in a room surging with many people moving around, conversations are difficult. People look around at what is happening in the room and are distracted. Also, it doesn’t seem natural to bare your soul to someone in the middle of a crowd. This is another reason for seeking out a venue with tables and chairs. Sitting around a table seems to wall off the rest of the crowd, creating a conversational setting that seems more private.
Assume you meet a new guest before a home church meeting and try to strike up a conversation. What would be some specific goals in the back of your mind?
- The first priority is to find out where the guest is at in a number of key areas.
- General personal information – where they work, live, whether married, kids, etc. This area of questioning is less important, and by itself cannot do more than create a sense of general social welcome and interest, and provide information that could suggest areas of common interest.
- How they got to the meeting – who they know there and how they know them. This is more important, as it explains some of what has been happening in previous conversations.
- Spiritual background and beliefs – This is the key area, as it tells the communicator where to go next. Ascertaining spiritual background can also help prevent clumsy statements that needlessly give offense. Spiritual background also gives you the information you need to determine whether to try to move into a spiritual conversation
Spiritual Conversations: Deciding
- A spiritual conversation is the optimal outcome for a follow up interaction. In a spiritual conversation, you and the guest share views and experiences concerning spiritual matters. Here is the most likely setting for sharing the gospel, your testimony, or related truth.
- Is the setting appropriate?
- Typically, a new person will have, at most, only one spiritual conversation during their first visit, and it needs to count. Are you being called to have that conversation, or would it be better to let another speak?
- Has someone already had a spiritual conversation with the guest? Can we trust our fellow members to have said the right things? We should avoid seeming to pressure guests by having too many spiritual conversations on their first visit. An exception to this would be cases where the guest is responsive and indicates eagerness to have more than one spiritual conversation.
- As mentioned above, we think these conversations are more likely to succeed after a meeting than beforehand, and if you have managed to situate yourself in a seated position with the guest with some measure of privacy, all the better.
- You also need the prospect of at least ten, and preferably twenty minutes to converse.
- Is the person responding to you? If you sense a willingness to talk, and seem to be hitting it off with a guest, a spiritual conversation may be in order. The guest may indicate they want to talk about God when you ask questions leading into spiritual areas. Likewise they may indicate reluctance. We don’t suggest you forcefully overcome reluctance unless you are the bringer, or are aware that the situation calls for some forcefulness based on past history.
- What kind of situations might call for forcefulness? [A person who has been coming for some time, and is not apparently moving one way or the other. A person you sense is going to be lost unless a decision is made sometime soon.]
- Spiritual conversations contain more risks than general social conversations, but also are virtually the only conversations that will actually move people toward God. We suggest that younger Christians who wonder what a spiritual conversation is like, or who feel confused about what to say, should try to listen to an older Christian having a spiritual conversation with a guest.
- Have you considered what others in the Body of Christ may have already said to the guest? Awareness and sensitivity to what others are doing is a hallmark of successful home churches. Imagine how strange it would be for a guest to have 4 different people all ask the same questions!
- Notwithstanding all the barriers that might exist, we have to also consider that if a person comes to home church two or three times without having a spiritual conversation, we are probably doing a very poor job at follow up. We don’t believe that everyone has to have a spiritual conversation the first time they come to home church, but they certainly should within the first few visits. If no one else has been able to get such a conversation going yet, and you see the opportunity, go for it!
Spiritual Conversations: How to go about it
- Generally, to begin a spiritual conversation you will probe into the area of spirituality, watching closely for response. One of the easiest ways is to ask “Have you ever been to a meeting like this?” If so, find out what the context was. The best thing about this question is that it usually leads to disclosure of spiritual background and church involvement, or lack thereof. (Another way is to simply ask whether they have ever been involved in a church). This is valuable information that might govern how you proceed. If the person went to a church when young, find out what kind. Liberal churches are very different from fundamentalist churches or Catholic churches. Also, be sure to try to find out what their attitude was toward the church. Do they still attend? If they don’t, there must have been something negative. These negatives toward the church are important because they are usually predictive of the preconceptions a person has of Christianity. In American outreach, we usually find that the majority of people visiting are negative at some level toward their previous church experiences. However, be aware of important exceptions where people are very positive about their previous church involvement.
- Once you gain an understanding of their spiritual past, it should be easy to compare and contrast their past with their spiritual present. This could take two directions: 1) ask how their views of God have changed up to the present day, and whether they would still consider themselves a Christian believer, or a believer in God. or 2) ask them to compare what they saw tonight with their earlier church experiences. (I actually prefer #2) These should lead to further disclosure of their attitudes toward spiritual things, which can be discussed and questioned. Here it often becomes natural to begin sharing your own opinion, and your own testimony. Another very effective question is, “Where do you see yourself today with relation to God or Christianity?”
- Be sure to explain the difference between religion and relationship. Don’t forget to explain the difference between works and grace. Explain the cross if in any doubt about their understanding.
- In dealing with those who think they are Christians, but may in fact be nominal Christians, the issue of receiving Christ becomes important. It may be appropriate to ask if they have ever heard of the idea of receiving Christ before, and if they feel they have done that at any particular time. But for first conversations, we would not necessarily call on them to do so now unless we sense they are very responsive. In many cases, the best call might be that they should be considering this possibility, or, put differently, that they consider beginning a personal relationship with Christ.
- Depending on how much exposure the person has had to true biblical Christianity, we may want to do no more than share our own testimony, or a few important points about grace, and leave it at that. God may lead us to make no call of any kind during early conversations, but simply to share.
- Ending a spiritual conversation: Sometimes, spiritual conversations begin well, but end up poorly because we don’t know when to end them. If we get too enthusiastic and go on and on, there is danger of overwhelming. If we press for too much there is danger of scaring the person off. Usually, there is a natural place in the conversation where we have accomplished enough for one week, and need to end the discussion on an up-note. We may sense that the person reaches a point of satisfaction where he isn’t continuing to ask questions, or has a slightly muted response. When this happens, simply suggest the person keep an open mind, come back and continue exploring, or simply that you enjoyed talking with them about spiritual matters. Then change the subject. Your actions here depend on the responsiveness of the person. For a highly responsive person, a spiritual conversation could go on for a couple of hours. But most spiritual conversations are only 5 to 15 minutes long.
After having a spiritual conversation
- Be sure you report your conversation to other relevant workers in the home church, including the bringer. When working as a team, we need to know what others are doing or have done.
- Be sure to pray and to solicit prayer from others in accordance with what you heard and said.
- Anyone who has a positive spiritual conversation with a new person is usually in good position to follow up on that conversation during subsequent meetings. It’s natural to ask whether the person feels she has made any progress, or done any further thinking about the matters you discussed earlier.
Ongoing Follow Up
During the process of ongoing follow up, we try to facilitate the new person’s movement through the decision continuum to genuine conversion, and finally to full commitment to Christ and his Body. In addition to spiritual conversations, it’s natural to have fun socially, to get to know the new person, and to foster ongoing involvement by getting their number or email address so you can invite them to join in other activities. (In student groups, getting the person’s number or email is often a good idea even at their first visit to a meeting).
Unlike initial follow up, ongoing follow up should be led by an agreed point-person. Home church leaders and workers should agree on who is best situated to take the lead, based on standard principles of ministry responsibility. The point in agreeing to a point person is not to block others from interacting with the new person, but to avoid multiple, conflicting invitations and suggestions that could be threatening to guests. It also puts the minds of home church members at rest, knowing that someone competent is going to be responsible for follow up. Finally, the old adage, “Everybody’s job is nobody’s job,” describes the home church where nobody has accepted primary responsibility for follow up.
The bringer is again the first natural choice for point person. But others in the same ministry sphere could be assigned. Having the lead in ongoing follow up doesn’t mean others shouldn’t help, but implies that the group expects the new person to eventually end up being discipled by the lead person if all goes well. See Leading Home Church Follow Up for helpful principles in making this decision.
Other workers should respect the direction of the point-person, including reporting all meaningful interactions to that person. Anyone who accepts the responsibility for leading ongoing follow up is also accountable to the home church for their progress. Note that asking to be trusted as point person but then failing to do anything with the new person is a serious breach of the community’s trust. Members who let the home church down in this way forfeit the confidence of the group in the future. On the other hand, those who try and fail should not lose the confidence of the group, because this can happen to anybody.
Your home church should have social events, and you may want to suggest other social interactions with the new person. Couples normally should work together when reaching out to other couples. Discovering shared interests and activities, or just having people over for dinner, going to a movie, sporting event, etc. tend to enhance opportunities for sharing, while building a sense of common experience. Again, members should be aware of each others’ actions, so guests are not overwhelmed with invitations. The point person or couple should normally lead in this area.
We can generally assume that anytime weeks have passed since the new person first came to home church or central teaching, yet no social involvement has occurred with anyone in the group, we are doing a poor job at follow up.
Not relaxing tension
One of the most common failings in ongoing follow up is assuming that we can socialize people into the Body of Christ. Social interaction is good for promoting better communication, but it is essential that members know how to continue to put the questions of conversion and commitment. We must exercise discernment regarding whether the person is moving spiritually, or simply hanging around for social reasons. If the latter is true, we will lose the person sooner or later. In any event, God’s purposes are not being accomplished.
In our experience, the most common reason people fail to press the point spiritually is fear that they will scare the new person off by doing so. We need to see that the person will definitely be lost if we fail to press the point, so it’s better to lose them because they refuse to continue moving spiritually, than simply because they lose interest. Of course being pushy can scare people off unnecessarily, but here we believe timidity is a much more common reason for poor follow up. Remember: People’s answer to the gospel challenge is not always “yes.” We have to be ready to hear a “no” answer, including refusal to come back to fellowship, and still feel that the follow up was basically successful. Notice that only one in four of the soils in Jesus’ parable were fully responsive. (Matthew 13:1-23) Likewise, Paul teaches that the cross is offensive to many, and no amount of social schmoozing will change that fact. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)
Consider these points when thinking about people who reject Christ and/or further involvement:
- The person has not necessarily been lost. Many who make a decision to reject involvement with Christ later change their minds.
- In fact, we believe people are more likely to reconsider rejecting involvement with Christ if they consciously decided to do so, than if they simply wandered off because of distractions or boredom. A person who knowingly turns her back on Christ is in better shape than one who simply forgot what the point was. This is because, when the issues are clear in a person’s mind God will more easily convict her conscience than if she is unsure what actually happened back when she tried “going to church.”
- We can leave things so that it’s easy for people to reconsider their rejection. Point out that the door is always open, and that God may make moves that will change their mind in the future.
With highly responsive people, keeping the questions of conversion and commitment in the foreground is easy, because they continually bring up questions about what they are hearing. But with average or cautious people, we need to bring up the questions, so we know they are seriously considering spiritual matters.
Drawing the net
As we maintain tension during ongoing follow up, we will likely reach a point where we need to draw the net—that is we may need to call for a decision. This isn’t always necessary, because some people spontaneously make the decision without prompting. But in cases where this is not happening after a reasonable time, good follow up includes directly challenging people to make a decision one way or the other.
The logic for this is partly related to the fact that no decision is a decision in itself. Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is against Me.” (Luke 11:23) When movement on the decision continuum ceases or slows, we know the person has to make a decision, or we will lose them anyway. With others who are moving well, the logic of their current thinking points to the need for immediate decision. Failure to make a decision at that point can derail the good progress made so far.
Major decision making is a complex psychological and spiritual process, and other people are definitely in a position to influence the outcome. Satan is active, planting fears and distractions. The Holy Spirit is active bringing conviction and “drawing” their hearts. Believers need to be active as well, putting clearly the point, and personally urging people to do the right thing.
The decision to draw the net involves risk, but failure to do so also contains risks. If you feel confused about when this is needed, be sure to raise the question with experienced workers in the church who are familiar with the situation.
When drawing the net, we typically approach the subject using questions. Common types of questions to consider include:
- So, where do you see yourself in relation to the whole idea of receiving Christ? [This approach is a bank-shot, and should be followed up depending on the answer given, perhaps including the suggestion, “Why don’t you just do it?”]
- What do you see as the main thing holding you back from receiving Christ? [This is a more direct question which should highlight key barriers. We need to be ready to suggest resolutions to typical barriers people mention:
- “I just don’t feel ready” – You may never feel ready, if you’re waiting for some feeling of certainty or even an inner urge. God requires faith, and at a certain point you need to have the courage to make the decision without complete assurance in advance.
- “I still can’t reconcile my doubts because of X, Y, or Z” (evolution, the absolute claims of Christ, eternal hell, problems in the Bible, etc.) – Look for ways to resolve those doubts, using study together, taking them to an expert who can help, etc.
- Moral issues (They’re having sex with a lover, still want the freedom to get high, inwardly fear the anti-materialistic message of the Bible, etc.) – In general, we should suggest they move ahead with Christ, and leave these issues in abeyance. However, avoid suggesting that they will be able to continue in sin and follow Christ. Preaching license often results in false conversions. Conversion and commitment are both intensely moral decisions that involve repentance. We should probably point out that God will take exception to their sin life, but obviously, they won’t be leaving their sin unless they want to. In other words, if they chose to forsake their sin, it will be because what they have with Christ is more valuable to them than their sin.
- With a resistant person, “So are you saying that you are ready to definitely deny the reality of God and Christ?” [Many people are reluctant to deny (or affirm) anything and they don’t see themselves as denying Christ just because they are unwilling to receive him. But we need to point out that they are, indeed, doing just that. People need to be frankly warned that the longer they delay and refuse, the harder it will be to finally decide. There is a hardening of the heart when someone knows the truth and won’t surrender to it. For longer term resistant people we need to be very direct and solemn in pointing these truths out, also reminding people that we are worried about them.]
Leading someone to Christ
If someone wants to make the decision to surrender to Christ, should you offer to pray with them on the spot, or suggest they do so on their own? We suggest you decide ahead of time which direction to go. Some evangelists feel drawn to one approach or another in general. Also, the timidity of the person could have a bearing. Would this person agree to pray purely in order to please you? If so, it may be best to tell them to do it when they go home. Good cases can be made for either approach, depending on the situation, but witnessers who decide what to do at the moment a person expresses willingness often find themselves later wishing they had done the other thing. Pray about this beforehand.
With apparent Christians, invitations to cell group or to personal times of study become appropriate. The whole question must be raised, whether the new believe is interested in spiritual growth. Numerous issues rise at this point:
- There may be barriers (such as someone living with a lover) that must be broached and the truth pointed out; that such situations are going to have to be addressed before spiritual growth can proceed.
- Married people must consider what position their spouses are going to adopt. In general, every effort should be made to reach both partners in a marriage before suggesting heavy involvement for either one.
- Time commitments must be considered. Often we do better to wait before suggesting classes or even cell group for some new people. One important reason for this may be that they are part of a larger affinity group that we should try to reach immediately. If they see their friend or family member too busy with fellowship activities to spend as much time with them, the prospect of reaching them diminishes.
Movement toward commitment
As a home church pursues ongoing follow up, we will normally see movement, either toward or away from Christian commitment.
When they move toward commitment, be sure new people understand their options for living out that commitment. Our first concern is that the person truly meet Christ. Other cases may be more ambivalent—the person believes he is a Christian even though the reasons seem questionable (e.g. childhood conversion, general belief in God, etc.) People who are unable to articulate the point of the cross need to understand the gospel more clearly, and should be urged to “make sure” they have surrendered to Christ. Primary concerns during follow up include the so-called “means of growth.”
- Prayer – Make sure the new person understands how to pray, the importance of prayer, and as soon as plausible, has the experience of praying with others. Corporate prayer is often a key turning point where people go from viewing their relationship with God as a strictly private matter, to something shared with the Body of Christ.
- Scripture – Make sure new people understand the importance of the Bible as spiritual food. Offer to help them understand it through private meetings. Help them get a decent Bible of their own. (Buying a Bible for a new person may be wise, but having them invest some of their own money is often even better).
- Body Life – New Christians and Christians from institutional churches generally do not understand the significance of Body Life. American Christians tend to view Christianity in individualistic terms, and need time to learn that our faith should be lived out together.
- Ministry – Even very new Christians can become quite excited about sharing their faith with their friends and relatives. Ask what their friends think about their new involvement with God. Try to discover whether they are already spontaneously sharing their faith, and whether they are encountering problems. In good follow up, we try to win entire affinity groups. This means we should take an interest in meeting a new person’s friends, family, and especially spouses or lovers. This should lead to further promising opportunities to witness. Explaining how serving others in small ways in the Body (including sharing or praying at meetings) is edifying and fun.
- Suffering – Warn new Christians that suffering is part of the Christian life, and make them aware of basic ways to respond, based on biblical passages. Also begin early to make them aware of the reality of Satan and his likely schemes to accuse and deceive them. Watch for signs of dissonance (second thoughts about their decision to follow Christ) and help them work through these as a natural part of coming to Christ (i.e. without panic).
Discerning what is needed at any given time with new people is not always easy. We suggest you share regularly with your colleagues in home church seeking consensus on what to call for and when. Well-unified work forces have a developing shared consensus on what the near-term goals are for all key people in ongoing follow up.