The first thing leaders have to settle on is the definition of follow up. DON'T SKIP THIS STEP! See the paper, Home Church Follow Up and consider carefully the difference between legitimate biblical follow up and manipulation. Your task as a leader is to facilitate good follow up, not to foster a manipulative social environment.
To facilitate good follow up, you will need to do the following:
- Monitor and assess the quality of follow up in the home church
- Train members in successful follow up methods
- Motivate good follow up through your words and deeds
Monitoring and assessing follow up
A good way to understand your home church's success in follow up is to compare the number of first time guests to the group with the number of those guests returning for additional visits since the last time your church planted. These returning guests are called "returning new" in the graphs provided by the Dwell office. The comparison between first time guests and returning new people is not a completely accurate measure of follow up success, but experience shows that this ratio generally correlates well with successful follow up efforts. Notice the following about this comparison:
- Your returning new people will not include those who may have visited only two or three times before planting your current home church, even though such guests are still the object of follow up efforts. Of course as the home church moves further into it's cycle (and away from the time of planting) this fact diminishes in importance. The main result is that the follow up ratio is more accurate further into the the home cycle.
- Some of those shown as returning new people may not be won in any sense. They may be non Christians, or completely uncommitted believers who continue to visit on a tentative basis. This means again that the follow up ratio is inaccurate, because you are counting all returning new as successes, whereas usually some of them are still undecided. This again results in the follow up ratio becoming more accurate over time, as the uncommitted eventually lose interest.
- In spite of these anomalies, the follow up ratio is a helpful measure because it is objective, easy to measure, and allows us to compare results between home churches. Since the ratio is assessed comparatively, the inaccuracy, especially in the early weeks of a home church, are unimportant. Be prepared for your follow up ratio to decline after the first few weeks of your current home church cycle.
- In general, adult groups should seek a follow up ratio no worse than 4:1 (4 first time guests for each returning new person). However, this goal could change depending on the group's outreach level. If the group has low outreach, (first time guests equal to less than 10% of your total attendance per month [i.e. 2 people per month in a home church of 20]) you may want to seek an even better ratio, such as 3 or even 2 to 1. These levels have been attained by adult churches with low outreach. On the other hand, a home church with high outreach levels (more than 10% of the group in first time guests per month) will likely fall below the 4:1 standard, even if their follow up is good. Considering this model for a home group of 20, we see that such a group could expect around 25 guests in a year, and that 6 of these would still be attending. If original members have remained relatively steady (less than 10% loss per year), such a group would have grown by 25% or more. For an adult group, this would be considered good growth. Such a group would double in just over 3 years.
- Student home churches should generally seek a follow up ratio of 5:1. The rate is lower because student groups usually have higher levels of outreach (typically 20% of their total attendance per month [i.e. 6 first-time guests per month for a home church of 30). With outreach levels twice that of adult groups, such student groups will grow rapidly, even with the lower follow up rate. For instance, a group of 30 with average outreach would see about 80 first timers per year. Of those 16 would still be attending if they attain a 5:1 ratio. While this seems like incredible growth, we should remember, that old member stability is poorer with student groups (often 20% per year departing), resulting in a loss in the same group of 6 people. The resulting growth would still be rapid at over 30% (doubling in 2.5 years). Again, the goals should be adjusted for differences in outreach rates--the more first-time guests a group has, the lower their follow up will likely be.
Training Members in Effective Follow Up Methods
The paper Home Church Follow Up has been written to help leaders train committed members in follow up theory and practice. Most of the issues you need to train on are contained in that paper, and in the paper, Leading Home Church Evangelism. Feel free to use these outlines for cell group studies. The main point is to periodically have members thinking deeply about the issue of follow up, and to speak passionately on the need for good follow up. Your members will be creative about how to befriend guests, and how to persuade those who need it if you lead the way in thinking and praying about this area.
The period we refer to as follow up often includes evangelism, as people may well not make a decision for Christ until weeks or months after they begin attending. To get a sense of your people's learning needs, it is essential that you be present in person to watch interactions between your members and guests. Try to get in position to listen to discussions after home church meetings or at social events. Look for evidence of the typical extremes in your people's follow up work:
- Impatience. Watch for argumentative conversations or excessive pressure on guests. This is common in younger groups. Teach on the decision continuum.
- Timidity. Is there evidence that your people never actually call for a decision? Are they hoping others will simply join because of social affinity? This is hard to discern, but we should teach that eventually a strong call may be necessary. Suggest ways to bring the need for decision to people's attention without being pushy.
- Omission. When you see a guest sitting or standing by him or herself for any length of time (especially when regular members stand nearby talking to each other), you are beholding a training need in the home church. Teach your people to be watching guests and taking initiative in discussion. If we think it's hard to initiate discussion with a guest, just imagine how much more difficult it is for the new person!
- Self-centeredness. Lazy and flabby home churches may be good at outreach, but they are consistently poor at follow up. Follow up is not a ministry that can be advanced at our convenience. We must be alert and ready to move into the world of our guests at their convenience. Connect good follow up and commitment in the mind of your people.
Motivating Good Follow Up
Often the missing element in home church follow up is not information, but motivation. When your assessment shows a problem with follow up, here are some ideas:
- Training is motivational. Don't overlook training like that mentioned above under the assumption that your people already know how to do follow up. You may need to repeat a study series from the year before because people have forgotten your points.
- Arrange for regular times and places for follow up. Your home church should either go out together after the meeting (usually typical of singles and student groups) or stay at the home for a time of social interaction. If staying at the house, make sure there are treats and an environment conducive to conversation. The time after Central Teaching could also be good for follow up.
- Feedback. Share your assessment of the home church's follow up work with your people. People may not be aware that follow up is a problem in your home church even when your ratio is poor. The first part of building motivation is acknowledging the problem. Share negative feedback in a way that avoids defeatism. Be sure to reflect faith in God's power to change the situation. Also, be sure to pick an appropriate venue for sharing this information. Follow up is the concern of committed members, not the guests themselves. Some groups schedule special workers' meetings for this purpose. In other cases, cell groups or one-on-one discussion may be appropriate.
- Pursue change to the appropriate level of tension. By regularly reminding the group that they are wasting time with their outreach because their follow up is poor, you will create tension on this issue. Also by regularly praying about the problem in cell groups or other believers' meetings and regularly sharing additional feedback you will create tension. A group needs to feel a certain level of tension before change is likely.
- Model good follow up. Unlike outreach, where younger Christians often excel, older Christians are often more effective at follow up. Here is an area where the leaders' knowledge and experience in dealing with people are at a premium. Try to arrange situations where you can do follow up work in person, and if possible, have younger Christians watch how you interact. Nothing would be better for training and for motivation. Afterward, talk to your disciples about what you were trying to accomplish and about how exciting it was.
- Teach members of your home church how to take responsibility for their own sphere. People should feel special responsibility for those guests brought by members of their own cell group or by members of a related cell group of the opposite sex. Although we should all feel responsible to some extent for all guests, those in our own sphere of ministry should carry a special burden.
- Teach your members to "respect the bringer." People should not try to recruit a guest to a ministry sphere incompatible with that of the one who brought the guest. When this happens, we threaten the motivation level of the church, and may even cause tension between members who feel wronged.
- Home churches with members seeking discipleship opportunities usually have better follow up. If the younger committed Christians in your group are actively looking for new Christians to disciple, they will be motivated to work hard at follow up. Is this a vision that appeals to your disciples?
- Discuss motivation with your supervisor. Your staff supervisor may have additional thoughts on how you can bring more motivation to your group in the area of follow up.
Bringing a home church into the position where their follow up is good is one of the most difficult parts of home church leadership. When you see improvement here, all other phases of ministry will benefit. Be sure to share the encouragement for each success.