Effective Assimilation of New Members
As so many can testify, being a member of a local church is often as simple as coming forward during a corporate service and expressing the desire to be formally received into the local congregation. Unfortunately, the ease in which church membership has been regarded has developed an entire generation of individuals who do not place a high value on being a part of a greater whole that requires accountability, service, time, finances, etc. As a matter of fact, any move toward a more authoritative and active role by the church in an individual’s personal life is often met with great anger and spite – accusations of elitism, judgmentalism, materialism, and the list goes on. This is why effective assimilation of new members should consist of three major tenets, with varying substructures depending on the mission statement and values of each local embodiment of the universal, regenerate church. These tenets are: Reception, Induction, and Discipleship. Each tenet should not be divorced from the centrality of the gospel, which shall pervade throughout the assimilation process. Also important to note is the ongoing structure of these three tenets, as there can be no satisfaction of one’s duty to grow in the gospel within the context of the local church (Gal. 6:9-10) until the return of Christ and the glorification of the catholic church.
To begin, one should focus on the first tenet – Reception. While there is no hard and fast rule that applies as to methodology – liturgical provision during corporate gatherings, personal inquiry through the office of the pastor, etc. – the general principle behind each of these remains the same: The church must welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed the church, for the glory of God (Rm. 15:7; 1 Pt 2:17; Rm. 12:10; Jn. 15:22; Eph. 4:32). The initial interaction between the prospective member and the church emissary – deacon, lay leader, pastor, usher, etc. – while thoroughly important, needn’t be the proving ground with regard to vetting one’s theological leans and convictions. As scripture contends, “Let one another spur each other on toward love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25). Before one may take any steps to further inundate a prospective member with questions, propositions, covenant claims, etc. it seems clear that Scripture first calls the regenerate to display Christian love and charity (Jn 13:34-35; Jn 15:12; Eph 4:1; 1 Pt. 3:8). Finally, upon receiving the prospective member in love and all humility, one must endeavor to pray over/with them, and move forward unto the second tenet – Induction.
Induction is often where the church begins. Whether through a small, preplanned index card, terse verbal questioning, or take-home survey, the church often allows a secondary buffer between the prospective member and the emissary with regard to primary concerns such as: Are you a regenerate believer? Have you been baptized by immersion by the Baptist church or a church of like faith as a public profession of the work of the gospel in your life? Are you currently a member of a sister church and in good standing? Certainly this list is not exhaustive, but serves the purpose as a representation of the gist of each utilized mechanism currently seen in today’s ecclesial landscape.
With regard to these, and other, methods of information procurement, certainly there is no biblical warrant for or against their use, and should be left to the wisdom of the local church to decide what most meets the needs of their parish. However, what cannot be left to interpretation, and therefore functions as the foundation of every strategic/pragmatic/sensible approach must be the measure in which the local church both protects its current family, and responsibly promulgates said church family. As Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, in their work The Deliberate Church, extol, “Church membership, then, is a means by which we (the church body) demarcate the boundaries of the church.” Building on this idea, if church membership defines the borders of the church, then induction functions as a gate-keeper, protecting the body from the invasion of foreign antibodies, of which there is no shortage of Scriptural warning (Mt. 7:15; Mt. 24:4-5; Mk 13:21-23; Rm 16:17-18; 1 Jn 4:1; 2 Cor. 11:13-15).
So the question must be raised of each chosen method of induction by the local church: Does this card/questionnaire/interview/new members class function well as a gate-keeper for the flock, or does it allow wolves to enter amongst the flock unchecked? Certainly only Christ can separate the wheat from the tares in full (Mt. 13:24-30), but that does not absolve the leadership of the local church of their duty to watch over those who have been entrusted to them (Heb. 13:17). To that end, one may find that certain methods, while not inherently evil or wrong, are simply poor gate-keepers and do not reflect adequately the love and dedication the leadership truly possesses for their people. Therefore, it would seem wise to institute personal interaction between each prospective member and an emissary of the local church. While this may take the form of a new membership class, a series of ecclesiological classes, meeting(s) with the Connections (or any other similarly titled) Pastor, it must not be neglected. As a loving father who demands to meet any potential suitor in person, so should the leadership of the local church respond when opening the house of the Lord to new, and potentially unregenerate, persons. As Dever states in his treatment of church life – Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, “The church is intended to be the community of those who have been born again.”
Today’s contemporary climate often treats any exclusion as a form of elitism, and therefore bigotry. Certainly this is a slippery slope argument that is rife with inconsistencies, but nonetheless, it is a reality. Unfortunately, the church has not been immune to such accusations, and has often responded in typical knee-jerk fashion to the detriment of congregations everywhere. In short, the church has forfeited its integrity for public relations. For the purposes of this reflection of effective assimilation of new members, one may consider the direct implications as it pertains to lack of induction, allowing for most prospective members to become full covenanted members for the price of an index card and an extra verse of the benediction. It cannot be said enough, churches must protect against the encroachment of political pressures, cultural ideals of tolerance, and the infestation of the unregenerate – now able to weigh in on church doctrine, budget, values, etc.
In addendum to the function of gate-keeper, induction also provides the local church with evangelical opportunities to not turn away the unregenerate, but to speak the truth of the Gospel into their lives as they hunger after the taste of true fellowship – koinonia – of which they’ve born witness to as visitors to the local church. Thusly, induction is recognized not as a Christian form of elitism, where only the desired persons shall pass, but instead as a form of relational beginnings, seeking not to ostracize, but to beckon – not to exclude, but wholly include. In sum, induction – no matter the form adopted by each local church, when rightly applied through the lens of the Gospel declares to an unbelieving world that the ground around the Cross is indeed level (Gal. 3:26-28), and there is room for all who repent and believe (Rom. 10:9). There can be no greater testimony of the corporate church to the surrounding community than a body of diverse races, ages, and socioeconomics all sharing life together through the eternal bond of the blood of Christ (Rev. 5:9). What a glorious vision of the Day of the Lord, an eschatological proclamation displayed in a most glorious kaleidoscope of humanity!
Lastly, induction must give way to discipleship, which must never cease for the individual believer, the local church filled with individual believers, and the earth filled with God’s creation. As with each tenet of effective assimilation of new members, the logistical and pragmatic thrust of discipleship may play out differently for churches around the nation and the globe, but the foundation of discipleship in the Gospel must remain firm and unmolested. Once a new member has been received in love (Rom. 15:7), held to the standard of the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16) in accordance with the unique salvific marker of the reception and true cognition of the Gospel (Gal. 2:20), let not the church divest itself of the responsibility of continued discipleship (Mt. 28:18-20) until death or the return of Christ.
Effective discipleship requires an investment by the church into its members, as well as a reciprocal investment of the members into the church. While these investments may look different depending on the context of each local church, there are Gospel centered markers one may seek out as a sign/guide/indicator of proper, orthodox discipleship. These markers consist of, but are not limited to: accountability, doctrinal instruction, and fruits of the spirit.
Accountability, so often neglected because of a myriad of self-centered defamations, must be taken seriously, but with charity, as a command to all believers according to the inerrant words of the Scriptures (1 Thess. 5:11; Col. 3:16; Eph. 4:25; Prov. 12:15). Consider also the warning found in Ezekiel 3:18-19, “When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself.” Accountability does not function as a singular edged weapon, but as a double edged sword, keeping in view the wisdom of Proverbs 27:17 – iron sharpens iron. Hence, accountability forms both the mentor and the mentee, as they spur one another on according to Hebrews 10:24 as mentioned above.
Without proper theology, one’s outgrowth of the Gospel can become gnarled and twisted, much like a tree attempting to grow around an ill-placed stone. Therefore, a great importance must be placed on proper instruction of doctrine including the whole of the Christian life – namely – the function of the Gospel for sanctification of the regenerate (Heb. 13:7; Heb. 4:12; Rom. 10:17; 2 Tim. 3:16; Col. 3:16; Jn. 14:26; Mt. 28:19-20; 2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Cor. 1:10; Jn. 17:17; Jn. 16:13; Mt. 4:4; Acts 5:42). Moreover, instruction of right doctrine also functions much like a plum line functions for a team of builders. As doctrine is engaged and reflected upon by the church, the centrality of the gospel remains clear to the whole and often brings back into line those who may have begun building their theology, however inadvertently, against the plum line of Scripture.
Continuing with the identification of right discipleship within the church, as Matthew 7:17-18 depicts, the church may determine the health of an individual according to the fruit that they bear. When proper discipleship is at hand, one can be confident that they will find among their brothers and sisters in Christ – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). While the gifts of the Spirit may vary according to 1 Corinthians 12, there is but one Spirit that binds the many members of the body, and the fruits of that Spirit are as displayed above in wondrous harmony when the church endeavors to take seriously the formation of its people.
There will always be diversity with regard to the implementation of the three tenets of effective new member assimilation: Reception, Induction, and Discipleship. However, as long as the Gospel is held as the central foundation, permeates each choice, and saturates the conversations of right ecclesiastical undertakings, the local church is free to enjoy the expansive nature of the Gospel that calls us to unity, not uniformity.
Alexander, Paul and Dever, Mark. The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the
Gospel. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005.
Dever, Mark. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004.
 Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel (Wheaton:
Crossway Books, 2005), 60.
 Dever, Mark, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004), 159.