Establishing new believers

Home Study International has developed a course that acquaints converts with their new spiritual home*

Norma J. Sahlin is the director of development and marketing for Home Study International.

People won't know these things if we don't teach them.

Welcome to the Family contains crucial information," states Pastor J. R. Coyle of the Waukegan, Illinois, Seventh-day Adventist Church. Pastor Coyle has led a group of 22 new and longtime members through the seven-week course.

"I've been a lifelong member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and I learned some new things about the church," commented Frank Kean, pastor of the Burlington, Cherry Hill, and Laurel Springs churches in New Jersey. "I definitely plan to use this resource with all the newly baptized in my district." Pastor Kean has worked through Welcome to the Family on a one-to-one basis with 10 new members.

Thomas Cusack, associate pastor of the Hinsdale Seventh-day Adventist Church, near Chicago, taught Welcome to the Family in a seminar format. He says, "I held the seminar on Sabbath afternoons for seven weeks. It was open to anyone who had an interest. The group started with six, and attendance grew to an average of 15. We've already scheduled another seminar for next spring."

As an adult convert, Pastor Cusack is especially sensitive to the new member's feelings. To add interest to the presentations, he used a variety of resources, including videos, slide shows, and overheads.

Home Study International developed the Welcome to the Family package to assist the local church in assimilating new members. Whether used in small groups, for individual study, or as a seminar, the format of this independent learning course is flexible; the information, essential.

The North American Division Church Ministries Department has recommended this new course for use with all new members. In the nine months since its introduction, more than 4,000 of them have learned about their new church through this means.

"In Matthew 28:19 Christ commands us to 'make disciples' [RSV]. This continues after the person takes a stand for Christ. It is absolutely unchristian to baptize people and then just assume they will become part of the church," states Elder]. Lynn Martell, director of church ministries for the North American Division. "There is a vast difference between joining the membership and being part of the fellowship circle of a congregation. Welcome to the Family is a resource to help the pastor and the congregation begin the discipling process."

Both field-testing and follow-up research indicate that the pastors who are most pleased with this course are those who use it as part of a multilevel assimilation process. Well-rounded discipling programs include at least four elements: (1) fellowship--regular interaction with a variety of church members at times other than worship; (2) faith-building study and resources; (3) small group interaction; and (4) opportunities for the new members to be involved in expressing faith through action.

Pastor Don Kack of Palmer, Alaska, used these elements in assimilating 30 new members into his church. "Before the evangelist finished his series, we began using Welcome to the Family in the pastor's class on Sabbath morning. We held a new members' fellowship dinner so that they met more people. In addition, I worked with 16 longtime members in a visitation program that included weekly telephone calls and monthly visits in the home. I turned my sermons into a Revelation Seminar. The Wednesday evening series included church officers explaining their jobs and sharing a personal testimony. Finally, the nominating committee is matching new people with positions in the church. The people have reacted better to this process than any other I've tried in 19 years of ministry."

Welcome to the Family member workbooks and instructor guides are available from Home Study International or through Adventist Book Centers. The HSI price for the member workbook is $7.95 plus shipping (10 or more copies, $6.95 each plus shipping); the instructor guide is $2.99 plus shipping.

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Norma J. Sahlin is the director of development and marketing for Home Study International.

June 1989

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