There is a general thought that most believers baptized at evangelistic meetings do not stay in the church. The truth is that those born in the church leave at much higher rates than converts from direct evangelism.
Nevertheless, it is imperative for a local church holding evangelistic meetings to have a viable plan for the assimilation of new converts. It is the church’s responsibility not only to call sinners to Christ but also to disciple them as new Christians in the faith.
I will share with you a plan I have implemented with dozens of churches over a number of years. Three of these churches supplied viable data regarding their new believers’ retention rates: 90 percent, 95 percent, and 96 percent.
Basic principles and objectives
There are three overarching objectives when it comes to assimilating newly baptized believers into the church. The first is to grow each new member in their spiritual experience. The second is to help them associate with and befriend other Adventist members. The third is to facilitate their integration into the mission and subculture of the church.
Spiritual mentors should be assigned to the newly baptized. With rare exceptions, spiritual mentors should be experienced church members who love people and allow time for new members to grow in Christ, not expecting them to be perfect upon their baptism. Spiritual mentors are not always in abundance, but if they are faithful to this plan, they will also experience personal spiritual growth. I ask mentors to commit for 12 months after the baptism of their mentee and follow a specific visitation plan for the first eight weeks of the new convert’s life.
The mentors must prepare for each weekly visit by reviewing, at least one week ahead of time, the objectives, activities, and materials to give away during the visit. Sometimes, they may need to prepare a Bible study before visiting the new believer. Of course, spiritual mentors should not stop visiting after the initial eight weeks and ought to continue periodically contacting the new believer.
In what follows, I will write as if you were the spiritual mentor.
The first three weeks
Make the first visit within three or, at the most, four days after your mentee’s baptism—not a week or two later. Make the appointment for this visit at the time of their baptism. The objective is to get them acquainted or reacquainted with the body of Christ, the local church. Think of Hebrews 10:25.
What do you do on this visit? Assure the new believer about the rightness and wisdom of their decision to be baptized and join the church. Use the Bible. Bring a copy of the vows received at their baptism, and reread it with them.
Explain the various services and ministries of the local church, inviting them to church for the upcoming Sabbath. Also, invite them to your home for lunch, making sure to invite other members who might become good friends with them.
Every well-run evangelistic series should have follow-up meetings at the church. As the mentor, remind the new believer about the meetings and attend also. Tell them that you plan to visit them each week for the next few weeks to (1) encourage them, (2) help their Christian growth, (3) answer their questions, and (4) help them integrate into the body of Christ.
Each week take resources to the new believer to help their spiritual growth and church assimilation. The items that follow are suggestions and can be adapted based on available budgets and new-member needs.
I suggest three things to give them on that first visit: the baptismal certificate (a good excuse to visit them to begin with) or a personal card, congratulating them for their decision, the Welcome Church Family album, and the booklet Your Friends, the Seventh-day Adventists.1 New believers tend to be eager to share their new faith with family and friends, so encourage it.
Before leaving every visit, ask for specific prayer requests and pray for them and their family.
The second visit’s objective is to encourage and guide their personal spiritual growth (2 Pet. 3:18).
Ask about their courage. Reassure them that God has led them to this point and will continue to do so (Matt. 11:28–30; John 6:37; 1 John 5:12). Keep in mind that the enemy of souls finds effective ways to discourage those who have given their hearts to Jesus. Know they may be facing that right now in their lives.
If they have problems with things they have given up, like smoking or jewelry, gently deal with those issues, always using the Bible. You may use a handout on smoking and sermon outlines on those topics as references for your study. Focus on the power that comes from trusting in God (John 6:28, 29; Phil. 4:19; 1 John 5:4).
Suggest ways to carry on a meaningful daily devotional life. Give personal examples or examples from others, and provide a reading plan or devotional book that has been especially helpful to you. Encourage them to keep attending meetings at the church.
Give them The Bible Promise Book and a small devotional book, such as Steps to Christ, telling them that you will ask next week about what they read. Some people are not readers. Point them, then, to audiobooks. But they must feed their souls with wholesome food on a regular basis, or they will not grow.
The third visit is intended to reaffirm and clarify the truth and blessing of the Sabbath (Ezek. 20:20).
Review the teaching and blessing of the Sabbath (use evangelistic sermon outlines or Bible study lessons, if needed). Help them understand this is the seal of God in contradistinction with the mark of the beast of Revelation (Rev. 7; 13).
Focus on the principles already shared about how to keep the Sabbath, and invite them on a Sabbath afternoon activity with you, such as a trip to a natural environment or visiting the sick. Remember that keeping the Sabbath calls for a lifestyle change they need to get used to.
Ask them whether they are having any difficulty keeping the Sabbath. If so, help them find specific ways to face these challenges. Encourage them to trust God with all their needs as they seek to honor God’s commandment (Matt. 6:33), and help them identify a variety of activities suitable to do on the Sabbath (Phil. 4:8).
If they have difficulties getting Sabbaths off from work, contact the local conference and assure the new members that help is on the way. The local or union conference may have a form letter that the new member could use to assist with getting Sabbaths off. The law is on the side of religious liberty.
Offer to call them the next few Friday afternoons to remind them of the upcoming Sabbath. Suggest ways to handle preparation day so they can be ready to keep the Sabbath holy starting at sunset.
As far as resources are concerned, Mark Finley’s When God Said Remember (formerly known as The Almost Forgotten Day) or Danny Shelton and Shelley Quinn’s The Ten Commandments Twice Removed could be good options.
The next three visits
The fourth visit is meant to provide a fuller picture of the mission and scope of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Rev. 10:11) and the practice of Communion.
Access the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research website at adventiststatistics.org to see the number of Adventists around the world. Visit the Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists online at encyclopedia.adventist.org to show the breadth and length of the Adventist work and its mission. Share with them that this is a prophetic movement: the remnant of God in the last days before Christ comes (Rev. 12:17). God gave birth to this church to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus!
Take copies of Adventist magazines (e.g., Adventist Review, Signs of the Times), and point out stories that might be enlightening.
Review the rise of the church from Millerism (early 1840s) to post-Disappointment study and prayer (late 1840s), church organization (1860s), institutional expansion (1870s–1900s), worldwide mission coverage (early twentieth century), and global complexity today (22 million members; 94 percent outside of the US).
Explain that a conference is an area’s sisterhood of churches, a union is a regional group of conferences, and the General Conference (GC) oversees the worldwide church by regions called world divisions.
Take a tithe envelope with you, and explain how giving takes place; give examples of blessings received as God’s people have been faithful. Read Malachi 3:8–11 as a promise of God’s faithfulness.
Also, explain the New Testament rites of baptism and Communion, with an emphasis on Communion. Help them understand that the practice of foot-washing (John 13:1–17) is a constant reminder of our baptism and that the Lord’s Supper reminds us of the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf (Matt. 26:26–29; 1 Cor. 11:23–26).
They must feed their souls with wholesome food on a regular basis, or they will not grow.
Share with them when the next Communion Sabbath is scheduled at the church, and invite them to partner in the rite of humility with you or someone else they know then. Make sure you set up this first experience before it comes.
Good resources to bring to them would be George R. Knight’s A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists and Seventh-day Adventists Believe, explaining our 28 fundamental beliefs.
The fifth visit is made to review and confirm the biblical teaching on health and clean foods found in 1 Corinthians 10:31.
Review with them what the Bible says about our bodies being the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19, 20). Expand on the implications of such truth. Share how important it is for our bodies and minds to function at their best to be more responsive to the work of the Spirit in our lives.
Review the teaching of clean and unclean foods (Lev. 11; Deut. 14), and mention by name, if deemed helpful, which foods the Lord has called unclean for our system.
Access the Adventist Health Study website at adventisthealthstudy.org/studies/AHS-1 to share statistics regarding Adventist health and longevity.
Makes plans to cook a vegetarian meal with them in their home, if possible. The reason is that they will absorb it all much better in their kitchen. Offer that option during the visit prior to this week’s visit.
What can you give them on this visit? One of several excellent vegetarian cookbooks available at most Adventist Book Centers and, perhaps, a copy of The Adventists DVD, an exceptional telling of the Adventist health message from an outsider’s eyes.
In your sixth visit, you want to focus on the role of Ellen White in the church. The biblical reference is 2 Chronicles 20:20.
Review the biblical teaching on the Spirit of prophecy, emphasizing the fact that the way God has communicated with His people has always been through prophets and that such ministry would be characteristic of the last-day remnant church of God (Rev. 12:17; 19:10).
Bring with you three or four books written by Ellen White, including Steps to Christ, if you have not previously, and either The Desire of Ages or The Great Controversy.
Retell a bit of Adventist history and the role of young Ellen in that history. Tell the stories: the first vision, the heavy burden she carried for the church while also a mother and wife, and so on. For helpful information to help you prepare before your visit, visit the White Estate website at whiteestate.org.
Share the huge blessings Ellen White’s writings have been to Adventist education, health care, and mission expansion.2 Let them know that believing in Ellen White’s prophetic ministry is not a test of faith but that Adventists have accepted her in a prophetic role after reading her writings.
Read one or two paragraphs from a couple of her books with them. Examples? Steps to Christ, page 12: “Jesus did not suppress one word of truth, but He uttered it always in love”; page 100: “Keep your wants, your joys, your sorrows, your cares, and your fears before God. You cannot burden Him.” Another could be from The Desire of Ages, page 25: “Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves”; page 83: “It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ.”
Encourage them to read The Great Controversy, the one book Ellen White considered most vital for all to read, especially in view of the times in which we live today.
Warn them about vicious websites attacking Ellen White and her ministry. Finish your visit with a story of faith from Ellen White’s life. Make sure you do your research.
As a pastor, I have always sought to gift new believers with a nice set of The Conflict of the Ages series. You may consider doing the same. In addition, you may want to give them a copy of Roger W. Coon’s A Gift of Light and of George R. Knight’s Meeting Ellen White.
The last two visits
The last two visits are transitional and very practical. They are meant to move the new believer to regular fellowship with others—aside from church attendance—as well as to mission engagement.
On the seventh visit, your objective is to help them join a small group or group Bible study (Acts 2:41–47).
Talk about the privilege of being in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12). Share how new believers in Acts kept studying and fellowshiping together (Acts 2:41–47).
Invite them to join a mission-minded small group or a Bible study group. If there are not any viable groups to join, consider starting one, along with one or two other families in the church.
This is best done after the follow-up meetings end at the church.
At the risk of sounding self-serving, I have recommended one or two of my books for this: Adventism’s Greatest Need: The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit and In the Name of Jesus: Power to Pray for People and Places. Both books are mission focused, with questions for group discussion at the end of each chapter.
For the eighth visit, the objective is to teach and encourage personal ministry and outreach to others (Matt. 28:18–20).
Review with them the Great Commission and what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Help them understand what witnessing means: sharing what one has seen or heard firsthand (such as someone testifying at the witness stand in a court of law). Share the point that witnessing is not mentioned in the Bible as a special gift but as the normal activity of a converted person!
Ask them how their sharing with family and friends is going. Provide encouragement and tips for them.
Notify them of upcoming training events to help members witness more effectively or church events to which family and friends could be invited.
Take a Bible study set with you. Show them how to use it and where to find more (such as AdventistBookCenter.com). Other resources to give them may be Mark Finley’s little book Studying Together, as well as Ruthie Jacobsen’s Bridges 101 or Don Gray’s You Are My Witnesses.
Solidifying the new believer
These eight visits, done well, help a great deal in solidifying the new believer in the church. In some ways, the new believer will be better grounded than members who have been in the church for years. And that is what you want, a solid disciple of Christ who not only understands the mission and message of the Adventist Church but also engages in living that message.
- Many resources are suggested in this article. You can look for them at your local Adventist Book Center or go online to sites, such as AdventistBookCenter.com or AdventSource.com.
- “I was getting acquainted with new students at the Walla Walla University School of Nursing. As Allison and I chatted, I discovered that she was not an Adventist and had no Seventh-day Adventist ties, that her father was a theology professor at another church’s university, and that her brother was attending Loma Linda University’s School of Medicine. I said, ‘That’s strange that you and your brother, with no Adventist ties, would end up in Adventist schools at the same time.’ I will never forget Allison’s reply: ‘That’s not strange at all, Mr. McClay. You folks happen to have the best Protestant private school system in the world.’ Sometimes we, who are inside the system, do not value the gift we have been given.” Bruce McClay, “Valuing the Gift,” Inbox, Adventist Review, August 2022, 6.