The Basics for New Christians
This is an outline for a nine-session course for new Christians, designed to lead new believers through fundamental elements of what it means to be a Christian. It covers the following areas:
Selecting and training group leaders
All these are covered below.
Whenever an event is held to attract new people, or any time new people are invited to begin attending church, plans should already be in place for how you will follow up by providing instruction in the basics of Christianity. It is not appropriate bring someone to birth, then leave them on the delivery table!
The attached outline is a suggested guide for leading new believers into the meaning of their new walk with Jesus Christ. This course is designed for the newly baptized, those considering baptism, and even for those who simply desire a "refresher" course in the basics. The course is adapted from Evangelism Through the Local Church by Michael Green.
Please let us know if you find this material helpful.
In Jesus' grace, J.M. Feazell
SETTING UP GROUPS
Whatever event you are planning, whether it is a guest service, a small supper party, a church mission, or a citywide mission, always plan for the follow-up ahead of time.
Decide on what the follow-up should be: a study group, an inquiry group, and how many groups you think you will need.
Prayerfully recruit the leaders.
Train them in how to use whatever course material has been chosen, how to lead a small group meeting, how to care for the group pastorally, and how to lead someone to faith.
Find out from the leaders what times of day they are available and where the group will be held.
Put this information on a response card (if used) or clearly announce it at the meeting or service, so people know how to join.
Ensure that the leaders have met together before the first meeting of the group, both to get to know each other and to plan ahead.
If leaders can act as counselors at the end of the event, this gives them a chance to meet prospective group members.
Make sure the groups start as soon as possible after the evangelistic event. Keep in contact with the leaders, and help with the integration of members into Bible study groups at the end of the group. (See section on the role of a Follow-up Coordinator for more details.)
These can be very useful when the invitation is made at a larger service or meeting to find out more about the Christian faith and/or to join a group. These cards need to be designed in a clear, concise way, enabling information to be gathered as easily as possible. They could be included in the service sheet with a tear-off slip or could be printed separately.
To help with the design, think over what information is needed.
What is the form designed to do? To give people an opportunity to indicate they have made a decision for Christ, to join a group, to find out more about the Christian faith, to ask for a visit, to request a book?
If people are given the opportunity to join a group, should the description of what it is be given verbally or on the card?
Will there be a choice of time and day? This should be on the card if possible.
Is it intended that people will fill out these cards themselves, or will they be used with a counselor? If the former, it is wise to ask for the minimum of information, whereas if they will be used by a counselor, it is easier to ask for information.
What information is needed, apart from name, address, phone, and the appropriate box marked? If used in an event that includes more than one church, or if working with young people, it might be good to have space for name of church or school/college to be inserted.
Will people be asked to give comments on the meeting? If so, then leave room on the card so that the speaker can ask for comments during the meeting.
How should these cards be returned? In the offering, in a box at the back, to a counselor? Include a return address if used during a larger event.
Example of a response card to be used without a counselor:
Church name or mission title
Count me in! I'd like to join a group to learn about the basics of Christianity.
Please indicate 1st and 2nd choice of day and time:
Tell me more! I'd like more information about the Christian faith
Suggestions for counselors when filling in a response card
Be natural as you speak to your new friends. You need to explain why you are asking for the details you need. If you want to invite them to a group, explain clearly what it is. Encourage them to join even if they have not made a commitment, because a group will be able to help answer some questions. Alternatively, it may be that follow-up should be handled individually and not in a group.
Ask for name, address and phone, remembering to write legibly.
If they go to another church or attend a school or college, put that down on the card.
If they want to join a group, find out when. Remember they haven't come along expecting to need to know this information! Help them to think through their week. Get one or two preferences if you are dealing with a few choices of time and day. Assure them that they will be contacted soon with details.
If they don't want to join a group but want a visit or more information, either plan to see them again yourself, or indicate what is requested on the card.
Offer your phone number, and give them a phone call in the next day or so, even if just to say "hello."
Complete other details on the form as needed. There may be space to indicate whether this is a first-time commitment or a rededication. If there is an age grouping, it may be appropriate to make an educated guess after you have parted company. If you find out any details that would be useful to those organizing the placing of people in groups or to the leaders, make appropriate notes on the back of the card before handing it in (e.g., "Needs transportation," "Don't call at home," "Would like to be in the same group as a friend").
Make time to talk and pray together and help them with any difficulties.
Remember to hand in the card promptly to the organizers of the follow-up work.
Notes for leaders of groups
This is a short-term group, lasting for eight or nine weeks, which provides intensive support to help new Christians (and those who are not yet Christians) get rooted in the faith. The aim of the group is to begin the process of "presenting everyone mature in Christ." It is not a lecture or a debate but a time of informal corporate learning in someone's home. It will vary in membership, in that some will have professed faith, others will have rededicated themselves, others will be thinking seriously, and other will not be sure why they are there at all!
The course can be for individual as well as for group use. The material tries to cover major aspects of Christian living: the foundations, Jesus, assurance, reading the Bible, learning to pray, the Holy Spirit, Christian fellowship, temptation, and serving Christ. The course should be adapted to whatever order would best suit the group.
The notes for each session are broken down into five sections:
Material to help the leader give a short talk on the theme.
A verse for members of the group to memorize. This will help them to begin to learn and use Scripture.
A passage for group Bible study and some questions to stimulate discussion.
Some suggestions about the way the prayer time might be directed. This teaches members to pray with and for other people and to look for answers over the next few weeks in the group.
A few books are listed on each week's theme. These can be on loan, or they can be for sale so that members can start a small Christian library for their own use and for lending to others.
These groups can happen at any time of day. The length of each meeting will vary. In order to allow members of the group to get to know one another and have time for questions, allow between 2 and 2½ hours.
The setting should be informal and relaxed. A room in someone's house is best. Church halls are not ideal locations! Somewhere is needed to enable people to relax, feel unthreatened, and able to raise questions on any issue. One room is sufficient to meet in for the first half of the meeting, but if there is another room (e.g., a kitchen or a study), then the group can split in half for the Bible study time if the group is large.
Size of the group
This will depend on the number of leaders available and the demand for the group. Two leaders for a group of six; three or four leaders for a group of ten to 12.
These are not essential, but it does help people to relax on arrival when handed, for example, a cup of coffee. As the group get to know one another, the leaders could prepare a simple meal or arrange a potluck supper.
Bibles are needed, especially at the first meeting. Make sure you have enough of the same version for each person expected (perhaps they could be borrowed from the church). Members should be encouraged to buy a Bible, but it is best not to assume they own one. Bible reading notes should also be available (e.g., Come Alive to God), either as a gift from the church or for sale. Have some books available for sale or create a lending library by getting the group leaders to pool their own books. Remember to have short books that answer questions that any non-Christians in the group might be asking.
These can be given out each week, preferably at the end of the meeting. These may be helpful to group members if they want to go back to a particular issue on their own.
It is important for the leaders to be able to relate to how a new believer (or an almost-new believer) is thinking, to understand what the problems are, and to be able to be a sympathetic listener and supporter. Leaders do not need to know the answer to every question; one may be more gifted in the teaching role, while another may be better at personal conversation. They need to be themselves (using their different gifts accordingly), to be unshockable, and to be able to encourage group members. People may well not have had the experience of running a group for new believers before, but if they have had experience in leading small home groups and therefore know something of the dynamics of encouraging group participation, they can often easily fit into this role. A group like this takes time — time for meeting and planning with the leaders, time preparing for each meeting, time for the group itself, as well as time with individuals themselves. Those currently involved in a Bible study group may need to be released from that for the duration of the group. Leaders need to have basic training on how to lead someone to Christ, how to run a small group and how to use the course material.
Each group will have one leader and two or three co-leaders so that each leader can be pastorally responsible for two or three members of the group. Before the group starts:
Arrange to meet to pray and get to know one another.
Plan the first evening by sharing the leadership. One will be responsible for hosting (books, coffee), one for teaching, one for Bible study and prayer time.
Pray for individual group members, for yourselves, and for the group.
Coordinate with the person setting up the group to get the list of those expected and to work out who will be inviting them.
Meet weekly during the course to pray and plan.
Distribute the members of the group among the leaders (after the first meeting), and seek to have at least two unhurried times with each one before the course is over. The first will be to ensure that they clearly understand the way of salvation, to help them with any difficulties, and to help them begin a regular pattern of Bible reading, prayer and church attendance. The second session will be to see where they are going to be incorporated into the life of the church when the group is ended. It needs to enable them to look ahead to some area of ministry and practical service they may become involved in and also to help with any problems. No leader should have more than three people to look after: it can be very demanding. Friendships can build up within the group, and even when the group is over, members will often come back to their leaders for advice and encouragement.
It is best not to attempt to cover all the aspects of the subject each week, as topics are large. The teaching session should be short — 15 minutes maximum — leaving people wanting to know more and allowing time for questions.
Try to facilitate a varied meeting each week. It may include worship (if there is a musician in the group). Allow people to share experiences and talk about difficulties. Have a shared meal or perhaps go to a concert once in the course of the group's life.
The course notes are given as suggestions. Change the material according to the needs of the group (e.g., use different Bible passages, or change the order).
To facilitate good discussion in a group, ask guiding questions that require more than a yes/no answer (e.g., What do we mean by this? How does this relate to our lives today? Has anyone experienced this?).
After a discussion, summarize; either have one of the leaders list the main ideas so that all can remember them, or ask one of the group to do so.
The leaders may feel apprehensive and out of their depth, but often the group members are even more terrified at the first meeting.
The first meeting
This is important. The leaders may know who is expected, but the visitors don't know what to expect. Aim to make people feel at ease. Have the room ready (coffee made, books out, chairs ready — but not in neat rows). Have a ten-minute circulating time.
Who is there?
The leaders need to begin to get to know the group. It is a good idea for the leader to introduce himself, briefly explaining what brought him to Christ, and then asking the others present to say what brings them to the group and what they hope to gain from it. This may take quite a long time, but it gives valuable information to the leaders. They discover where in their spiritual pilgrimage the persons think they are. So it proves helpful in dividing the group up into subgroups for the Bible study part of the evening, where it helps to have a mix of those who are already committed and those who are not yet sure. This needs to be a relaxed time of sharing, and the leader needs to welcome each contribution so that from the outset people get the feeling that anything they want to say is okay. This section may well take up most of the first evening.
This sharing time will probably be followed by a short talk on laying the foundations, or on assurance. Remember not to assume any knowledge of the Bible and try not to use "jargon" phrases.
Some groups will be silent, others not. Questions can form an important part of the meeting, since they can help the leaders see where people are. Questions also allow a chance for problems to be aired.
This can occur here, before the Bible study.
Bible study and prayer time
See that the Bible study groups are small enough to enable everyone to take a full part. This may require subdivision into two groups for this part of the meeting, each under one of the leaders. If necessary, have questions about the Bible passage copied onto separate sheets for the convenience of the group members.
Prayer time is usually best in the smaller groups at first in order to encourage people to pray out loud and for one another.
End of meeting
This is a good time to hand out course notes and Bible reading material. Mention the book table and issue an invitation to meet at "same place, same time" next week.
When the meeting has finished, the leaders will want to debrief, plan next week, and sort out who is pastoring whom.
Visit those who did not attend the first meeting, giving them the notes of the meeting and a warm invitation to the next. Or put a note in the mail, or give them a phone call. Naturally a visit is best.
These will be slightly different in that there is no need to have that extended time of sharing at the beginning. Do leave time for catching up on news over the past week, sharing answers to prayer, and generally having fun together — perhaps going out to a film, a theater, or a picnic together later in the week.
At the end of the course
Leaders need to be in touch with the person who set up the group so that the handover to a regular home fellowship group in the church can be smooth. They need to:
Encourage group members to attend worship services regularly.
Inform the minister of their church.
Encourage members to do some form of service in the church, using the gifts God has given them.
Keep in contact with members who will need continued love and support even though the group has ended.
Write a brief assessment of each person to hand to the leader of the small group they are joining and to the minister.
Remember, the biggest danger of "fall out" is after the group before the person gets settled in a new set of Christian friendships.
This series has been adapted from Michael Green, Evangelism Through the Local Church (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1992.)
To the nine lessons in this series: