Neonatal intensive care critical to spiritual health of newborn Christians
RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)--Southern Baptists love to share the joy and excitement that accompanies the birth of new Christians, according to the North American Mission Board’s specialist in evangelistic follow-up. But a low percentage of new believers actually assimilated into churches is one indication that neonatal care is often lacking.
“We’ve learned that the immediacy of follow-up is as important for a new believer as the time in the delivery room of the hospital is for a new baby,” said Jack Smith, a soul-winning evangelism associate for NAMB. “We know that follow-up is the weakest link in the evangelism chain.”
Smith led a conference on the importance of immediate follow-up during NAMB’s June 27-July 2 On Mission ’99 conference at the Ridgecrest (N.C.) Conference Center.
Smith said he has found in his informal straw polls that only about 30 percent of baptized believers typically are active in Sunday school a year later. When actual retention rates of new Christians are considered from the time of their decision, the percentage often drops to the single digits.
In churches that have implemented detailed procedures and created an ideal environment for the nurturing of new Christians, however, Smith said those rates are significantly higher.
The parallels between actual newborns and “babes in Christ” prove remarkably consistent, Smith said. Delivery rooms procedures for caring for newborns just after birth are detailed and demanding, as should be the systems for nurturing a new Christian during the first minutes and days. And preparation of the new church home is just as important as preparation of the home for the arrival of an infant.
“Wouldn’t it be something if you saw your little baby in the hospital nursery and you simply said, ‘We live at 2321 McCoy Ave., and we’d like you to be there for breakfast every morning around 7:30 a.m.’ That’s how we treat new believers,” he said. “They need some help.”
Smith noted one couple he once led to Christ in their living room, but because of their background they felt totally out of place at church. Their clothes weren’t appropriate, and the questions they asked would have drawn strange looks in most Sunday school classes. Consequently, getting them even to attend regularly proved a long and difficult task.
What such situations require, he said, is a willingness to sit with new believers during their first few times at church and be ready to answer questions. Everything in the church should be designed to make it easier for the new babe in Christ to thrive, even when -- as with a new human baby -- there are sacrifices to be made by other members of the family.
Smith mentioned one pastor who experienced flak from some members when a second service was added at 8:30 a.m. on Sundays -- but it was started with the knowledge that many non-believers are much more likely to attend church at the earlier hour.
“I think God is looking for churches that have a heart for the new baby and arrange their priorities for the welfare of the unborn,” Smith said. “[Church] programs are not designed to make us a bunch of whiz kids n the Bible. Those programs are to help us get ready, birth and to take care of the new ones,” he said.
NAMB’s approach to the first 10 minutes of a Christian’s spiritual life is a decision card and counseling guide called “Let the Celebration Begin,” which goes over initial issues such as assurance of salvation and ensuring that adequate follow-up can continue. A second booklet, titled “Let the Celebration Continue,” provides a brief study of basic Christian doctrine -- useful for people who know nothing about Christianity and might be confused by more complicated studies.
Another resource is “Beginning Steps for New Christians” -- a slightly more in-depth study, Smith said. After that, new believers might be ready for more comprehensive resources such as “Survival Kit for New Christians” and discipleship programs such as “MasterLife” or “Experiencing God.”
For professions of faith actually made during a worship service, a suggested resource is NAMB’s “Personal Commitment Guide,” Smith said. It is an in-depth presentation that ensures professions of faith are genuine and understood before the person is presented for membership before the church, he said.
Smith also stressed the importance of a system for pairing up personal mentors with new Christians, noting that several good resources are available to help facilitate the process.
For more comprehensive information on developing and implementing effective systems for evangelistic follow-up, Smith can be contacted at (770) 410-6319 or firstname.lastname@example.org.