“Follow-up is the greatest problem facing Southern Baptists,” said a president of the Southern Baptist Convention. “ We're getting more and more of less and less,” a denominational executive told me at a large gathering.
Around the world, the explosion of newly-born believers is without parallel in the past 16 centuries. The loss of these being won, to active growth through the local church, has also reached record proportions. About one convert in nine is conserved in Puerto Rico, one in five in Brazil, one in three in the U.S.A., reported missionaries. The need for radical reexamination of present methods, and a new commitment to New Testament basics, must become the burden of all who win new believers.
Why are we losing so many from the church and Christ's Great Commission? Certainly cults grab all they can; Satan works to destroy the ministry of God's Word. The vacuum of trained church leadership leaves thousands of small groups of believers without a needed model and shepherding care. Ignorance of Scripture, blindness on the part of sincere church leadership, unwillingness to pay the price of raising spiritual children, busyness and activity which are not geared to meeting the special needs of converts — all mean terrible losses to the future ranks of those evangelizing and growth of new churches and mission points, we see factors which return us again to the basics of follow-up from the New Testament.
Let us look at four of these which the Apostle Paul employed effectively in a totally negative environment.
Follow-up begins only after effective evangelism. The most fertile soil for rich follow-up is an evangelistic environment to train new believers. With many varieties of good materials available (see *), follow-up is still best done by someONE rather than by someTHING. A summary of Acts and 1 Thessalonians reveals that all effective follow-up is personal.
Paul followed up by personal contact. His missionary journeys were two-fold; to evangelize and then to confirm new believers (See Acts 15:36 ). Fellowship was not a once-a-week experience. Daily times of sharing, praising, studying, and witnessing were common (See Acts 2:42-47; 20:20 ). The fellowship gap between Sundays was just not there in the 1st Century, as it is today. Paul spent days, even months, in nurturing converts. He knew a healthy birth was essential for consistent growth. He was willing to give more than the Gospel; his very life was available to love, feed, protect, and train new believers (see 1 Thessalonians 2:8 ).
“Decision is five percent; following up the decision is the 95 percent,” teaches Billy Graham, international evangelist. As a loving parent, Paul recognized that God has given each spiritual child to a spiritual parent. He called himself both a nursing mother and an exhorting father (see 1 Thessalonians 2:7, 11 ). Thus, the raising up of parent-hearted believers is a major goal for any pastor who would see his children's children. Paul was a living example, and so those he won, won others (see 1 Thessalonians 1:5-8 ). The “followers” of verse six became the “models” (molds, patterns) in verse seven, and the disciples multiplied (See v. 8-10 ).
Application Today: Personal Training
Assign a growing believer to visit and teach each person accepting Christ. Individual attention, encouragement, and spiritual help within 48 hours is worth more than days of contact (if you can find them) weeks later. A warm Sunday School class environment, continuous encouragement, and private teaching link the new baby with his spiritual family in the local church.
Paul followed up by personally training others. Satan kept Paul from returning to Thessalonica (see 1 Thessalonians 2:17, 18 ). God's secret weapon to thwart this vicious attack by the Enemy was a trained man, Timothy (see 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5 ). The lives of Titus, Timothy, Epaphras, and a host of others are woven in the texture of the Acts and the Epistles. When Paul could not go to Corinth, Titus was sent to encourage and teach. Timothy went to Thessalonica. Summarizing his training method in Philippians 2:19-24, Paul stresses that Timothy was “with him” in the ministry. It takes time to grow spiritual children into multiplying adults. The “with him” principle which Jesus used, spending three concentrated years, 14 to 16 hours a day with the disciples (see Mark 3:14 ), has been substituted by many for as large a group as we can find to listen one day a week. Soul winning is ultimately personal. Billy Graham illustrates the preaching of the Gospel as getting the soccer ball to the goal (the heart); the forward (counselor) directs it in for the score.
The Sharpening Process
“Iron sharpeneth iron, so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17). This sharpening process of life-investment with others over a period of time is today called “discipling;” but it was one of Paul's most important follow-up methods. In a three-year summary of evangelism and follow-up, Acts 20:16-36 records the astounding, varied methods of life-exposure Paul was led to employ with these new believers: “with you at all seasons,” “showed you and taught you publicly, and from house to house,” “neither count I my life dear unto myself,” “by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears,” “I have showed you all things,” etcetera. Marking future generations with the Gospel starts with our daily life-modeling before new believers, now.
Aristotle said, “The true nature of anything is in what it can become.” Our vision for individuals and their potential for becoming “laborers for the harvest” is in proportion to the time we are nowinvesting in them. In Egypt 66 years ago, a missionary named Oswald Chambers said about our tendancy to be blind to the potential of a man, “The great paralysis of the heart is unbelief. Immediately I view anything as inevitable about any human being. I am an unbeliever.”
Application Today: Effective Follow-up
Effective follow-up is best done by those who have experienced a loving, caring relationship with another stronger believer. Anytime you have trained someone to do what you can, and they do it, you've doubled your ministry potential. Counsel immediately all who make decisions. Then introduce the convert to habits of Quiet Time, Scripture Memory, Bible Study, and the application of Scripture to the life. The convert blooms. Taking one or two new believers with a trained pastor or soulwinner into a number of witnessing ministries is far better training than all the sermons we share on the “need for Christians to visit.” We do with others what's been done with us that works!
Paul followed up also by personal correspondence. The New Testament is a series of follow-up letters by Paul, Peter and John. These letters encouraged, taught, shared problem solutions, and gave lifting koinonia to lonely new believers.
Application Today: Being Personal & Belief For Growth
The pastor can prepare a basic, encouraging letter to go to all new members; it should instruct, as well as welcome. Enclosing a tract or portion of Scripture has been used of God. By loaning new members a cassette recorder, with tapes of selected sermons by the pastor on assurance, prayer, Bible study, and victory over sin, growth between Sundays can be solidified.
Paul followed up by personal intercession. He begins every letter with a prayer (except the letter to Galatia). In Romans 16, Paul lists 28 families and individuals: his prayer list for the church at Rome? Is each new convert in your church assigned to a stronger believer for prayer? In Ephesians 3:14, Paul confesses, “for this cause I bow my knees.” Why is Paul on his knees? “That ye faint not” is his burden for believers. Is this why so many drop out in the race, no one is praying, believing God for their growth?
Application Today: Instructing to Pray — ALWAYS
Carry a list of your membership, pray for them, dividing the names throughout the week. Memorize the prayers of Paul. God has preserved them for us, as examples of what He desires in our lives. Pray these individualized prayers for members of your family, a wife or child. Teach your membership to pray one of these prayers for new believers. The following references may help: Ephesians 1:16-20, 3:16-20; Philippiians 1:8-11; Colossians 1:9-12; 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 13; 2 Thessalonians 1:11, 12. Note Pauls's requests that others pray for him. Ephesians 6:18, 19; Colossians 4:2-4; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-3. Members should be led to pray verses for their pastor, Sunday School teacher, deacons. Lead older Christians to be praying one of Paul's example prayers as someone is baptised. List new members in church communications as “For Prayer,” and their names. Praying daily for each convert will dramatically increase conservation results. Specific prayer is possible only by being with the convert to know their needs and temptations. “The greatest test of faith is trusting God for people,” said Dawson Trotman. The warfare of intercession begins when the Christian's armor is in place. Growing believers is the fruit as we “pray always” ( Ephesians 6:13-19 ).
And so, follow-up is best done immediately, by someone personally, modeling Christ, over a period of weeks, using the Scriptures in a loving, warm evangelistic environment, with bold crying to God!
* MATERIALS, available for ordering:
Multiplying Disciples: the New Testament Method for Church Growth, Waylon B. Moore, published in English, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish.
New Testament Follow-up, (Out of Print) Waylon B. Moore, published in English, Portuguese (Integracao), Chinese, Korean.