The local church, by God’s design, has the responsibility of fostering spiritual growth. All that we do in worship, fellowship, service, and Bible study ought to be means toward our end, that is, discipleship. In short: the church is to be a training center for spiritual growth and equipping. Disciple making is our mission!
Unfortunately, it seems that many in our churches have not grown spiritually. And the problem may—and I believe often does—go back to their spiritual “start” and to our challenge as church leaders to facilitate a growth journey for new believers. In my view, the discipleship battle is often won or lost right at the beginning, from the moment of the salvation decision. Most new believers need immediate spiritual encouragement and guidance. They need help to establish spiritual disciplines. They need to be guided within a good local church that will jump-start them on the path to maturity in Christ.
Toward that goal, consider these five foundational needs of new believers as they begin their discipleship journey.
There’s something awesome about seeing someone come to Christ: the Devil loses a follower, and we gain a spiritual family member! But in the midst of the rejoicing, I try to remind myself that being born again is just the beginning. The road to maturity has ups and downs, bumps and turns—thus the need for a church-wide prayer ministry that specifically targets the needs of new believers.
Action step: Add the names of new believers (with their permission) to the church’s regularly published prayer reminders, and keep the congregation informed about their needs.
Assurance of salvation
Every new believer needs a basic understanding of what the Bible says about eternal security as a foundation for the assurance of their salvation. When someone puts their trust in Christ in response to your witness, immediately explain the significance of a genuine salvation decision and verses of Scripture such as 1 John 5:11–13; John 6:47; John 10:28, 29; 1 Peter 1:3–5; Ephesians 1:13, 14; and Romans 8:29–39.
Action step: Use concisely written material that overviews the Bible’s teaching on security and assurance. Make it available to everyone as an aid in their witness. Encourage its use with new believers immediately following a salvation decision.
Positive relationships with mature believers
New believers can feel pretty lonely after their initial decision for Christ, especially if they live and work among unbelievers. Relationships are the key to good disciple making, so an intentional effort to connect new believers to peers who are active in their own walk with God is crucial.
Action step: Enlist and train a pool of committed people who have a burden for new believers, and unleash them to intentionally build relationships with the new believers.
Practical mentoring in basic spiritual disciplines
Spiritual growth doesn’t happen automatically, and usually not from simply listening to good preaching or attending a Bible study or class. I think new believers learn best in one-on- one settings with a trained mentor who explains over time how to read the Bible, pray, overcome temptation, witness, and the like. Don’t miss the point here—this is not just about having more classes; it’s about giving personal, caring attention and guidance to new believers.
Action step: Enlist and train a group of mentors who can guide new believers through follow-up material that focuses on basic areas of spiritual growth. Develop a specific plan for connecting new believers with these disciplers as soon as possible.
Connection with a healthy church
The local church is at the center of God’s plan for making disciples. Therefore, a connection with a healthy, welcoming church is crucial to long-term discipleship success. It takes a family of believers to effectively nurture new believers toward maturity.
Action step: While new believers are being helped through friendships and mentors, also encourage them to become church members and involved in church ministries according to their individual giftedness.
Jim Vogel (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) was a pastor for 30 years and associate national representative of the GARBC. He now represents the Empire State Fellowship of Regular Baptist Churches.