NCLS Research

Integrating newcomers

Newcomers not involved with another congregation or parish need to be drawn into the life of the church and helped to find their place in the life of the faith community

Integrating newcomers is Quality 9 of the 12 core qualities – part of Connections for Life .Below is an overview of Quality 9: Integrating newcomers overview

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How well does your church integrate newcomers? If your church took part in a National Church Life Survey or has updated results with a Local Church Monitor, then you can enter your congregation/parish password and see the scores online in your Church Profile

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NCLS Resources

Over the years, NCLS has commented on this quality in a range of ways. Click on the NCLS logo to see articles, books excerpts, graphs and more.

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In the Workbench, stories from congregations and material from practitioners across denominations have been organised to relate to the 12 core qualities of effective churches. Look in the drawer that holds contributions relevant to Integrating newcomers

Integrating newcomers Overview

Integrating newcomers is Quality 9 of the 12 core qualities – part of Connections for Life . Here is an overview of Quality 9: Integrating Newcomers - part of the dimension called Community Connections.

The level of newcomers in a church provides a measure of its connection with the wider community. The NCLS uses the term 'newcomers' to mean those who have attended their present congregation or parish for less than five years and previously had not attended a church for many years, or have never attended.  It does not refer to those who come, either temporarily or permanently, from another parish or congregation of the same or a different denomination.

Growth or decline in many churches is largely made up of people switching from one denomination to another, with newcomers to church life being a very secondary source of growth.  While there may be good reasons why people switch congregations or parishes, it is central to the life of our churches that we seek to connect with those not currently part of church life anywhere.

Drawing people into a community of faith is important for reasons far deeper than simply wishing to increase the size of the church. Christian beliefs are not well fostered without a supportive Christian community - beliefs erode with time away from active church involvement . Belief without belonging is a pathway out of faith. Healthy churches are important to the acceptance of Christian beliefs and values in the wider community.

Trends in the 1990s showed that church attendance in Anglican and Protestant churches was declining slowly. However, just a small increase in the level of newcomers without a church background from the 1996 level of 7% to over 8% would turn the current net decline into a net increase.

What We Can Do:

Newcomers are less likely to shop around for a church than attenders generally. Many either settle into the church they first attend or not attend at all. For the churches there may be no second chance. Creating an environment that feels comfortable to newcomers and establishing rapport with them is obviously very important. To ensure that newcomers are welcomed and integrated, responsibility may need to be shared by all attenders, not just allocated to a few.

Many newcomers appear to have left the church they were trying out without any attempt from the church in question to follow them up. Only one in three Australians who have started at a church and then left report that they were followed up by the church that they had attended.  While a newcomer may be easily overlooked in the weekly busyness of church life, it is important for us to be intentional in our concern for those who take the effort to come and see what we are about.

Many larger Protestant and Catholic churches invest significant effort in helping new people to feel part of the life of their church through a formal integration programme. In some cases many of those in such programmes cease to participate within a few months. Sometimes a lot of energy and planning goes into the process of initiation, with too little thought given to ongoing nurture and building a sense of belonging.

A worship service is usually the first occasion at church for most newcomers. Given that such a high percentage of newcomers start here, churches may want to think about how the current style of worship and church life could impact upon such people. Newcomers are more likely than other attenders to have difficulty with language or jargon. Things that regular attenders take for granted may be unfamiliar, confusing or alienating to them.

Leaders would do well to listen to the experiences of those joining and becoming part of the churches. They may also benefit by talking with those who have not stayed.

Churches attracting higher levels of newcomers tend to have a younger age profile  and/or many young families. Given that newcomers are themselves likely to be in these categories, this is unsurprising. Churches need to think about catering to the needs of younger attenders while a solid core in this age group still attends.

Of those who have tried out church involvement and left, a significant group had difficulty with the style of worship. Our church research confirms that, at least for Anglican and Protestant denominations, churches with contemporary styles of worship and music are more likely to be attracting and integrating higher levels of newcomers.

Questions To Ask:

1. How many newcomers are there in your church?

2. Have newcomers in your church formed friendships or joined church groups? What can you do to help them  feel a stronger sense of belonging?

3. Does your church follow up newcomers? Do you know why people visit, then leave? What difficulties did they experience? What can be learnt from them to help integrate newcomers better in the future?

4. Are there things you can do to reconnect with people who no longer attend?

What we know:

  • Many factors work together to create a church that is attractive to newcomers and makes them feel welcome. High newcomer churches tend to have:
  • - A clear vision for the future to which attenders are committed.
    - An intentional outward focus.
    - Attenders who are keen to invite others to participate with them in church.
    - Worship that attenders find positive and helpful. In Anglican and Protestant churches at least, high newcomer churches tend to offer contemporary worship.
    - An openness to new directions.
    - Attenders with a growing faith and a strong sense of belonging to their church.
  • Around 7% of churchgoers in an average week are newcomers without a church background who have joined in the last 5 years.
  • Personal contact and invitation plays a significant role in attracting newcomers to church, making them feel welcome and helping them settle in.  A worship service is the first impression of church life for most newcomers.
  • Newcomers are less likely to shop around for a congregation than attenders generally.  The process of integration is often tentative and slow

Source: NCLS Research - Kaldor, P., 2002, Connections for Life: core qualities to foster in your church Openbook.

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