The initial stage of this process is a personal ENCOUNTER with Jesus and a salvation decision. This step is essential for not just the eternal security of the individual, but also for the long-term health of the church. We need people who have submitted themselves to Jesus as Lord as a part of the local church.
The ENCOUNTER step also indicates when the Christian, new or mature, joins the church and encounters the people of God there. Let’s face it: churches are generally unique bunches. Many people come to their church from Christian backgrounds that may or may not have prepared them for what their current church believes and does. The prospective member is invited to join in what the church is doing and believe what the church believes, but there is also recognition that they bring something to the table with them: unique gifts and passions that will come into play as they move through the assimilation process. This step is accomplished by joining, not by mere attendance. This need for membership will have to be communicated from the pulpit and through the membership classes.
Another element to consider in the ENCOUNTER step is for there to be a yearly member review. Members could fill out a survey, analyze strengths and weaknesses of the prior year’s ministry, and indicate whether or not they wish to continue as members. This potentially controversial step could have remarkable impact on ministry effectiveness and member involvement.