For many of you who read this book, personal follow-up may be a new concept. It is perhaps a work you have heard about- but you have never actively participated in such a ministry. Don’t be ashamed of this. Personal follow-up is simply a ministry that has been neglected by Christian leaders. My experience has shown that the vast majority of people whom I counsel are not personally involved in following up new Christians.
Studies have shown that fewer than one percent of evangelical church members are involved in personal follow-up. For many years I thought the lack of persona evangelism was one of the greatest problems facing the church. I have not changed my mind as to the seriousness of this problem. But I now believe the lack of effective follow-up being done in the local church today constitutes an even more dangerous problem for the church at large. Perhaps a few examples from my personal experience will show you the reason for my burden in this area.
One of my first exposures to evangelistic outreach began optimistically. A student at Penn State University, I had been a Christian for nearly two years. While in high school, before becoming a Christian, I had been the president of the youth group in my home church, and now I felt a strong burden for the youth currently in that group. I sought to find a way to make the gospel clear to them. The opportunity presented itself when the youth leader wrote me and requested that I come and lead a weekend retreat. This was a clear answer to prayer, and with the help of several friends, I set about planning the retreat.
The retreat was finally held, and God’s Spirit moved in a beautiful way. Only one person out of the entire youth group rejected the gospel invitation. I went back to college rejoicing in the Lord. It wasn’t long, however, before I began to have serious doubts about the success of that weekend. The youth leader wrote me and told me about problems arising in the group. Several of those who had made commitments were no longer attending. As time went on, all but a few apparently forgot their commitments. I felt helpless to do something about the problem. At that time I did not see the significant role personal follow-up could have played in conserving the fruit of the retreat. This experience jolted me into discovering how to conserve the fruit of evangelism.
Another situation impressed on me the need for effective personal follow-up. This was an evangelistic film outreach in which I was involved. My role was to act as the head counselor, guiding the work of volunteers who counseled those who came forward in response to the invitation given after the film. The training the counselors received was completely evangelistic in nature, and no attention was given to helping the new believer grow in his new life in Christ (I admit this to my shame). The response in the week of film showings was remarkable. Nearly one thousand people came forward to seek the answer to their needs and problems. After approximately six months, I felt burdened to see what lasting result was evident from our ministry. Although communication was a limiting factor, it was still clear there was little lasting fruit from that project. I could account for fewer than two dozen out of the thousand inquirers who still were going on in their decision. I am not relating this to criticize film evangelism; in fact I feel it is a very effective way to communicate the gospel. I am attempting to show that unless there is a strong emphasis on personal follow-up of decisions, there will be little lasting fruit to show for our efforts.
How much difference can an effective personal follow-up program make in the conversation of fruit in evangelistic outreach? Let me cite another example. An evangelistic church with whose ministry I am acquainted reveals an interesting insight into the role of follow-up I fruit conservation.
Examining the church records over the past ten years revealed that approximately six hundred decisions for Christ were made in that time. These decisions resulted from a variety of programs, e.g., youth retreats, evangelism weeks, evangelistic services, and personal evangelism. The profession-of-faith statistics, taken from an analysis of membership increase over the same time period, numbered less than one hundred. Thus it would seem that only one out of six decisions was actually conserved. Although this figure does not take into account those who were already members when saved or those who went on in the Lord and joined some other body, it is safe to say that accurate information concerning these other people would not significantly alter the conservation figure of one out of six.
The reason I chose this church as an example is that the leaders in this church decided they could no longer be content with such a low conservation rate. A number of their people received training in personal follow-up and determined to use their training with every person who would respond to the invitation in their church. Soon after that they had an evangelistic week at their church and for the first time sought to follow up on all who responded. After six months the fruit conservation rate was five out of six. Personal follow-up indeed made a significant difference.
My experience over the past several years could multiply these examples of the limitations of evangelism without personal follow-up. Well-planned personal follow-up of new believers could, I am convinced, revolutionize the traditional growth rates of local churches. I believe we can no longer explain away those who don’t continue to grow in Christ as being “seeds in bad soil” (see the parable of the sower and the seed in Matthew 13). Undoubtedly some of those who don’t continue to grow in the Lord are the products of “bad soil,” yet I see no implication in the text to support a fruit conservation rate of one out of six. Personal experience has shown a much higher rate resulting from effective personal follow-up of new believers. I believe the need is so urgent we can no longer be complacent about so few lasting results in evangelism.
– From “Dynamics of Personal Follow-up,” Gary Kuhne. Used by permission of the author.