It is an exciting time when we have new members who come to Special Gathering which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  We are an organization whose mission is evangelism and discipleship.  Therefore, we desire to be a welcoming place and a safety net for people who are developmentally disabled.

In the past weeks, we have had several new people who are attending.  This presents some unique circumstances.  Our first and foremost goal is that our new members become assimilated within the population with his/her fellow members, not become only associated with our volunteers.  Because our members love to be aligned with normal folks, this is our continuing first challenge. 

In the past, most of our members came from contacts made within the workshops.  Now, alternative placements have made assimilation more complicated.  People come from out-of-state. They have no placement or they work in the community.  They are not known by anyone.  They don’t have friends already in our program.

In our Melbourne group, we have a class of members who have been targeted as our leadership.  They are taught on a different level.  They are taught discipleship/servant-hood principles.  As part of their training, we ask that our leadership team take a new member under their wing and escort them around.  We want the leadership team to try and find a good fit for the new member in regard to their Bible study class and other elements of our worship.  Usually within a few weeks, the new member has found her own set of friends but this initial confrontation with us seems to go smoother if our members can work one-on-one with her.

In addition, I try to spend one-on-one time with each new member.  I have found that this is pretty essential.  I try to make a home visit before his first time at Special Gathering.  If possible, I will pick up the person for his first time at Special Gathering.  Of course, that is becoming harder and harder but this is a goal.  In that way, Sam is seen by the other members and by Sam, as my guest.  Because I’m the area director, this gives him a bit of status. 

Over the years, I’ve seen that the most important thing, however, is that the new member become aligned with our leadership team–rather than with me.  When we were smaller and our members weren’t as mature, I played a bigger part in making our new members comfortable.  Now, it is our leaders who are the essential element. 

To be brutally honest, this isn’t a task that our leadership team is comfortable with yet.  They still want to sit on the front row with their old friends.  However, I see small steps of maturity within our membership in this important area of discipleship.

What part do your leaders play in welcoming new members?  Do you have certain tasks that you assign to them?  Do they naturally want to help new members?