Many new converts have Primary-aged children and a few children even join the church on their own during the Primary years. These children present a special challenge and extraordinary opportunities for the teachers and leaders.
A new convert once asked if it was okay to continue some of the religious practices she had enjoyed in her previous religion. They didn’t conflict in any way with our own doctrines or practices; they were simply a comfort and a tradition, particularly those related to holidays. She was assured that if those things helped her to feel closer to God, they were okay to do. We tend to do things in a simple way, and it can be a challenge for new converts to adapt quickly to that.
The first year of church membership is challenging. The new member has just made a tremendous commitment, and may be nervous and worried about whether he made the right choice. As he begins to see that members are less than perfect, and learns things about the church that puzzle him, he may find doubts creeping in. Old friends and family who are not members may work to plant those doubts.
If your ward has few baptisms, you may not be aware of the special needs of new members in the class you teach. A new member comes to your class without the background in doctrine, and without the understanding of how to do things. In addition, he may not have a testimony of the topic you’re teaching.
When we call someone to a position within our organizations, we often assume she has a certain amount of knowledge, even if she has never held that particular calling. When we call a new member to a position, we must be careful never to assume anything at all. If you have been in the church all your life, you might be surprised to discover how many things are not obvious to converts.
When a new member or an investigator comes to the church through the missionaries or a media referral, they are at a huge disadvantage. They haven’t any friends in the ward. There is no one, other than the missionaries who will eventually leave, for them to turn to with questions or concerns. I remember, as a new member, being embarrassed to ask questions or express doubts. My lack of a complete testimony, even after baptism, embarrassed me and I didn’t really feel safe enough to admit to anyone that I lacked a complete testimony at that time.
Though I am generally well-integrated into the Latter-day Saint lifestyle and culture, there are times when I am reminded that I was not raised in it. In my earliest months and years, I frequently experienced such moments. I often wondered if I would ever feel as “one of them” rather than an outsider privileged to enter into their circle. I imagine many new members experience similar feelings when they are learning how to fit in and feel accepted among their new peers.