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.
Your first responsibility to this member is to make sure he isn’t sitting alone. If he comes in and sits down by himself, find a way to arrange for him to sit with someone else. For instance, you might go to Brother Jones and say, “Did you know that Brother Wilson builds model trains also? I’d like you to meet him.” Then take the experienced member to the new member and get them started on a conversation. It’s likely, since class will start a few moments later, they will wind up sitting together. If you often have new members, call some outgoing class members and ask them to make a special effort to find someone who is sitting alone next week. While each person can take responsibility for this, the teacher sets the tone.
Be careful not to call on new members unexpectedly. The first time I attended Seminary (a class for teenagers held on weekdays to teach the scriptures) I was asked to pray. I had no idea how to pray or how to get out of having to pray, since I wasn’t even a member yet. A friend quickly stepped in and handled it for me. However, as the teacher, if you want to ask a new member to pray, call him at home a few days before and ask him if he’d be willing to do this. If he is, this gives him time to prepare. If he isn’t ready yet, don’t pressure him.
often have difficulty locating scriptures. Be sure to give a page number, and if your new member uses the missionary edition, be certain you know the page number in that edition as well. You can also ask a more experienced member to sit with the new member and help him find the scriptures.
Never call on a new member to answer a question unless he raises his hand. Then, if he gives an incorrect answer, be prepared with a gentle correction. Often you can pull something correct from his answer and then go into more explanation, which corrects the answer, but doesn’t refer to the answer he gave. If his answer is correct for other churches, but not ours you can help other class members know this is the source of the answer. “You’re right—many churches do teach that. In fact, Joseph Smith wondered about this and so…”
Help your new member become a participant by giving him non-threatening ways to help out. Ask in advance, if you know he reads well, if he would read something during the lesson, or invite him to help you with a demonstration. There are times when a new member’s perspective is just what the lesson needs, and you can invite him, during the week, to share this. “Sister Watson, our lesson this week is on member missionary work. I wonder if you would share how Sister Cann came to invite you to church and what role she played in your conversion.”
You are in an ideal position to help a new member feel warmly loved and wanted in your classroom. Just a little bit of careful planning can bring your new student into full participation.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.