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The ABCs of membership


CHURCH MEMBERSHIP is important and alive when it attracts new people into the body, builds the body stronger, and commissions new believers for service.

The present harvest field, however, is difficult to reach. Called baby boomers, they are known as non-joiners–more interested in having their needs met than in helping others. Neither is loyalty one of their strengths. They can change in a moment if another organization seems more interesting or valuable.

Then how do we get baby boomers to enroll in church membership?

A pastor in Florida approaches the problem by changing the focus. Instead of encouraging young couples or individuals to join the church, he encourages them to attend a "new friends" class on Sunday morning. During the 12-week class all the church’s opportunities are explained, doctrine defined, and requirements presented. If new friends want to join the church at the end of the class, and most of them do, they are already emotionally and culturally assimilated into the church. The confrontational part of joining is removed from the process.

Traditionally, most new-member classes have been tremendously effective; therefore, this is simply a new application of an old theme.

Attraction goes beyond education and information, however, and connects the prospective members to the life of the church. A church in Missouri accomplishes this by assigning an established family as glue for the newcomers. They invite newcomers to light social outings, sit with or near them in services, and are constantly available for ministry, questions, or conversation.

Part of the gluing process is to work into conversations the church’s various ministries (Sunday school, nursery, youth, children’s church, Royal Rangers, Missionettes).

Church beliefs and structure are shared in an informal, effective fashion. The pastor reports that in most cases if the glue holds from 1 to 3 months, the new family sticks to the church permanently. Membership simply formalizes the ties built to the new converts.

Building the church body is also more than enlarging numbers or increasing programs. Growth strengthens every part and position of the congregation. An old truth is finding new application: "Every person is a minister" is translated into "every individual involved."

All the pastors with whom I talked were excited to have new people in their congregations, but most required membership before ministry. The flip side is that when people join the church, they should have an opportunity to do something for the church and the Lord. If there are not enough jobs to go around, rotate some assignments, form teams, or designate assistants. Special task forces can be formed for intermittent events such as revivals. Find some way to use everyone who wants to work, for building the body involves using new people in the church’s programs and outreaches.

Commissioning moves people from the realm of only being involved to the higher plane.

Not only did the pastors want their leaders to be members, they felt the responsibility of providing ministry to those with leadership abilities. A pioneer pastor in Texas told about losing an outstanding couple who became frustrated by seeing the needs of the new work and not being asked to participate.

"Now I begin praying about something for my new people to do the first week I see them in our services," he said.

Commissioning is greater than busy work and extends beyond the local assembly’s needs. Commissioning involves activities and events which evangelize the community, teach and disciple Christians, and expand the church’s ability to touch lost, hurting people.

"It is a must that individuals be grounded enough in our church to be members," the pastor said, "but I need to remember that membership is a two-way street. Both the member and the congregation are better because of the relationship–stronger and more able to minister.

"When I bring new converts through a systematic process which draws them deeper into the church body," he continued, "I end up with my most dependable members. If I just take whatever is available, I can get anything–maybe usable and maybe not."

It becomes evident that a careful process of developing new people produces superior members. First, contact is made (attraction), then involvement (building), and finally leadership is produced (commissioning).

At which point should membership be introduced to new candidates? Probably between the first and second steps–when they are well attracted but not yet built into the body. Membership is then not only an event which adds them to the church roll but an ingredient affirming the entire process and ongoing success of the local ministry.

It might be as easy as ABC.