by Erik Hall planter of Barnegat Anew inBarnegat, New Jersey
Anyone who has been involved in the leadership of a church has probably been smacked with this unfortunate reality: many churches can count and compare their membership rolls against their average worship attendance, or active participation, and find many more (sometimes as much as 50% more) people “on the rolls” than who are actually participating. Further, a significant number of participating folks may NOT be “official” members of the church. For example, a church may have 500 members, but only 250 people are consistently active and participating (many of whom aren’t even members).
While membership isn’t the end all be all of church vitality, in an existing church this dynamic can really cause some serious malaise. In a new church start it can be downright catastrophic. First of all, membership is supposed to be a serious, intentional, and committed life-choice. What it means to be a member (to support the local church with prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness) is to express the #1 priority of all Christians: to be a living example of a follower of Jesus. If members of the church (those who officially and publicly vowed to do so) aren’t doing it, then it is very hard to build a culture where “membership” is a living example of following Jesus. Secondly, when membership rolls are clogged with a lot of non-participating folks it causes skepticism on the part of active folks when approached with the invitation to officially “join” as members. If I had a dime for every time I heard, “I am already committed and invested way beyond most members. What is the significance of officially joining?” I would have a lot of dimes indeed!
The path we are charting forward at Waretown/Barnegat Anew is to get people to be a living example (expressed in the local church) of the #1 priority of all Christians: a life defined by following Jesus. Much exciting work these days is being done by new church planters and missional church leaders to initiate a Christian movement by which people are invited and empowered to follow Jesus daily, intentionally, sacrificially, and holistically in ways that resonate deeply with their lives and lifestyles. This promises to make disciples (and members) more effectively than any traditional vows, rolls, or criteria. Because, in the end I think, whatever we decide to call them, we want our churches filled, bursting, and multiplying with people who are making a serious, intentional, and committed life-choice to follow Jesus every day.
How is your church "making an example" out of its members? What are some of the ways we can help potential members understand the commitment that lies before them?