By Barbara Sadler, Path 1 Associate
A few weeks ago, I spent some time in the Peninsula-Delaware Conference for Discovery Week, which is part of the Path 1 process. Discovery Week is all about helping annual conferences create a process for planting new faith communities in their area. I'd like to share one incredible "discovery" I found in the form of a very successful new church plant.
I came across this discovery through an amazing woman named Kari Jones. She and her husband, Alan, co-pastor one of the new church starts in that conference called Connection Community Church. Connection Community Church was started in 2001 as a “daughter” church to a pre-existing Methodist congregation. They’ve come a long way from their humble beginnings as church plant. They are now averaging in the neighborhood of 650 in worship on Sunday. This is a real success story if I’ve ever heard one for church planting.
Often when a church attracts that many folks you might think it doesn’t require much of members. Wrong! What is most fascinating about this success story is the high stakes membership requirement. Although average attendance is around 650, there are only 100 members. This is not a social club, but a church where people must work and be committed to become members. There is a six month to one year process during which the prospective member learns what it means to be a disciple and commit themselves to the church’s mission.
When a person indicates they want to join into membership, they are required to participate in three studies that will help them know what commitment to membership means. They must choose one of three spiritual formation activities: Alpha, Emmaus/Chrysalis, or Disciple Training Class. In addition, they take a course called Network, which is a spiritual gifts study developed by Willow Creek Church in Chicago. They also participate in a Connection Class, which teaches the servant hood DNA that is characteristic of Connection Community Church. At the conclusion of all of this they have a joining ceremony, at which time the individual gets a towel, symbolizing their role as a servant of God.
Oh, and did I mention that the church tithes everything that comes in back out to the community? They’re always facing outward as disciples and revealing Christ’s love through mission.
Did I mention also that they are planning to plant their own daughter church in the near future? Imagine if all our plants could mature to the point of multiplying as fast as Connection Church.
Obviously, Connection Community Church understands what it means to be a church. Maybe we all could take a lesson from this and start raising our expectations of what it means to become a part of a family of faith and a disciple of Jesus. Maybe we have made it too easy for people. Imagine for a moment what if our old churches held similar requirements for membership. Imagine what would happen if all our plants followed a similar pattern of disciple-making to Connection Community. These aren’t completely new ideas. In fact the first Methodists in Britain had their own sets of membership requirements and no one every accused them of being too easy on their members.
What types of membership requirements or training would you recommend to a new church plant looking to grow and offer a vital ministry? What would you recommend to existing churches seeking to revive their ministry?