Membership audit leads to discipleship success

By Jeff Campbell

Pastor mary zajac
Pastor Mary Zajac

I really enjoy hearing stories about churches that have a passion for discipleship. I’m just unapologetically a discipleship guy!

Each year Discipleship Ministries provides funds to our annual conferences to give a One Matters Award to a church (or churches) they see doing discipleship well. The stories that come from these churches inspire me.

Baker Memorial UMC in St. Charles, Illinois, was one of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference recipients. I love this church’s story. They had the courage to do what a lot of churches haven’t. They looked at their church roll and made realistic updates.

If you read their statistical reports, you might be surprised at the drop in membership. The report from 2012 showed a membership of more than 1,000. But after the staff did a long overdue audit, their 2018 realistic number of a little more than 700.

The audit helped them see that over the years they had losses in membership, but also database updates and maintenance, and member moves. Statistics also showed there were some important gains in those five years. Baker Memorial had 90 adults who joined by profession of faith. Others joined by transfer of membership, and still others joined through confirmation.

Gaining clarity on their membership statistics enabled Baker Memorial to see the ebb and flow of people coming in and out and ask the ever-present question, “How can we be a more faithful church in this age and this place?”

In many ways, the church made small changes to answer that question. They began by studying the book, “Shift: Helping Congregations Back Into the Game of Effective Ministry” by Phil Maynard, a nationally-recognized coach, consultant, author, and trainer working primarily in the area of congregational development. This study helped the Church Council change its mindset from one of the goals being membership to the new goal of discipleship.

Interestingly, though, the church stopped being focused on getting people to join their church and just focused on becoming disciples themselves and ministering to people where they were.

Rather than inviting people into membership, they began to invite people to come and learn how to become a disciple and then become a member if they were interested. They now invite all new attendees to a six-week small group that teaches the Wesleyan General Rules and Understanding of Grace utilizing the book, “A Blueprint for Discipleship” by Kevin Watson, assistant professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies at Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

Interestingly, though, the church stopped being focused on getting people to join their church and just focused on becoming disciples themselves and ministering to people where they were.

So far about 80 people have participated in that study, which provides a positive small group experience, deep connections with other people in the church, and a serious look at what it means to be a Christian in the Methodist tradition. Before joining the church, they ask each prospective member to write down how they intend to fulfill the membership vows of supporting the church with their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. They want people considering membership to understand membership carries responsibilities.

I’m glad to see that Baker Memorial has seen their shift in attitude make such a difference in how they minister. Discipleship is changing lives.

Looking forward to see how you grow,

Rev. Jeff Campbell is the General Secretary of Discipleship Ministries. He comes to this role having led Discipleship Ministries as the Associate General Secretary for Strategic Programming, where he coordinated the work of the agency around three strategic priorities: an Intentional Discipleship System in every church; equipping local churches to engage their communities; and lifting up and creating local, contextual resources globally. Rev. Campbell joined Discipleship Ministries in 2013 as Executive Director of Conference Relationships.