What can I say? Lots going on lately, I guess.
Vince’s response was excellent and thorough, and it was clear to me that this discussion isn’t going to get really interesting until we get to the “What should…” sort of questions, since our church (New Hope Church)’s membership process is rather similar to Vince’s church (Trinity EFC). That said, let me highlight a few areas where our membership processes are similar and dissimilar.
New Hope Church also, in a sense, strongly encourages membership. But that certainly begs the question: What does it look like to “strongly encourage membership” (I’d be curious to know how Trinity EFC does it)? Because, in theory and in the sentiment of the elders of our church we sincerely do want people to become members. We let them know how they can do that, and have made it a relatively simple process. Our senior pastor, Steve Goold, leads and teaches the new members class, which I think is a very wise and pastoral practice on his part, and is altogether too rare in churches of our size (2,000+). I imagine that the vast majority of senior pastors of megachurches would delegate that responsibility, and I deeply appreciate that Steve has not. I think it speaks highly of his view of the importance of membership in our church.
That said, it is by no means well-understood what the entailments, requirements, and expectations of membership are in our church. Very few understand the benefits and reasons for membership, and we really do almost nothing to encourage (or, compel) long-term regular attenders to seek membership. In that sense, then, we don’t take membership all that seriously. So, we do and we don’t. We need to get more consistent. But I’m starting to jump ahead in our question list here. My bad.
The process for membership at New Hope Church is relatively simple. A membership application is filled out that mainly asks for contact and family information. There is, then, a required membership class that currently meets three consecutive Sunday mornings for about an hour. Generally speaking, the history of the EFCA and of NHC are covered, as well as doctrinal distinctives of the EFCA and the mission of NHC. At the end of the membership classes, each prospective members are asked to indicate areas interest for serving and plugging into the life of the church, which are then distributed to the pastor/staff person who oversees that particular area. Once these records are distributed to the appropriate person, however, there is no follow-up nor is there a centralized system that tracks the involvement and progress of new members in ministry involvement.
Prospective members are then required to have a meeting with an elder, which generally lasts for 30-45 minutes, in which the prospective member is asked to explain how they came to faith in Christ, and is given an opportunity to ask and have answered any questions about NHC and membership that remain.
Finally, new members are affirmed and welcomed into the church during the morning services (I believe) quarterly. Other members of the church, however, play no role in evaluating new members nor explicitly in affirming new members into the body.
With regard to numbers of members vs. numbers of regular attenders, our percentages are roughly in line with Trinity EFC. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but if I recall correctly, our weekly attendance is in the neighborhood of 2,400, and we have close to 800 on the membership rolls (though I am relatively certain that the membership rolls are rarely if ever ‘cleaned’ in order to remove those who no longer attend or those who have not actively involved themselves in the life of the church in some time).
Clearly, then, there are ways our church could tighten up its practice of membership, but I need to leave that for the following questions.
Vince: How does Trinity EFC “strongly encourage membership,” exactly?