Not Everything Is Black and McWhite I.2

mcwhitew.jpgOnce again, sorry for the delay, folks!

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?

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6 thoughts on “Not Everything Is Black and McWhite I.2”

  1. This question is for both Vince and Bryan: What is the importance/value of the “membership class”? These are typically condensed church and denominational history and doctrine classes combined with Alpha-class style new believer information.

    If you’ve done it before, if you’ve moved changed churches (for whatever reasons) then becoming a member of a church is often like changing colleges and being told there is no transfer credit. And I’m not talking about going from ICS (link here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RKQRVn4NAs) to Harvard. I’m talking about apples to apples here.

  2. Billy,

    First of all, I don’t have a problem with tattoos and the Bible doesn’t either. I have a tattoo as well, and I think it is a very good and visual symbol of something that is important to us. But, that a distinguishing declaration of allegiance to the church is biblically necessary (if you go back and read) was not my only argument for church membership. The necessity of this declaration, combined with the other biblical reasons why formal membership is necessary make it a corollary that formal membership, itself, be the distinguishing mark, not a tattoo.

    Second, as to the comment about “transfer credit”: I understand that people coming into a new church may already have the requisite doctrinal knowledge. But I was happy to go through membership classes at our church despite having just come from an M.Div. program, and despite currently working on a Ph.D. in New Testament. This isn’t by way of boasting, it’s simply to illustrate that I think this is a question of attitude.

    The pastor is a shepherd, who is responsible to see to it that the flock (and more importantly, the gospel) is guarded from heterodox doctrine. It seems to me that the last thing a church ought to require, then, is that prospective members all submit to some doctrinal instruction to make sure that everyone is on the same page on the essentials of the faith.

    If you already know it all, it seems that the least you could do would be to humbly and eagerly submit to the requirements of your church, in demonstration of your support for the ‘guarding’ and teaching ministry of your pastors. Why would you want to make their ministry in this way more difficult? Again, I think much of this is a question of a humble attitude and respect for your God-appointed leaders.

  3. Hey B,
    thanks for the thoughtful response. I appreciate your engaging and the way you have done it.

    I agree with everything you have said. And your points about needing/requiring prospective members to submit (very important IMHO) to some doctrinal base lining are apt. I asked the questions not out of a christian pride but out of real lived experience. but maybe that puts me and those like me into the exception cases rather than the majority for whom the setup is designed.

    I suppose my question morphs into a more explicit one about purpose/value and mirrors some of the other readers’ questions about who is *membership* benefiting.

    Your answer appears to say that membership is useful for the church to ensure everyone is on the same page (a good thing), to make the leadership’s job easier (also a good thing), and to obtain explicit consent of submission to churchly authority (a good thing as well). But the benefits are all stacked in the church’s column (if we look at it that way).

    While I’m not against helping out the church, I’m not convinced (yet!) that *formal membership* in a local has the force of importance with which you started the entire series.

    still muddling through…

  4. Billy:

    I mean this respectfully, but somewhere between the lines it seems like you are framing the issue as “me” versus “the church”. The things that lead me to think that are the choice to evaluate the membership decision as a benefit analysis (i.e. what do I get out of it) and the comment about “helping out the church” (which to my ears seems to contain some hint of separateness between the believer and the body — I could easily be reading too much into it).

    I’m uncomfortable with the benefit analysis. For starters, I don’t think it’s biblically supported (Phil 2). But even if one were to go that route, there are obvious benefits to the individual from membership. Anything that benefits the church as a whole will inevitably benefit the individual (we’ve seen this already in examples from Vince and McWhite regarding pastoral access and potential benevolence gifts). But even more immediately, I think there is a spiritual benefit in humbling oneself (once again, Phil 2, also Prov 11:2) that many otherwise dedicated Christians are failing to receive.

    Again, this isn’t meant disrespectfully. I appreciate your interesting and honest questions. Thank you.

    Last comment: For years I didn’t become a member not because I resisted consciously, but just because it was never made an issue in our church(es), and because I felt as much a part of the body as anyone there. I simply didn’t perceive that it was a big deal one way or the other. I would guess this may be true for many people.

  5. Brett,

    You make great points and I think that you said all the things that I was thinking. I think I hold very similar views to yours. I think thats a good thing.

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