Maybe a better way to say it would be that we’re moving from what is actually the case regarding membership in the churches we serve, to what we hope will one day be the case either in the churches we currently serve or in the churches we will one day serve. So, let me kick off the discussion for this week:
Bryan: What do you think the best process for membership would be?
I’m going to assume that anyone who engages with my answer to this question has already read through my six posts on “Do You Need to Be a Church Member?,” because they explain in detail why I think local church membership is vital for Christian life and growth, and why I think local churches need to take membership very seriously. If you haven’t read them and would like to, you kind find them here. If you haven’t read them and don’t want to read them, but would still like to debate whether church membership is a good idea in the comments on this post anyway… well… your mom.
This is a fairly easy question for me to answer, because I’ve already seen a template for church membership that I intend to emulate and implement when and if I become a senior pastor of a church. The process for membership at Mars Hill Church, Seattle, pastored by Mark Driscoll is nothing that is terribly original, but in my view it is right on the money in terms of how churches that take membership seriously should structure the process of becoming a church member. Let me quote from their website on membership:
“Being a member of Mars Hill Church is really about being part of a family. Members who enter into a covenant with their local church are called to a higher degree of responsibility and service. At the same time, the elders and deacons are covenanted to assist members first and foremost, to love and lead, provide counsel and aid, as well as to pray for, teach, and guide.
I want to be a member: What should I do?
1) Start acting like one. Demonstrate your love for the church by volunteering. Click here to learn about the ways you can serve at Mars Hill.
2) Make yourself known. Don’t keep your life to yourself. Join a Community Group and get with other Mars Hill folks to grow together in maturity, leadership, and love.
3) Get on mission. All prospective members are asked to take the Gospel Class to study and learn the essential mission of Mars Hill.”
The Gospel Class required of prospective members at Mars Hill is second to none in what I’ve seen:
“This 8-week class includes an overview of our church and our core values, with a doctrinal explanation of the Scriptures, God, Creation, Sin, Salvation, the Missional Church, Stewardship, and Spiritual Gifts. This class explores basic, biblical theology and how this teaching plays out philosophically and practically in the way we embody the gospel to the neighborhood in which we live.”
In taking its members through such an extensive time of instruction, it can to so much more to ensure that the members of its church are on the same page on the essential beliefs, values, and mission of the church—something that is sorely lacking in the vast majority of evangelical churches today.
As MHC does, I would require prospective members to complete an interview with an elder or pastor upon completion of the membership class, in which they would be asked to articulate their ‘testimony’ of how Christ brought them to faith in himself, and they would be encouraged to invest in both a serving ministry appropriate to their gifts as well as a small group if they have not already done so. Upon completion of the membership class and interview, the prospective member would be given the opportunity to affirm and sign the church covenant (I won’t elaborate on church covenants, since that’s next week’s question).
The names and photos of prospective members would then be published in the bulletin on the Sunday prior to the Sunday when the prospective members would be welcomed into membership. During the announcements, I would ask the members of the congregation to peruse the list of prospective members and encourage them to inform an elders or pastor if they know of any reason (e.g. unknown persistent sinful behavior) why any of them should not become members at this time.
On the ‘membership affirmation Sunday,’ then, I would ask the members of the church (only) to stand, vote into membership the prospective members, and then together with the new members reaffirm the church covenant. I would hope, both in sentiment and in worship, this would feel like a joyful and warm time of celebration of God’s work in growing the body of Christ in our midst.
I suppose I should anticipate the objection that this whole process is just completely unrealistic and overly cumbersome. My two responses to that are: (1) I take membership very seriously. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t require so much of church members. But I do, so I will. (2) Mars Hill Church has thousands of members, all of whom have completed the membership process, and most of whom are 20- and 30-something formerly lazy, apathetic, postmodern, individualistic punk rockers, who nevertheless thought it worthwhile to commit the time and effort necessary to make membership at Mars Hill Church a special and biblical thing. If it is manageable for Seattlites, it’s manageable for anyone.