“Why do I need to join the church?” This question is asked in churches with some degree of regularity. If “so you can vote at business meetings” is the best reason a church can provide then that church may wish to spend some time considering why membership matters. Below are three components to making sure membership matters in your church.
1. Define Church Membership in Your Church
Saying church membership matters is one thing, describing why it matters is another. The question is, “What distinction is drawn between a member and a non-member?” The assumption is that anyone is free to attend, give, and grow in your church. What changes when individuals join? Being able to effectively answer this question will determine whether membership truly matters in your church.
Take time to define the importance of membership. You may wish to consider answering the question, “What are the characteristics of a church member?” Those include:
• Spiritual Growth
A church also needs to consider how these expectations are measured in members’ lives. What, if any, ramifications are there if these characteristics are absent? While holding members accountable for what is expected of a church member can lead to conflict, not holding members accountable causes membership to lose its significance.
2. Determine the Entry Process
Have you ever stepped out of your car in the parking lot of a church only to realize you had no idea which door to use? On more than one occasion I have had to try two or three different doors before I could find one that was unlocked. The problem was that the entry point was not clearly marked.
A church should never assume that guests who attend know which door to use. Churches need to place signs in strategic locations to direct guests to the right door. The same should be said of church membership. A church should never assume that prospective members know how to join the church. The church needs to clearly and frequently explain how a person becomes a member and why membership is important.
This requires a church to spend time determining the process by which a person joins. How will the church encourage prospects to join while at the same ensuring that potential members understand the church’s beliefs, vision, and methodology? Depending on how many potential new members your church has, options include:
• A one-on-one interview with prospective members
• A one-time, one or two-hour prospective members’ class
• A multi-week prospective members’ class
In his book High Expectations, Dr. Thom Rainer reports that churches that require or strongly encourage participation in a new members’ class have a much higher rate of member retention than those churches that do not. However, take great care to move wisely and cautiously as your church determines what is required for membership.
3. Celebrate Membership
We celebrate what we value. If a church truly values church membership then they should celebrate it. Celebrate a person joining the church through baptism. Ideas include:
• Baptizing on special days
• Encouraging saved family members or close friends or fellow small group members to stand in the baptistery with the one being baptized
• Showing a video testimony of the person being baptized
• Applauding after the baptism
• Giving the one baptized a framed certificate of baptism and an 8 x 10 picture of the baptism
• Throwing a party for those who were recently baptized
Churches can also celebrate when individuals join by letter or statement of faith. Ideas for celebration include:
• Giving new members a certificate of membership and an 8 x 10 picture of them with the pastor
• Creating a “Celebrating Our New Members” bulletin board where pictures and names of new members are displayed
• Planning a meal with the pastor and his family for new members who have joined recently
• Setting aside a Sunday to place special emphasis on church membership when the pastor recognizes those who have been members for the longest, recognizes those who have joined in the past year, preaches on the importance of church membership, and issues a special call for prospective members to consider church membership
Church membership matters. People want to belong to something that is making a difference. When a church is making a difference in the community, people will be drawn to it. Churches where membership matters have determined why membership is important, how a person joins, and how the church celebrates their new members.
If you would like to know more about making membership matter, contact Marcus Brown at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention at firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 838-2272, ext. 5128. Marcus serves as Assistant Team Leader on the Evangelism and Church Health Team. He and his wife Amy, along with their three children, live in Benton.