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Making Members?

Perhaps one of the biggest changes in the post-denominational church has been the view of membership. It used to be (and still occurs with older members of churches) that one would go through the necessary steps to become a member of a church if you were going to commit to regular attendance. It signaled a commitment to the church, and in some ways, the church to you.

But cultural forces have created a shift in how one defines membership, and the church is no different.

What seems interesting to me, though, is that people say membership in things no longer matters, but it still really does. What do you say to/think of the person who is not a member of Facebook? What else do you call someone who is committed to buying only organic produce? Or only uses Mac products?

Membership still exists.

A recent article in The Christian Century, Loose Connections, talks about the phenomenon of dwindling membership in the church. In it, Amy Fryckholm writes, “Despite the changing patterns of church affiliation, most churches still approach membership the way they did in the 1960s.”

Fryckholm suggests one shift that might be helpful is for the church to begin to see itself as a base camp and not a permanent residence. A place for a stopover en route to a destination.

But base camps are too transient to make any type of meaning – you stay until it is time to continue to voyage. I know churches that operate this way – especially churches connected to academic communities – but this is a truncated view of the body of Christ. Its like approaching fitness by trying all of the latest exercise fads, but never committing to one.

But if I continue the metaphor, your body is meant to have a baseline experience it is used to, with certain new or more challenging exercises thrown in to make sure you don’t get complacent/atrophied.

So instead of throwing out church membership, or totally remaking into something that “fits the culture,” what would it look like to establish a baseline, then slowly add in challenging exercises to expand our capacity of being in the world?

What do you think?

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Meghan Rogers-Czarnecki
    June 10, 2011 at 2:30 PM

    In some ways I see this as completely connected to your previous post on younger Friends going in to pastoral leadership. It seems as though the current model of church is less and less appealing or relevant to young people. In truth, it may be just as irrelevant to the older generations, but more comfortable because they’ve been there for so long. Young people (and many older people) are certainly going to be hesitant to go through a membership process if they don’t feel like they believe in what the church is doing.

    Is traditional church really effective in building community and affecting our world? I think that quite often it is not. Programmed Friends fall into many of the same issues that other Evangelical churches do, where Sunday morning programming, and other things for “us” as attenders eats up 90% of the resources (both time/volunteers and dollars) that we have in the congregation, and very little is spent on outward ministry. I think young people in particular feel like this is ineffective, and not really what their faith is about. They want to impact the world and grow spiritually and they can do that much better in different settings.

    We don’t have traditional membership at 2nd Street, we just sign a commitment once a year to be a part of the church. I tend to think of serving in ministry somewhere in the church as being the sign of a ‘member’, but I’ve also never gone through a membership process and I’m not sure what that traditionally entails. Is the process itself beneficial, or just the commitment? Either way, we have to believe in what the church is doing before we can truly commit to it.

    • June 11, 2011 at 7:29 AM

      Thanks for your thoughts, Megan. You question about church being effective at building community and affecting the world is a good one. I’d say it is lacking, but that is also the place with the most potential, simply because it is the bride of Christ, Christ’s chosen vessel for working out justice, righteousness, love in the world. But we often mess it up!!

      I think one of the answers is to continue to create a worship experience that helps us all believe in what the church is doing.

      I like to think of it like you at Chapters think about creating brand loyalty – you want people to see themselves as members of Chapters, and you work to make their experience one of acceptance and connection, but you also uniquely place opportunities in front of people to use the connection for good – whether that is meeting with someone else, supporting Ride:Well and other organizations, having the right book, allowing groups to host events, etc. You create value for people, and I for one, return all the time.

      You don’t just provide coffee – it is much more.

      So how does the church provide more than just a neat worship experience? Part of it the more is people who are committed to the church, not just for what they get from it, but because of what it uniquely allows them to do…

  2. Meghan Rogers-Czarnecki
    June 11, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    2nd Street is focusing on mission this coming year, especially in the small group setting. Our mission statement is ‘Becoming more like Jesus Christ by loving God, loving people, and serving our world.’ If we’re truly doing that, each individual needs to be living out all three of those. In a small group, is the focus just inward, on Bible Study or community? If so, okay, but how are you focusing outward? Small groups have a great capacity to do all three because ministering to the world together as a group builds amazing community.

    I think that the small group model is a great one, but often it’s based on a random group of people gathering to study something, rather than a group who has a common interest in an outward ministry. This makes it hard to work on a ministry together because people are called in different directions. Stefan and I are in different small groups because we feel called to different areas of ministry and this draws us together rather than apart, because we’re growing spiritually and love to share what we see happening in our groups.

    When the church serves as a place for worship, and a place to connect with people who have a passion for the same ministry you do and can join with you in that, I think we’re being Christ’s hands and feet.

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