Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Not Everything is Black and McWhite - pt. 2.2

My short response is “ditto” (see previous post).

Maybe we should quit our jobs, grow long beards, build a house together, start a commune and require formal church membership of everyone who wants to join our commune.

I appreciate your thoughts on this question. Honestly, I think I would agree with everything you said. One aspect of membership that I would like to see done more effectively is fostering the ‘family’ mentality. I don’t know that I have any great suggestions for making this happen. I don’t want church membership to take on a ‘club’ or ‘fraternity’ atmosphere. I would like to see our churches lean more heavily on the family aspects of membership.

There is a church in the Chicago area that requires any prospective member to be recommended by the small group of which they are a part. Regular attenders at this church are encouraged to be a part of a small group. These small groups are the vehicle they use for accountability and life together. The small group leaders encourage the people in their small groups to consider membership. At this church you are not allowed to be a member without first being in a small group. I don’t know if I would take things that far but this process certainly reveals the community mentality of the church. Again, I don’t know if I would go this far but I appreciate their desires. I believe we need to work at correcting the business transaction feel of membership and make it into a relational or family adoption.

I am serious about the beards and commune thing…anyone else in?

Not Everything is Black and McWhite - pt. 2

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.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Not Everything is Black and McWhite - pt. 1.3

Vince: How does Trinity EFC “strongly encourage membership,” exactly? (see previous post)

That is a good question. The way we ’strongly encourage membership’ occurs in a variety of ways. We do not hide the fact that we believe that every committed believer should be a member of a local church. In our ‘Welcome Packet’ (I don’t like the word ‘packet’) we publish the four means to our mission - the first one being membership. We have a process by which we try to get every new attender into our Discovery Class. During this class we stress the importance of membership.

As I said in the first answer: we have a running database of every regular attender. Part of my responsibility (and joy) is to contact and follow up with each of these people to ask them about their progress in these four means to our mission. The first question I ask them is about membership. If they are not a member I discuss our process of membership with them and communicate the importance of membership as it relates to their commitment to the body.

If they are unwilling to become a member at Trinity Church we do everything we can to help them find a church in town where they can become committed in the way that church requests. Although it may sound like it, we do not force membership on anyone. If someone is unwilling to become a member and they want to continue attending the church we accept them as a brother/sister. In that process, however, we communicate to them that they are forfeiting their ‘rights’ of being under the same type of care that a member may receive.

For instance, if a member and someone who refuses to be a member approach the church with a need, the priority goes to the member. I am glad to say that we have only had one long-time attender refuse to be a member. We hold membership as a privilege and we see it as an important, public commitment to the body.

Our view of membership is not a secret. We are honest about our desires and follow up with people who are on the outskirts.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Not Everything is Black and McWhite - pt. 1.2

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?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Asher Tobias is 2

Today is Asher's Birthday. We thank God for the gift of this boy. He is a blessing indeed. He is a good big brother and a good little brother. He is Asher.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Not Everything is Black and McWhite - pt. 1

A few weeks ago my good friend Bryan McWhite (New Hope Church) began a discussion on church membership. As he and I began to talk about practical implications of church membership we had the idea to post practical questions surrounding membership in the local church. The questions we have settled on to discuss are as follows:

1. What is the current process at your church for membership?
2. What do you think the best process for membership would be?
3. Do you have a membership covenant to be signed?
4. What do you require of your members?
5. What should be required of members?
6. What should be done if someone ‘applies’ for membership at your church who is currently a member at another church?
7. What should be done if someone who is a member at your church decides to start attending another church in the same town?
8. How should a church handle someone who refuses in principle to becoming a member?
9. Should there be some be privileges of being a member (voting, ability to lead a small group, etc.)?
10. Do you grandfather in the grown children of parents who have become members? Or do you encourage them to be members when they become 18?
11. What are the minimum requirements for church membership?
12. In what situations would you not allow someone to be a member who has applied?

So, there’s where we’re going if you’re interested. Generally speaking, one of us will ask the question, the other will respond, then the other will respond to that response, and the other can respond to the response to the response if he so chooses. Got that?

And with that, Fire one:
Vince, what is the current process at your church for membership? (Trinity Church)

I will start by saying we strongly encourage membership. In fact, a year ago we decided to come up with four means to our mission statement. One of the means to our mission statement is that every regular attender would become a member. It is an important part of the family of Trinity Church. That is stated in our ‘Welcome Packet.’ If you were a first-time visitor of our church you would be handed a packet of information about our church. One of the first things you would see is a document stating the four means to our mission. We do not hide the fact that membership is important.

We don’t have a process as some would define ‘process.’ We don’t have a baseball diamond image to show the progress of our process. The unwritten process for someone who is a regular attender would be to attend our ‘Discovery Class.’ It is a six hour class that walks the attendees through a brief church history, denomination history, the four means to our mission (the importance of membership is stressed), conflict resolution, involvement in ministry and the responsibilities of membership. At the end of this class every person in attendance is given two items. 1.) A free copy of Stop Dating the Church by Joshua Harris and 2.) a membership application. Within a month of the class each participant is contacted and encouraged to fill out the application and schedule a membership interview. We have a running chart with every regular attender listed. Each person has four columns by their name with, you guessed it, the four means to our mission next to their name. We keep a running list of those who are members and those who are not. Those who are members are held accountable to the other three means. Those who are not yet members are contacted often to discuss the reasons they have decided not to follow our desires as a church.

After the class participant has filled out the application for membership, copies are made for each of the elders to read. At least one Sunday before the applicants are affirmed as members we announce to the congregation that they have applied for membership. We ask the congregation to approach the applicant and/or the elders with any concerns they may have about their desire for membership. The applicant is then interviewed by no fewer than 3 elders and one staff pastor. The interview is very brief – only lasting 30 minutes. During the interview we ask them to share their perspective of how God has drawn them to faith in Christ. We want to know that they have a good understanding of salvation. We also ask them about ways in which they are currently experiencing the grace of God and ways in which they are using their gifts.

After the interview the elders discuss anything that we see as a red flag about their perspective of salvation. Our deepest concern is that they are truly believers in Jesus as Lord and Savior and that they have at least an elementary understanding of salvation be a work of God and not man.

If the elders agree that this person meets the above criteria we bring them before the congregation to recommend them as members and affirm their desire to be a member of Trinity Church. During the worship service we ask the applicant three or four questions about their commitment to the body. We then ask the congregation to commit to pray for them and to hold them accountable to godly living.

We are a church of about 200 in regular attendance and we currently have about 70 members. I would like to see this number increased and we are working toward that goal. There are other things I would like to implement into this process and hope to do that over the next few years. I won’t tell you what those are because it may come up in the next few days in further discussion on this blog. I want to keep you guessing and curious enough to keep reading.

For a copy of our
membership application click here!

If you read Bryan's blog he is posting the same content. Be looking for his response here or there.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

1.8.08 = 8 years

Today marks 8 years of wedded bliss with my beautiful bedheaded wife. This morning she gave me the fantastic card shown in the picture. She allowed me to post this picture on this blog and also on the Whiskerino page (Whiskerino is an international beard-growing event). My wife is the greatest woman. God knew exactly what I needed when he brought Kirsten Erica into my life. We have had a blast for the last 8 years and my prayer is that we would have 68 more (I would be 100 years young at that point). Today I give thanks for my hot wife.

Incidentally the date today is 1.8.08 and it is our 8 year anniversary. I hope I am not abducted by aliens today.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


The rally that was scheduled to happen in Kenya today has been rescheduled for Tuesday - the very day we are scheduled to fly into the country. Our trip has been postponed.

The title to the previous post says it all.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

His Sovereignty!

Some of you may know that I have been planning a trip to Sudan with three others from our church. Over the past year we have been establishing a partnership with the Evangelical Free Church of Sudan. Our plans were to leave Monday (1/7). We were to fly into Nairobi and then into Sudan. Because of the recent political unrest in Kenya our plans may be changing.

This has reminded me that God is sovereign over all things and his timing and plans are perfect. We are praying that he would grant us patience and wisdom as we wait on his perfect will. Please join us in this prayer.