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.


Randy (no blog) said...

Vince & Bryan,
Are we making membership too complicated? It seems in the NT, the criteria for membership was that if you confessed Jesus and were baptized, you could be a member.

Are we drawing the membership fence smaller than God? Could it be that someone could be a member of the (big C) Church, and yet be refused membership in our local church?

Is there a possibility in your membership process that you would tell someone that you think they are a Christian, but that they don't meet your criteria and maybe they should seek membership in another church?

And the most telling question of all--would you allow R.C. Sproul to be a member of your church?

I'm not trying to give you a hard time, but I'm just curious. I like the criteria you have for membership, but is it Biblical?

david rudd said...

I wonder if the word "membership" really conveys what it is that you are pursuing.

Membership feels to me like it is joining a club, or getting in with the cool kids. It certainly doesn't carry the same meaning as words like partnership and ownership.

Can someone partner with your church without being a member? Can they take ownership in the church (in a good way) without being a member?

It sounds to me like you are asking people to "commit" to the mission/people of your church, to partner with you, to take ownership of their participation in the community of believers. This is very much like a covenant.

Of course, you probably don't want to have a long discussion on the semantics...

I would second all that Randy said, and I'm looking forward to future posts...

Vince said...

randy (no blog) - i suppose i would simply answer - no, membership is not biblical. does that necessarily mean that we don't want to have some way to distinguish between those who are commited and those who are not?

the thing we focus on most is salvation. that is the one criteria we have for people becoming members. if they do not pass that one they will not be members. if they have a different view of, say, baptism...we will discuss that with them and probably accept them into membership if their reasoning is coherent.

you ask - is there a possibility that we would ask someone to seek membership in another church. why would we do that if they are a professing believer?

R.C. Sproul would certainly be welcome to be a member at our church. why? is he looking for a church?

Vince said...

david - do you all have membership at your church? you are a baptist church - don't you have to have membership?

i suppose i don't care what you call it. it's like the discussion of small groups, home groups, cell groups, life groups, etc. i don't care what you call them but they are a great way to foster God-centered, Christ-exalting relationships of accountability...and they aren't called any of those things in the bible (gasp!).

my concern is that people have a commitment to the church in a visible way - a way in which they communicate it to all of the others who are committed in the same way. maybe we should call it something else.