Mixed Signals: growth not membership?
There is an enthusiasm at Montecito Covenant church that is palpable. Attendance numbers are high, giving is strong, 7 new small groups are about to form and musical talent is everywhere. Every week someone new approaches me with an idea for a new ministry initiative, a new way to use their spiritual gifts.
There is a sense that spiritual life is not about going to church but being the church where we are, where we live. I sense a deep appreciation and love across generational lines and even an appreciation for different musical expressions in worship. The younger worshipers enjoy singing classic hymns and older worshipers appreciate deep scriptures set to new tunes and rhythms. It's sometimes a challenge just to stay on top of it all.
But here's the wierd thing now. We offered an Inquirer's Class shhortly after everything started up this fall. The momentum and mood seemed right. People are finding MCC as their church home and calling it such. Yet, for two straight weeks nobody came. We sent out letters inviting new attenders, newsletter, bulletin, powerpoint and verbal announcements, and still no takers.
Is this the curve of things to come? Is institutional membership increasingly a marginal (if not negative) aspect of discipleship? Is it time for established churches to rethink the meaning of belonging into biblical categories and not not-for-profit constitutional requirements? Or is this a caving in to a culture that resists serious commitment and wants to sample spiritual products from a wide range of vendors? I'm in that middle territory of knowing we need to demonstrate flexibility and adaptability, yet wondering if we are not also compromising and being coopted.
I've written to some of the emerging church leaders I know, asking them what they do about official membership, but have heard nothing yet, so I'd be most appreciative if you have insights what your church is doing or what you think about membership in general to a local church.