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Monday, March 19, 2007

Church Membership...yearly?

I'm back to thinking about membership, primarily because of the convergence of the council retreat and an engaging dinner conversation with some folks. At the council retreat, we discussed that painful topic of "what ever happened to ______? Did they leave the church or what? Who's going to find out?" The churches I've served have always struggled with the "back door" to the church. We are excited about the arrival of new friends and even more enthused when they participate in membership classes and join the church, standing up front and declaring their love for Jesus and commitment to this local congregation. But what then?
They are eligible to vote on church decisions, budgets and ballots. They can serve on church councils and in congregational leadership. But that's about it. Non-members can sing in the choir, teach classes, go on missions, give to the ministry, participate in almost every area of the church life but governance.
At the dinner the other night, the two couples who have been active at MCC for quite a while told me their stories. They came from the typical patc-work background of mainline denominations. They all grew up "in the church" but they all had renewal experiences in young adulthood that focussed their lives on their primary relationship with Jesus Christ. They got involved in different para-church ministries: Bible study groups, youth ministries, service ministries. Then, to a person, they talked about the disillusionment, the blow-ups, the splits. They matured and were asked to serve in leadership in different capacities when the conflict happened in the leadership group with a pastor. Each one had a painful, ugly story of Christian leaders (pastoral and lay) behaving badly. And they stepped back. Some stepped out of the church and worship for a while while they regained their spiritual equilibrium.
Now they are back, this time with us. They love worship and the many ministries of the church. But membership and elected leadership? "Why? they asked me. Why should we get back into that kind of situation again? We are growing and happy here."
That's when I threw out the option of a yearly membership renewal process. What would it be like for you, I asked, if membership was something we all did together, yearly, as a covenant renewal activity? What if membership was less administrative and more community care and affirmation? What would it be like if members who moved away or stepped out would not be "kept on the roles" for years and years?
I've written to Life Church in Edmund Oklahoma about their membership process, which I understand is a yearly renewal. I'd be interested to hear from you about how you view membership and what you think of a yearly renewal process?

6 Comments:

At 7:05 AM , Blogger Liz said...

The church that I attend has a similar renewal process. It is the same situation where the only thing that members can do that non-members cannot, is vote on things at the annual meeting. Each year, a couple of months before the annual meeting, the elders of the church contact everyone on the membership list to do a renewal of their membership. This is the first year that I have been through that process as I was not a member last year. However, I think that it is a great idea. It serves an administrative purpose of keeping up to date and clean records but, it also is a time when the elders can really get a pulse on how people are doing.
I grew up in churches where there were members of the church who had not entered the doors in years. I never understood that.

 
At 8:18 AM , Blogger donnjohnson said...

Thanks Liz. I did hear from LifeChurch.tv in Oklahoma, and that is what they do each year during the first week of January. Their multiple-thousand membership goes back to "0" and people re-up.

 
At 1:45 PM , Blogger Erika Carney Haub said...

Don,
I commented here last time you discussed membership, so maybe this is repetetive. We practice an annual renewal, and for us, it is a time for returning members to reconsider the commitments we make to one another and to our community. A board member comes to our home and reflects with us on the commitments we made the past year (tithing, reconciliation, prayer, etc.) and we share how we struggled or how we hope to grow in the year to come. It is a wonderful time of sharing together.

This is obviously very high maintenance. I was the board chair for three years and it was a lot of work. However, it reflects more what I think membership should look like than a lot of other membership practices I have seen and been a part of. With a larger church (and as our church grows), perhaps this will become too unwieldy and we will try something else. I will miss it if we do :)

 
At 2:47 PM , Blogger Dan said...

Been a while... and as usual you raise good questions. I hope you will share your progression of thought on this topic as it develops.

I have worked with leadership to update membership rolls and it is such a chore. At one church we had moms/grandmas come and insist that their children/grandchildren not be dropped or removed from the membership roll even though these adult children/grandchildren no longer attended or even lived in the community and had not attended nor lived in the community for years. There concern was that if they were dropped from the roll they were "lost" forever!

I'm courious about the yearly renewal idea. Look forward to hearing more about that.

 
At 7:19 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I attended a church in Stow, OH many years ago. It was Stow Alliance Fellowship. This church was founded on home bible studies. I did some time as an office volunteer and discovered that they maintained attendance at every service. Attendance pads were passed at a particular time during the service, at the request of leadership following our open meet and greet. On Monday morning volunteers would gather in a room at church with boxes of "attendance" cards. Anyone that had attended the church had a card in the main boxes. It was off these cards that the welcome letters were sent out including the name of an elder of the church. Volunteers would go through the attendance pads and check for individuals attendance. If an individual, member or not, missed 3 weeks in row after what would have seemed regular attendance, the elder assigned would be notified and would make a call. The elder then completed a contact form and notes were made on the attendance record. These "attendees/members" were actually part of a fellowship family that was assigned to that particular elder. Through the elders contact a "check up" was taking place, was there a crisis in the family or other issues. I found this a great way to keep in touch within a large church family where it is difficult to keep in touch with everyone. Breaks the flock into manageable numbers and permits some personal contact. A footnote, another interesting point about this church, the collection plate was never passed. Boxes were hung on the back of the sanctuary walls and that is where your gifts/tithes went.

 
At 9:00 AM , Anonymous Gordon James said...

Hi
Here in the Frozen North (-27 degrees Celcius today) our church is proposing a yearly renewal / affirmation of membership.

Here is the process we are considering . . .

1. Membership in our denomination has as a minimum standard Believers who have been baptized by immersion and accepted into membership by a vote of our congregation after being reccomended for membership by an elder (deacon) of the church. This will not change for new membership.

2. Members (believers baptized by immersion) of another Christian church can be reccomended by the church they are from and with the reccomendation of our elders are brought before the congregation for a vote.

3. After this initial acceptance into membership my proposal is a yearly renewal of membership on the first Sunday in January.
Several practical issues make early January a good time for renewal, such as Annual meeting (voting), nominating for positions, and cleaning up the membership list for presentation at the annual meeting.

4. Requirements for membership renewal would include.
Agreement to a Christian creed.
(possibly apostles creed)
Agreement to our denominational distinctives (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convention_of_Atlantic_Baptist_Churches for info)
Participation in weekly ministries or written request for special circumstance

I also want to include a statement of approval by the elders that any known moral issues are being given to God, and not living in willful disobedience. This will probably wait for a future year so we don't confuse the issues.

 

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