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Sunday, December 05, 2010

Why Membership?

If you know me, you know that this is an old theme of mine: if you call a church your home, you should formally and officially join that church. That used to be a non-issue. Folks would visit a church for a while, and when a membership class was offered, they would take the class and in that process make a decision to join or not join the church. Sometimes they would wit for 6 months or a year to see if their initial impression matched the Sunday by Sunday reality they experienced.
And when people joined a church, I always felt a deep responsibility to see that they were connected somehow to others in that body, whether through a Bible study or service group, music of children/youth ministry. And if they were absent for a while, internal antennae would raise the question: "Where is __________? We haven't seen them for a while." And the old "Deacon Board" would, in cooperation with me, initiate a conversation with the member about what was going on in their lives.
Now, with so many choosing to never officially join a church, what is the pastoral responsibility? They have not formally declared this their church home, but by their attendance (I have never had access to giving records so that is not an issue) this is their church home.
In Santa Barbara, we have experienced over the years people who enter into the life of the church with some intensity: regular worship, participation in mission groups, music, or travel. Then, without a word, they are gone. This afternoon Martha and I were visiting and she asked, "Where is ____________? I haven't seen them for a while."
The question is, should I worry? They came here from somewhere and now they are going somewhere else (I think). There was one couple who, after worshiping with us for an extended period, wanted to visit with me about some of our Covenant theological positions. When they found out, they said "We like you and the church, but cannot affiliate with a group with that position." We parted clearly and on very friendly terms. I see them often in the community. But what of the others? I'm not sure we are getting it right. What do some other churches do here?

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