As I shared in my last post about my experience with church membership, I feel that for many in the United States of America, church membership really doesn’t mean much. Many think that church membership is going down front, filling out a card, and being voted on by the church. Once that’s done, then you just go through the motions: show up to worship when you can, give a little money, and that’s it. That’s so not it.
To be a church member is to say that you are becoming a minister of that church in helping it to accomplish the task that it’s been given to do (the Great Commission – Matthew 28:18-20). In our society, it’s easy to leave tasks to the professionals. Many view pastors in a church as the professionals and leave the work of ministry to them. Ephesians 4:12 tells us that one of the roles of pastors is to be one who equips the saints (church members) for the work of ministry. Every church member is a minister and has a ministry to be doing in the local church. This blows out of the water that a church member is one who can come and just fill a pew giving tips to God’s work via the offering plate.
I believe that one way that we can see church membership within Southern Baptist churches turn around is to simply educate the people as to what a church member actually is. Show them that there are things that are expected of them. Some people have said that by doing that you might actually run people off. I have found it true in my life and my generation that most will step up to the expectations. I really believe that one of the best ways of doing this is by having a membership class. Sure, it is more work and planning, but the benefits of setting the standard and laying all the cards on the table are very much worth it.
Another way that I think we could see church membership numbers turn around is by cleaning the role sheets. At first, this may seem counter-productive, but in the end, I believe it will make a world of difference. What I mean by “clean the roles” is to go through the membership and remove those who are not being members to the mission of the church. I do not believe that this should be done carelessly. There are reasons that certain “members” are no longer involved in the ministry of your church. The leadership of the church should take careful steps to finding out what is going on. When people start to see that there is expectations and accountability, church membership will carry more weight in their eyes.
Let’s be honest. You can take almost any Southern Baptist church membership role and there will be people on it that have not darkened the doors of the church in years. There may be a good reason (illness, homebound, moved). Some times it is just because feelings were hurt or they didn’t like what was going on. They quit coming and being involved but have not plugged in anywhere else. I have shared with many people this situation: let the senior pastor resign and bring in the next guy for a vote. Church members who have not been a part of the ministry for years will come out of the woodwork to “cast their vote.” I have wondered so many times, how do they have a vote? They haven’t been a part of the work that the Lord has been doing.
When people see church membership as empty with no real requirements, they will not sign up for it. Many wonder why so many younger adults (20s-30s) will not join a church and become official members. Has the church given them something worth devoting their life to? They are willing to go to the ends of the world and be part of something that will change this world. The church is that thing.