There's a great article from Chuck Lawless that dropped today about what he's learned about Church Membership Classes. If you've never thought about incorporating those into your church's assimilation strategy, I'd encourage you to read the article and give it some consideration!
One of my favorite pictures of the church is that of a family, and families live in a home. When we see new faces come into the church, they become part of the family. Since they're part of the family, they have a place in the home. Sadly, as many come in our front door, anecdotal evidence suggests that just as many (if not more) are going out the back door.
Why? I'd argue it's because for many of us as pastors, we don't place a high enough priority on what it means to be a church member.
Think about your house for a bit, and imagine that new people are going to be coming into the house. And not just into the house, but part of the family.
Where do they put their stuff? New people moving into your house need a place to put their luggage, hang their clothes, and sleep at night. When people want to join our churches, we can't just say "Glad you're here!" and leave them to figure out where they go. Every time we do a new member meeting, we encourage them to find a group to plug into. Our new members need a group. They need a place to put their stuff and belong. Whether it's a Sunday school class or a Bible study or a small group, groups matter.
What are their chores? Every family has a way of dividing up the household responsibilities. Some of it is dependent on the age of the kids, or the ability of those living in the house. But as we tell our kids, part of being in the family is helping out with chores (meaning you don't get ice cream or money for unloading the dishwasher). Membership in the family of God means finding a way to serve. Membership is active. And every new member brings with them a SHAPE (Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experience) that is a way of leveraging their lives for the Gospel and the good of God's people.
What are their expectations? Every family has expectations of those who are part of the family. It might be a curfew for teenagers, or pitching in on family bills (which explains why Danny Tanner kept his house full). When we see people join our churches, part of that involves expectations. Those aren't one sided. When someone joins our church, we as church leadership and pastors have an expectation and responsibility to shepherd, care, love, and spiritually nourish & guide them. Likewise, the expectations we have for church members are prayer, financial support, serving, and loving.
Church membership classes are a great resource. If your church can do them, you should. Not every church can realistically pull them off. But they can do something. One way to do that is to take the concept of a membership class and scale it to coffee. Our church has an intentional plan of myself and/or other pastoral leadership meeting with prospective members. We do all the things that you would expect in a new member class. We talk about the church's history, vision, direction, and doctrine. We get to know each other. We hear each other's salvation stories. We answer any questions (most of ours are about the differences between us and other denominations). We follow up and ask for a response as God leads. The only difference is we do that on a smaller scale with coffee or lunch involved.
Here's the biggest takeaway, especially for us as pastors. There's not a magic bullet for coming up with the perfect membership assimilation process. The key is to do something. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. And if your something is intentional, reflective, and seems to be working to assimilate people into your church, awesome. Praise God.
So in the comments, what does your church do to help people who are moving into your house?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.