God created people to be covenant members of a local church.
If you are not convinced of the veracity of that statement, I have no intention of attempting to convince you in this post. But if we’re on the same page, then let’s keep talking.
I’m wondering what your church does to attract, build up and connect people to the life of your community as members.
My church thinks covenant membership is critical to human flourishing. In a world overrun by consumerism and temporary relationships, we need a community that is bound to each other. For all of its flaws and foibles, there is little that makes the real Jesus more difficult to ignore than the church when it lives out the commission and commandments of Christ.
Over the years, we have used different methods to help people settle in as covenant members. Multiple lectures spread out over six weeks. Whiteboard sessions on a Friday night and Saturday morning. We have created 100-page workbooks and put together roleplay opportunities to help people understand what it looks like for us to join God on his mission here in Athens.
The past couple of years, we have settled into a rhythm that has paid off dividends. I have shared it with some of my clients and would love to pass it along to you if you’re looking for a way to move people from guest to attender to member.
What follows is the basic outline for a two-hour event that we host at my house. We have used this with as few as six people and as many as 30 people.
1. Be Clear
Healthy churches work hard to get on the same page in six critical areas of life. These are captured by writer Patrick Lencioni in a series of questions that we have answered for our church:
• Who are we?
• Why do we exist?
• What do we do?
• Where are we going?
• How will we succeed?
Vision. Mission. Strategy. Once your leadership team has done the difficult work of clarifying concise answers to the questions above, you can use them to get prospective members on the same page about what matters most to your church.
2. Set Expectations
What should prospective members expect of the leaders of the church? What should members expect of each other?
There are a number of ways you can address those questions. Here is how we have articulated expectations at Christ Community:
What Members Should Expect From Church Leaders
• Clear Direction—leaders provide hope as we carry out our mission
• Consistent Performance—leaders provide stability as we carry out our mission
• Demonstrated Concern—leaders provide compassion as we carry out our mission
• Modeled Practice—leaders provide trust as we carry out our mission
What Members Should Expect From Each Other
These five expectations are taken from the membership vows we have adapted from the Book of Church Order used by the Presbyterian Church in America (our denomination):
• We want to be honest about our need of Jesus
• We want to believe that Jesus is enough
• We want to follow the example of Jesus
• We want to think and act like owners
• We want to assume the best and ask hard questions
These are our expectations. Putting those on the table as people become covenant members helps establish the culture of our church. This won’t eliminate misunderstandings and relational fallout, but we have found that it has gone a long way in helping us lead well and love each other.
3. Answer Questions
This event is a great space for people to ask any question they have about the information you’ve covered or anything else about the church or Christianity. You can invite questions throughout the event or carve out a dedicated time for Q&A. I’ll take questions live, and I also like to provide cards for people to write down questions and hand them in during a break. This is a great way to serve both verbal and nonverbal processors.
4. Call to Action
Ask people to become members and join the church in its work. Outline the details of the membership process. Here’s what our process looks like:
• Make sure we have your email address
• Complete the membership application in the next two weeks
• Meet with one of our elders to talk through your application
• Be accepted into membership by our elders
• Share your story (and be baptized if you have never been baptized)
• Help our church follow Jesus together as a family
Do the Next Right Thing
As you put something together that fits your particular context, I would urge you to design a process that meets the needs of prospective members. That might sound obvious, but it is not our default as church leaders. Our tendency is to create content based on what we assume people need rather than doing the hard work of understanding what people are looking for as they explore membership.
This is why you won’t see a detailed treatment of our theology, a walkthrough of our organizational chart or a history of our denomination during our membership event. It doesn’t mean that those things are unimportant or even peripheral to our life together. It simply means that we want to focus only on what people need to know in order to make a fully informed decision about membership.