2. Agreement on a statement of faith.
Though no church has unanimous agreement on every doctrinal issue, a congregation should have a baseline of consensus on essential issues such as the gospel, the Scriptures, the nature of the church, and the nature of the Christian life. It is important not to wait too long before establishing a statement of faith, because you may find it difficult to achieve a consensus once the church is larger.
At the least, you should make your doctrinal convictions widely known from the outset of the plant. For example, if you are a Baptist, and you know that when the church constitutes it will be a Baptist church, it’s good to make that clear from the beginning. I would suggest that you take your trendy new church name and affix the word “Baptist” to it, giving you something like “Kairos Baptist Church.” Otherwise, you might wind up in a bait and switch situation where people have become involved in the life of the congregation but may not be able to join it because of doctrinal differences.
Also, I would recommend using a statement of faith that has stood the test of time rather than writing your own from scratch. It shouldn’t be hard to find one that will fit the bill. If you can’t find one that works for you, you are probably either a heretic or “just one of those people” (if you catch my drift). You wife can probably help you determine which.
3. Agreement on a church covenant.
A church covenant is an agreement that defines the responsibilities and privileges of membership. While it is not absolutely necessary to have a formal document that outlines these things, there is a reason why churches have benefited from spelling out these responsibilities in advance. At the very least, the new members of the church will need to know what is expected of them.
4. Church bylaws and governing documents.
While few things are as boring as church bylaws, it is helpful to have them in place when you institute church membership in your plant. In this way, the means of taking in and removing members in clearly established. It is also a good idea to establish at the outset how leaders will be recognized and how decisions will be made by the membership.
As a planter, you will need to decide which of these four things you need before you are comfortable establishing church membership. Once you have those things in place, you should move forward.
Church membership may not seem very important at the outset of a church plant. But at some point in the process, the congregation will need to know who “they” are, so that they can fulfill the biblical commands for the church.
Michael McKinley is the pastor of Guildford Baptist Church in Sterling, Virginia, and is the author of Church Planting is for Wimps (Crossway, 2010) and Am I Really a Christian? (Crossway, forthcoming).