Thursday, July 06, 2006

Church Membership

Our church is seeing an increasing interest and participation in what we call "inreach" and "outreach"; the former emphasizing shepherding and nurturing the members of our congregation and the latter emphasizing our obedience to Christ's commission to "go into all the world." In a church which averages around 300 each Sunday morning, we've seen over 110 different people on three seperate occasions go out into the community to welcome newcomers to our city, hand out Gospel tracts, and by God's providence, share the Good News with our lost "neighbors." We also use the "outreach evenings" to visit members that have become inactive-- they are still on our membership roll, but haven't attended a Sunday School class or Worship Service in a long time (several months to several years).

One of the things that has really struck me is the number of people that simply no longer attend church, yet consider themselves "members." Now, I must admit that we still show them on our roll, but that's more of a bookkeeping problem we're working to clean up. What I'm getting at is those folks that, when asked: "Do you have a church home?", they reply, "yes, So-and-so Church." Then the conversation goes something like:

"That's great. How often do you attend?"
"Well, we don't attend that often, BUT we plan to real soon when we're not so busy."
"So you don't attend regularly, but you consider [fill in church name here] your 'church home?'"
"Why, of course we do! We're members there!"
What does it mean to be a "member?" I would think it involves more than just having your name on the "Roledex of Life" down at the Church Office. That's what it really boils down to with most of those people. Their name is on the book(s), which entitles them to all the rights and privileges of "membership" (without the commitment), i.e.:
  • I have a place where my daughter can get married
  • I have a place to have my spouse's funeral (you don't think I'm dying first do you?!)
  • I have a free place to hold the semi-annual family reunion
  • If I need extra tables for my garage sale, I can always run down to the church and borrow some of theirs!
I think you get my point. Tim Ascol submitted a Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership at the annual meeting of the SBC. It never made it to a vote. I know this is old news, but it causes me to wonder about- as the resolution title suggests- the integrity of our churches. Claiming to have "X" number of members, knowing that many have moved away, joined other congregations or, as I've already stated, don't attend anywhere just isn't honest.

So whatever happened to meaningful church membership? And what do we do about those "non-attenders", "inactive members", etc. Well, we don't abandon them right away. We pray for them, make the effort to contact them and ask the questions: "Where have you been?" "We sure do miss you." "Are you attending somewhere else?" If they have moved on to another congregation, encourage them. Tell them we're glad to hear they are serving the Lord somewhere else. As our pastor says, "I'm not out to fish someone else's pond." But, if they are simply attending "St. Mattress" on Sundays, lovingly, kindly, admonish them to "come back home" and "be about the Father's business."

I've seen way too many people walk an aisle, the Pastor takes their confession, they get baptized- all sometimes in the same service- and then we never see them again. That concerns me. We're misleading people into thinking they are saved simply because they went through the motions, yet their lives don't demonstrate a life that has been "born again." James said that our lives would show our faith by the works we do. A stagnant, non-involved, non-church attending life MAY well be the indicator of a heart that was never regenerated. We need to be very careful that we don't present a gospel of easy believism, a gospel that doesn't challenge the hearer to "count the cost."

1 comment:

Owasso Bob said...

Keith,

Well written.

Bob H.