There are three common questions that I hear from frustrated pastors. Actually, there are a lot of common questions that I hear from pastors, but these three all have to do with church membership.
Question 1 – How do I keep my church members from chasing the next big thing?
Question 2 – How do I deal with church members who are too busy to come to church?
Question 3 – Why do I have so many inactive church members?
The first question has to do with what we pastors affectionately call “church hoppers.” Now, church hoppers come in all shapes and sizes. Some church hop because they get their feelings hurt, or they don’t get their way, or… Well, almost any excuse will do. But Question 1 deals specifically with those who church hop because they see something shiny. The church down the road is the “First Baptist Church of What’s Happening Now,” and their old church just can’t compete. So they move, and the church that was already trying to keep up has one less family in their flock.
Question 2 deals with the the downward trend in worship attendance. Earlier this month, the Southern Baptist Convention reported a 2.3% increase in worship attendance among SBC churches in 2017. That is a modest increase that reverses recent trends. But many churches have not seen increased worship attendance. One of the most common explanations is that church members are too busy to come to church. Often this frustration is aimed directly at the pervasive influence of travel ball and other ways that families tend to overly schedule their activities.
And the last question obviously addresses the issue of inactive members. In one church I served we had just under 1,100 church members with an average weekly attendance of 225. I once listed every member who attended at least once during the year. The total was just under 500. We had over 600 inactive members. Sadly that church is not the exception.
Inadequate View of Membership
All three questions are about issues that flow from an inadequate understanding of church membership. For too long we have allowed people to join an organization called the church. That is not the biblical picture of church membership. 1 Corinthians 12:12ff addresses the issue of church membership using the human body as an example. One of the major points that Paul makes is that when we become followers of Jesus, he places us as members in the body. Let that sink in for a moment. Jesus places you and me in the body according to his design.
That truth has all kinds of implications for the three questions listed above. If Jesus has placed me in the body as a church member, can I just separate myself from the body at will? Can I detach myself from this church and attach myself to another because of trivial things? I don’t think so. The only reason to move from one church to another is because you believe Jesus has given you a new assignment.
Making Church Membership Meaningful
In Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby addressed meaningful membership with a series of questions. When someone presented himself for membership in Blackaby’s church he would ask,
- Is it your testimony that Jesus Christ is your Savior and Lord?
- Have you followed him in believer’s baptism, or do you desire to by baptized?
- Do you believe that Jesus is placing you in this body of believers as a member?
- Will you allow God to use you to make this church more complete?
- Will you allow God to use this church to make you more complete?
These questions speak to salvation, obedience, discipleship and service. They clearly communicate that membership matters… That church membership is meaningful. These questions make it clear that church membership comes with expectations. It is important to define and clearly communicate what is expected. Here are five expectations that are essential for meaningful membership:
It is not unreasonable to expect church members to attend worship services on a regular basis. This is not an effort to promote some legalistic attendance requirement. It is simply recognition that corporate worship is vital. Gathering with the body of Christ is necessary for the life of the body.
Small Group Participation
I personally think it is important for church members to be connected to a Sunday School class where they can experience biblical community and study the Bible with specific application to their lives. When members are involved in a small group, they are less likely to become inactive.
Members should be expected to serve the church in some capacity. They may plug into the welcome ministry, the teaching ministry, an age-level ministry, the worship ministry… You get the idea, but everyone should be expected to serve in a way that is consistent with their personality, passions and gifts.
Giving is a matter of obedience, and every member of the church should be expected to give.
Not only should church members be expected to worship, participate in a small group, serve in a ministry and give of their financial resources; they should also be expected to go in obedience to the Great Commission. I’m talking about evangelism, and I’m talking about missions.
Expectations need to be limited in number. They should be concise. Leadership needs to model the expectations, and members need to be held accountable. If we truly want to reverse the trends of increased inactivity in our churches, we need to make sure that church membership matters.