One of the biggest changes we’ve made at Welcome Church is our approach to church membership, or what we now call belonging. This week I will be blogging each day to explain what we are doing and why we are doing it. To understand it fully, please start at Part 1 rather than jumping in half way through. This blog is Part 3 …
In part 2 we talked about where our approach to Church Membership originally came from, and the challenge it now presents in UK culture.
We ended up with a question:
Should we abandon the idea of membership?
When we look around at the churches near to us, and also at the results of some research we conducted more widely, almost all of the growing movements of churches in the UK, and most of the ‘big’ churches we spoke to (of which we are not yet one) no longer have a formal membership. Not all … but most. Our research also showed that many who do have it are now wrestling with this question.
So should we just stop it? Or is that throwing out the baby with the bath water?
To aid our thinking, let me present the challenge visually:
If you’re a Christian, baptised as a believer and living for Jesus and you come to a church like ours, you find out that there is a thing called Church Membership, and it’s a small step to take. No problem:
If you come from a different church background it can be a bigger step.
Maybe you need to be baptised before you can join, but it’s a step you can take if you want to. Sometimes people don’t want to (“… but then they’re probably better off in another church if they don’t love Jesus properly like we do? Right???” NO!!! WRONG!!! )
So we give people a bit of time, but ultimately they have to choose, and sometimes churches have pressured people unhelpfully.
If you come from a non-Christian background and try to join us, the step is even bigger. There may be some significant things to sort out before you can join, but if you have what some Christians might call “a respectable lifestyle”, you can manage it in the end … although it may take a while to get baptised and to adjust some of your behaviours and relationships, but maybe, in a year or two, you can climb the ladder and join.
Many have made this step … although I know it can take a long time, and I also know that some have not been able to make it. Some have sadly walked away. One person in our church’s recent history took seven years to climb that ‘ladder’. I’m amazed he stuck around so long. But what many Christians would think of as “a respectable lifestyle” is disappearing fast.
If you come from a non-Christian background now, it is increasingly likely that the step will look more like this:
There is a wall you can hardly begin to climb. There is so much that needs to change and be addressed before you’re ready for membership as we have had it, that you could be looking at years – and I mean years – of work. All the while knowing that you don’t yet belong. And if we hold back on discipleship until someone becomes a member, we are just making the problem worse.
Remember: our culture has pretty much rejected Christian morality.
People no longer have any pressure to live to a Biblical norm; in fact the opposite is true. Britain today is not a Christian country. Many churches are dying. And this change has come fast … certainly within my lifetime.
I believe that our culture is in a mess (see newspapers for details). I also believe that we need to care. Really we need to pray for revival, but whether God moves in that way or not, the answer is not for us to shout about Christian morality from the spiritual cliff tops, nor is it to have a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality. Instead we need to love and care for the lost, and to let God break our hearts for this nation And we need to get closer to those we want to reach and allow them to get closer to us.
But we can so easily live in a Christian bubble, where all we know are our Christian friends. And we can live in our Christian bubble happily, while the rest of the world goes to hell. Many in the work place will know how different the world is now to how it used to be. Some Christian values that were once cultural norms, are now considered to be abhorrent and hateful. The Christian lifestyle is now abnormal!
To quote a good friend of mine:
“The nice Christian families are already in the nice Christian churches”
We are no longer going to grow much by transfer growth. Those days are virtually gone. We need to reach into our messy world like never before and, if we are to do that, we need to address the barriers that people coming into the church from our modern UK culture will face.
So I believe we need to find a new approach to church membership that will help the broken people coming out of our broken culture, and not hinder them.
So what do we do? Is there a way forward that can work?
I believe there is, and I’ll talk about it in my future blogs