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 5 …
In part 4 we detailed our plan to move forward, and looked at how our new approach to belonging is built around two things: ‘Belong, Believe, Become’ and ‘The Great Commission’.
We highlighted two main changes:
We are going to stop talking about membership and talk instead about Belonging (see the previous blog for details)
We are launching a new discipleship track built around Belong, Believe, Become
So how does this new discipleship track work?
This is where we get really detailed and practical, and this is also very important; this is the stuff we are now doing together as a church.
There are five simple steps to our new discipleship track, so it’s shaped something like this (yes – I know this only shows four steps – that’s sort of deliberate):
Step 1 is a Newcomers Lunch:
This is open to anyone who wants to attend. They could be a mature Christian who is new to our church, or someone exploring faith for the very first time. They may have come to us through Alpha, or have been coming along on Sundays or to a ministry. It’s open to anyone at all. They are invited to find out more about Welcome Church and we promote this on Sundays and through all our ministries.
Our aims for the lunch are to help connect new people to the church, to tell them about the church and while they’re with us we invite them to “STEP ON”; to start a spiritual journey with us. Some choose to do that, at which point they have embarked on our discipleship track; the first step towards Jesus.
(For those who love nerdy details, this is the point where we can first add new people to our very helpful and GDPR compliant database and get permission to start e-mailing them and other exciting stuff like that)
Step 2 is called Belonging Together:
This is for anyone who wants to find out what it means to belong to Welcome Church. The invitation is to come and find out what it means to belong, and anyone who wants to do that is invited.
It consists of one session, usually done in an evening, but during the day if there are people who need that. We talk about our vision and mission as a church, and encourage people to come and play a part in what we do. We invite people to “STEP IN” to the church; to choose to say, “This church is my church”.
A person does not need to be a Christian to make this decision, they just need to make a meaningful decision to choose to belong, and to know that they have made that decision. Once that’s done people are free to get involved in lots of areas of serving in church life, and serving is a great way to build good friendships with other people.
(Nerd alert again: this is another great chance to update the database further)
Step 3 is called Believing Together:
This is for anyone who wants to find out more about following Jesus, as well as for any Christians who are new to us as a church. It’s designed for people who have made a recent commitment to Christ, or are on the edge of doing that, or who might have done it and are unsure, and also for anyone who wants to explore the foundations of the gospel again.
It runs over two sessions. The first session focuses on faith. We talk about who Jesus is, what the gospel is and the cost of following Jesus. We explain baptism as well, and encourage people to respond to Jesus and to be baptised as a believer.
The second session focuses on knowing God. We talk about knowing God as our Father and about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. We also pray for baptism in The Holy Spirit.
The purpose of these two sessions is to invite people to “STEP FORWARD” – not towards a membership list, since they already belong – but towards a relationship with Jesus.
Once people have made a commitment to Christ the serving opportunities available to them expand … since as a Christian church, some serving roles are obviously only appropriate for Christians to carry out. (Obviously! And people understand that when you tell them.)
Step 4 is called Becoming Together:
This is designed for committed Christians who want to grow in their faith. The invitation is to find out more about becoming all God has called you to be. (This is also open to anyone on the old “Church Membership” list. They can do the other steps, but probably don’t need to!)
There are three sessions. The first focuses on our identity: who we are in Christ, our personal calling and the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to help us live that out.
The second session focuses on the church: what the church is, being God’s family together, why the church matters, our values as a church, plus serving, giving and more.
Session three focuses on the Kingdom Of God: what the kingdom of God is, how we live a life of faith 24/7, how faith impacts our work, our family and our day to day life. It also touches on our call to the nations and to serve the poor.
This is an invitation to “STEP UP” to become all God has called us to be. It can also open the door to leadership serving opportunities for people, so there is the one final step, if appropriate:
Step 5 is called Leading Together
This is specifically designed for those who feel called, or are being asked, to lead a ministry. That could be a Life Group, a children’s group, a ministry to the poor or any other leadership role. It focuses on what it means for us to partner in ministry together as a church family.
It’s one session that covers the requirements and responsibilities of leadership at Welcome Church, and it leads to the opportunity to “STEP OUT” in a leadership role. It’s not shown as an extra step upwards on the diagram because leaders ought to be a step or two ahead of other people, but they are not necessarily more mature spiritually.
That’s the end of the basic discipleship track, but steps of growth continue for life.
Remember, the goal is not to become a church member, because we want people to belong to our community right from the start of the process; the goal is to help people come to know Jesus, and become mature in Christ. This discipleship track is underpinned by ‘Belonging’, not as a goal to achieve but as a foundation to build on. People can do all of this whilst belonging to our church community, not in order to belong to it.
In time we want each person to be able to help others to Belong, Believe and Become all that God has called them to be as well; we can each play a part in discipling one another.
In practice a mature Christian joining us from another church might take these steps in a few weeks. Someone completely new to faith might take a lot longer. Perhaps some people will take several years. We don’t mind. Sometimes there will be a discipleship issue that needs more time and attention, and maybe some extra help from a leader. What matters most is the trajectory someone is on, and not the rate of their progress or the challenges they face.
Ultimately this is all about the command of Jesus for his church to make disciples
It’s about leading people through to maturity and towards the obedience that comes from faith, and it’s about doing this in a way that removes barriers we may have inadvertently created in the past.
Are we losing the benefits of membership?
We believe that this approach will keep many of the benefits that our former approach to church membership had for the church. We can still be clear on who belongs to the church, since people will make a decision to belong. We will have opportunities along the way to encourage people towards faith and baptism, and to give guidance on discipleship issues. We will still be encouraging people towards ownership of our shared vision and mission together as a church. There is still ‘protection’ in terms of who can lead or serve in certain ministries or roles.
Finally, for those who are concerned (and I know there will be some) we can still exercise church discipline if we need to … and I guess this last point matters because, after all …
Aren’t there certain people who shouldn’t be allowed to belong to our church?
In fact, isn’t this whole approach simply “compromising the gospel and going soft on sin”?
More on this in the next blog
3 thoughts on “Belonging – Part 5: Track”
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Each part of this series keeps me craving more. I’m in love with this practice, and want to move from the US to be part of it! I currently attend a church with one of those rigid membership processes, and it makes me hesitant to get baptised. What if I’m not faithful enough? What if some of the things I say and do in my daily life don’t meet the elders’ approval? I think people like me would greatly benefit from the way your church is moving.