This week we asked our bloggers to consider “membership” – How is our understanding of membership changing? Is membership important? What are new ways of moving forward? These are their responses.
Just a few years ago, my wife was stopped in the church parking lot.
Now, a little background to go with this – a clergy spouse is thrust into awkward discussions quite often. For better or for worse, it is some of the baggage that I bring with me into our marriage. People assume that a clergy spouse is somehow “in the know” or has some sort of special mind-reading ability, so they ask him or her all sorts of odd questions about ministry, life and faith. And more often than not, these conversations take place in the church parking lot.
So just a few years ago, my wife was stopped in the church parking lot. The woman who stopped her was one who had become a regular visitor within our congregation. She had been warmly greeted with a radical kind of hospitality. She had been well-received and cared for by our official and unofficial welcoming committees. And she would fit that mold of the ever-allusive YAYC (young adults with young children) who seem to be disappearing from our mainline denominations.
So just a few years ago, when my wife was stopped in the church parking lot, this YAYC woman had a question.
The question asked was:
“Should I join the church?”
The questions implied were:
“Why would someone join the church?”
“What is the benefit of becoming a member of the church?”
“How is membership any different than being a regular attender?”
YAYCs view membership in a different way than their parental predecessors. The simple fact that she asks the question indicates this.
A few decades ago, questions about the purpose of membership were not asked. People joined the church because that is what people did. When you got out of school, you joined a church. When you got a job, you joined the church. When you moved to a new town, you joined the church. A lot of people saw joining a church as just another part of settling into life.
This is not the case today. YAYCs do not automatically join a church and they are not alone in this. Millennials have a hard time trusting institutions, Boomers are generalized cynics and every year it is becoming more and more common for people to check the “none” box under religious preference. The days of advertising a “new member class” and letting the people flock to you are over.
How is the church responding to this perspective shift? We can hand out visitor-bags and talk about the classifications of affiliates until we are blue in the face – but how do we respond to this fundamental different understanding of membership?
So just a few years ago, when my wife was stopped in the church parking lot by this YAYC woman who asked her a question about membership – my wife responded with: “Well … why wouldn’t you want to invest in a community that wants to invest in you?” #iLOVEmywife #amazinganswer
Being on the membership rolls of a church is not a requirement for a Christian – it is a bonus. It is not that you are given a church key or that you are allowed to serve as an officer that is going to attract to the masses for membership. Most people are not looking for more responsibility. But investing yourself in the life of a community that wants to invest themselves in your life, in the life of your children, in the life of your community, in the life of Christ – now that is something that has universal appeal.
Faith in Jesus Christ is our only requirement for membership in the PC(USA). There is nothing I would add to that, but there is some elaboration I would tack on.
Faith in Jesus Christ includes belonging to the body of Christ. Faith in Jesus Christ includes being in community. Faith in Jesus Christ should be practiced and lived out communally. Faith in Jesus Christ is what connects us. Faith in Jesus Christ is what bonds us. Faith in Jesus Christ is what causes me to invest myself in my congregation and faith in Jesus Christ is what causes them to invest in me.
BRIAN CHRISTOPHER COULTER is a husband, father, pastor, author, blogger and pingpong champion who is pretty good at sidewalk chalk and currently resides in Aiken, South Carolina.