I have had many (and that is unusual) conversations recently with folks looking to join our church, but wanting to talk first about “membership.” As a life-long Methodist, I think I’ve always taken for granted the whole “joining the church” thing as something we just “do.” I honestly have never given it much weight as far as it being a big deal – you like a church, you join it. I don’t want that to come across as crass or meaningless, but rather it was just a natural progression of things growing up in the church. As a clergy person, I am now coming to see things through new lenses – through the lenses of those who have never been church members, those who find it a very big deal to “join” a church.
Many of those I have spoken with were either raised Catholic and simply stopped attending once in college, or those who were baptized as infants in some Protestant church and then didn’t attend much after (and haven’t since). Their questions to me range anywhere from, “Do I have to join to participate?” to “What would be the negatives if I don’t join?” I’ve had to contemplate the answers to those questions because, of course, I would love for them to join and make a formal commitment to the church. But, the truth of the matter is that they don’t HAVE to join to participate in the missions and ministries of this church. There are no negatives to NOT joining. So, why do it?
I am having an internal conflict with this because as I read “Change the World,” by Mike Slaughter, I was amazed at the large number of people attending and being highly active in the church, while a smaller percentage were actually “members” of his church. I remember thinking that he must be disappointed in that, but it was actually quite the opposite. Mike is PROUD of that (or that seemed to be the case). As Methodists we tend to be very hung up on the numbers, but I can understand that seeing as though that is our main gauge as to how “healthy” our church is. But which number is more important – the number of “members” or the number of those involved in your missions and ministries? I’d lean more toward the latter. I, personally, would much rather have 100 very active Christians serving at our church than 100 “members” who show up to worship every now and then.
So how do we reconcile this? I titled this blog post as a “vs.” competition between the two – involvement going against membership. But I hope that this can come together – be a force working together for the body of Christ. I explain to folks I speak with that membership is, in its most basic form, an outward commitment to be a part of this particular church community. I explain further that one is more likely to fully participate in the life of the church if they have made a formal commitment in front of their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ – kind of like when they chose to commit to lose weight, they are much more successful if they tell others and make a public proclamation (accountability).
I am delighted that we actually have a large crop of folks joining our church this Sunday and next (God is good!). I’m just working hard on my end to make sure that the “membership” and “involvement” work together in each of these families (working on getting them all plugged into some type of ministry at HUMC!). Again, joining is one thing, involvement is another. But, TOGETHER is what it’s all about!! So, perhaps making this a “vs.” blog post wasn’t fair – it is more like an “&” in my opinion. So let me alter this blog post title to “Involvement & Membership.” There, that’s better 🙂