How can I lead my church toward meaningful membership?
- Proclaim the gospel. Preach about God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness, Christ’s substitutionary atonement and resurrection, and our need to repent of our sins and trust in him. And make it clear that those who are not committed to one another in love have no reason to think that they have committed to God in love (1 John 4:20-21).
- Use a statement of faith and church covenant. Require members to affirm a statement of faith (what a church believes) and a church covenant (how members will live together).
- Require a membership class. Help prospective members know what will be expected of them, and what they can expect from the church. Use this opportunity to teach through the statement of faith and the church covenant, the importance of membership, and the practical nuts and bolts of how your church works.
- Require an interview with an elder or pastor. In the interview ask the individual to share the gospel and provide an account of their conversion and their discipleship since then. This also provides an opportunity to get to know new people and ask questions in a comfortable environment.
- Stop baptizing children. A young child can certainly become a Christian. But a church can’t necessarily discern whether or not a child has become a Christian. Children should be given the opportunity to mature and have occasion to resist the pull of the world. So don’t create confusion by baptizing those whose professions of faith the church cannot reliably assess.
- Require congregational approval of new members. Admission into and exclusion from church membership is an act of the congregation (this is an implication of 2 Cor. 2:6). So lead your church to explicitly affirm every member the church receives in and sees off.
- Regularly publish an accurate membership directory. Encourage the members to use this as a prayer list.
- Give pastoral oversight to members. Try to make sure that every member is in regular conversation with an elder or a mature Christian in the congregation. Take initiative in getting to know what’s going on in the members’ lives.
- Cultivate a culture of discipleship. Encourage younger Christians to become disciples of older, more mature Christians. Encourage more mature Christians to take less mature Christians under their wing. Encourage every member of the church to be in multiple spiritually beneficial relationships.
- Limit certain activities and areas of service to members. Churches should consider the possibility of restricting its business meetings, public service, and small groups (except for evangelistic ones) to members only.
- Revive the practice of corrective discipline. Once you have established a culture of meaningful membership, begin to lead your congregation to excommunicate those who persist in serious unrepentant sin.
(This material has been adapted from Mark Dever’s chapter “Regaining Meaningful Church Membership” in Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches, ed. Thomas White, Jason B. Duesing, and Malcomb B. Yarnell, III, pages 57-60)