Meaningful Membership in a Mega-Church
One of my favorite prayer moments in our church happens just after the congregation affirms new members. Immediately following the vote, we invite new members to stand. People gather around them, lay a hand on their shoulder, and pray for God’s blessing over their spiritual growth as new members in our church.
It’s a sacred time. Often there are tears.
Sometimes, people are surprised that a large church would welcome members in such a personal way. But it’s only one part of a larger process that reflects our commitment to meaningful membership.
Since the founding of our church in the 1980s, our commitment to the Bible’s authority has driven us to value church membership. Originally, that commitment was primarily related to our belief in Matthew 18 and the spiritual value of church discipline. Without membership, after all, discipline isn’t possible.
But over the years, we’ve grown in our understanding of the value of church membership not just as a strategy for church discipline, but also as a way to meaningfully connect people into the life of the church. But as our church has doubled in size over the last ten years, we’ve had to be very intentional as to what membership looks like.
Simply put, the size of our church—and any large church—creates a gravitational pull away from membership. It’s complicated. It’s a lot of work. But it’s worth it. Here are a few elements of our strategy.
This seems obvious, but without a conviction that membership is both biblical and vital to the congregational life, it would be easy to let it slip. But we’re convinced that meaningful membership is essential to biblical church governance. They have real authority. And we want membership to be meaningful.
Additionally, we also believe church discipline is essential. When church size makes membership complicated, these convictions motivate us and keep us grounded in the Word.
Membership is so important to us that conversations about it begin when someone visits the church. When they stop by our “Next Steps” area, we help them understand the pathway in our assimilation process. We host a series of events (DISCOVER – CONNECT – JOIN) which are designed to answer questions about the church as we move people toward our bi-monthly membership class (JOIN). From a person’s first visit, we want them on a path toward membership.
Vibrant Membership Class
Our bi-monthly membership class is a beautiful blend of content and relationships. We create a welcoming environment where people are able to meet one another and connect with our pastoral staff. We want them to get an early taste of our commitment to community. But we also want potential members to fully understand our confession, our covenant, and our governance model. We walk through our mission, core values, and ministry strategy. Again, our desire is to help them fully consider what it means to be a member at our church.
We try to make the steps toward membership accessible, but we also want people to take it seriously. For that reason, we ask prospective members to sign a document that affirms their belief in our member confession and their commitment to live out our church covenant. This is not only an important step, but it also serves as a legal protection if we ever have to move forward with church discipline.
Every person who desires to join our church is interviewed by one of our elders. During this hour-long meeting, the elder and potential member discuss a number of topics including their understanding of the gospel, the story of their spiritual growth, their baptism, and any previous church experiences. It’s also an opportunity to answer questions about the church’s history, our doctrine, and how they can get plugged into community. Based upon this conversation, the elder will then make a recommendation to our Elder Council and then to the whole congregation for the person to join our church.
Elder and Congregational Vote
The names of elder-interviewed potential members are shared with our elders during one of our monthly meetings. The entire council has an opportunity to ask questions or raise concerns if necessary. After approval, membership candidates are brought before our congregation during one of our quarterly congregational meetings. We publish a list of pictures and names so that our congregation has a better connection to the people being brought forward for membership. We review our membership and the elder interview process, and then ask the church to affirm these new members. That’s when we pray over them. It’s a special moment.
And yet, meaningful membership doesn’t stop with the congregational vote. That’s just the beginning. We believe elders are called not just to provide wise and biblical governance, but they’re shepherds who care for individual sheep. That’s why we broke up our church across city-wide regions, assigning certain elders over certain areas.
This “parish model,” as it’s sometimes called, provides a way for pastoral care to be distributed among the families of our church. Every elder is given a small book with the names and pictures of the people in his parish. At a minimum, this serves as a way to pray for people. But it also serves as a regular reminder to our elders and our members that people matter.
Church membership in a mega-church takes an extra amount of intentionality and effort. It’s tempting to allow other pressing needs to diminish our focus on meaningful membership. But we’re committed to the value and necessity vibrant membership in the life of our church. Membership at a large church is worth the effort.
Size shouldn’t be an excuse for neglecting membership. It’s not only how we make a big church small; it’s also central to our strategy for building a healthy and attractive church culture.