How We Fixed Our Sleepy and Unspiritual Members’ Meetings
Sleepy. That’s the word that comes to mind when I used to think of members’ meetings. Now, I came by this impression honestly—having grown up in a rather typical and small Baptist church. The only members’ meetings I’d ever sat through involved tedious budget walk-throughs, informational updates from various committees, and, in the good months, the happy reception of new members. Even back then, I knew what we were trying to do was something that really should be, and could be, spiritual and God-centered and joyous—and yet, it seemed our implementation rarely lifted beyond the informational.
But about five years ago, I saw something quite different from other churches, and my expectations of a members’ meeting changed from “information about what we are doing” to “inspiration about what God has been doing and, we pray, will continue to do.”
I’ve tried to implement this shift in the church I pastor by being clear about at least these two things: what we’re trying to accomplish and how we organize our time.
WHAT WE’RE TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH
As our elders prepare for a members’ meeting, we’re trying to accomplish four leadership objectives and four membership objectives—all woven together with worship and prayer.
The four leadership objectives
1) Recognize and Anticipate God’s Work
We want to testify to the work God has done throughout the various ministries of our church. For example, we’ll talk about raising up new small group leaders, or equipping a new biblical counselor, or emboldening evangelistic efforts in a particular neighborhood.
We tell the story, and as we do so we clarify our ministry plans for the future. More than merely repeating information about activity, we want to paint a picture of future ministry so that people can see what we’re trusting God for. This will help our members participate, pray, and prepare.
2) Elevate Godly Leadership
We want to use these meetings to expose our members to godly leadership, especially our elders. This is why we ask them—both vocational and non-vocational elders—to present the various agenda items.
We also want to recognize other leaders in our church, giving honor where honor is due and thanking God publicly for them.
3) Celebrate the Proclamation of God’s Word
We want to take time in each meeting to testify to the work God has done through the regular preaching of his Word. We’ll ask a brother or sister to share how they have grown through our most recent sermon series, so as to encourage the whole congregation. We’ll also give a brief overview of where our preaching is headed next. I’m always surprised how many people want to know, read ahead, and do some supplemental study.
4) Address Financial Stewardship
We want finances to be a regular part of our meetings—not only for accountability and decision-making but also because finances provide a simplified snapshot of our needs, our priorities, and God’s generosity. The money tells a story, and as leaders we need to tell it and help the church understand it.
The four membership objectives
1) Affirm Our Commitments
At each meeting, an elder will read aloud our membership commitments and after each the congregation will affirm with a hearty “Amen!” It’s amazing how many productive conversations this provokes afterward with some who are just beginning to recognize the biblical truth and necessity of these commitments.
2) Fellowship with and Serve One Another
For each meeting, one of our small groups takes responsibility for providing snacks for the whole flock. We give them a budget, and they love creatively serving their brothers and sisters and using food as a springboard of fellowship.
3) Receive Members and Transfer Care
Every members’ meeting, our congregation receives new members who have attended our membership class, been baptized as believers, and met with an elder to discuss their profession of faith.
At the same time, we use these meetings to communicate with our members about those who have moved to another church. We inform people as to where brothers and sisters have moved, and the churches with which we are working to transfer their care.
4) Address Discipline and/or Crisis Care
At every members’ meeting, we discuss our Member Care List, even if no one is on it. The Member Care List includes anyone who has entered the public/congregational stage of church discipline, or is experiencing a severe crisis that requires congregational involvement. Obviously, we prefer no one to be on that list, but we discuss it every meeting as an opportunity to teach the church about church discipline and caring for one another in times of need. After all, the best time to teach about church discipline is well before you need to actually do church discipline!
HOW WE ORGANIZE OUR TIME
So those are the objectives we seek to accomplish. But our format for doing so is organized much more around time, that is, looking at the past and looking to the future. And all of it is woven together with worship and prayer.
A typical members meeting might look like this:
- Informal time of fellowship as people gather (Objective: Fellowship with and Serve One Another)
- Gathering song
- Welcome by senior pastor
- Explain evening agenda
- Receiving of new members and congregational confirmation of commitments (Objective: Receive Members and Affirm Our Commitments)
- Worship through singing
Looking to the past – Praising God for what He has done…
- Elder 1 – Church plants report – (Objective: Recognize God’s Work)
- Elder 2 – Small groups and discipleship report – (Objective: Recognize God’s Work and Elevate Godly Leadership)
- Elder 3 – Financial Report (Objective Recognize God’s Work and Address Financial Stewardship)
- Senior Pastor – Story of Scripture at Work and Q&A (Objective: Celebrate the Proclamation of God’s Word)
- Staff Elder – Ministry expansions and biblical counseling ministry report (Objective: Recognize God’s Work)
- Prayer – Since we’ve been looking at the past for the first half of our meeting, it seems appropriate to thank God for his generous goodness to us in both resources and fruitfulness
- Worship through singing
Looking to the future – Plans we are trusting God for…
- Elder 4 – Transferring care and member care list (Objective: Transfer Care, Address Discipline and/or Crisis Care, and Anticipate God’s Work)
- Staff Elder – Plans for core seminars (Objective: Anticipate God’s Work)
- Elder 5 – Other important future plans (Objective: Anticipate God’s Work)
- Q&A with senior pastor
- Senior Pastor – Announce upcoming sermon series (Objective: Celebrate the Proclamation of God’s Word and Anticipate God’s Work)
- Prayer – Since we’ve been looking to the future for this second half of our meeting, it seems appropriate to ask God to bless the work of our hands and grant us fruitfulness as we trust him
- Worship through singing
- If we have an updated member directory, we’ll hand it out as the congregation is dismissed to go back to snacks and leave for the evening (Objective: Fellowship with and Serve One Another)
That’s it, nothing fancy. But a big shift happened when we stopped asking “What do people need to know?” and started asking “By God’s grace, what do we want this church to invest in and to celebrate?”