This Sunday I shan’t be at any of our services. Instead, each time I’ll be running a session for people who are new to the church, to explain what we’re about, and why. Our church has big front doors, in that lots of people turn up quite unannounced. But we also have big back doors too – people leave, often without being noticed. So I want to make sure that journey is not a short one. I want to slow people down, and introduce them to church. I want to make our front doormat sticky.
So during the notices, I’ll be leaving the main service, with an unspecified number of new people, for a separate seminar/talk in place of the sermon, and the rest of the service.
Now, many denominations have extended and thorough Membership Classes over many weeks, marked with doctrinal rigour. We are not that kind of denomination. Even something as one membership class is a radical novelty. So what do I intend to cover, and why? Here are the 10 key features I think need to be in place:
1. The importance of ‘membership’ I want raise ‘body’ and ‘family’ language early on, because it necessarily implies the idea that we all take part. A Christian’s involvement in church is quite different from our involvement in the Scouts, or supporting Amnesty International. There, we are volunteers, contributing our support out of goodwill. But at church, no Christian is a volunteer. Imagine that I said I emptied the dishwasher at home because I ‘volunteered’! No, Christians are members of a church, and we play our part.
2. Our history I want new folk to be brought up to speed with our past, and our favourite stories. But I also want them to understand our values and our plans. If we are a church that is intending to plant, getting the new folk on board with that vision is a critical win. They won’t need persuading in the future.
3. Our structure Every congregation and denomination is different, and by giving them key information about our leadership structures and personnel, I’m making sure they feel insiders. When I’ve done this before, I had established church members wanting to do the session as well, because the new members knew more than they did. Excellent! The closed circle of knowledge had been enlarged.
4. Our beliefs I outline the gospel using The Bridge diagram. Why that one, when other explanations are much clearer on whether one is ‘in’ or not? Because on this occasion I love being able to ask, ‘Where do you think you are on this diagram?’ And established Christians, new Christians, nearly Christians and questioning non-Christians reveal themselves in a non-threatening way. I explain that there’s something for everyone, but membership is for people who are determined to follow Christ.
5.Our circles I use a version of the concentric circles diagram from Rick Warren. I talk about the Culture, Crowd, Community, Congregation, Committed and Core, and their different spiritual intensities. We aim to move each other closer to the Core, of Ministering Christians, and then we can plant out.
6.Acts 2 We’ll look at the church summary in Acts 2, and the key components of a church’s life. For each element (prayer, generosity to the poor, and so on) I’ll give the name and contact details of the person at church responsible for that aspect.
7.The House How does all this fit together? Using a diagram I developed in my Church book, we’ll look at the different ‘rooms’ our church (maturing disciples, multiplying leaders, and so on), and what they can expect to be hearing about as regular elements of our life, like small groups, or evangelism training. Why a house? because God is building a house for his glory, and the verses we use to support these ideas just fall off the page.
8. Committing to join There’s a form at the back of the handout, produced by our denomination, for those who want to take the step of membership. I don’t expect them to sign on the spot. And we have a new resource, called ‘Serving @St James’, which lists all our different areas of ministry and the different ways people can get involved.
9.Money I think financial giving is a key element of church membership. We play our part in keeping the lights running and the heating on, and supporting our staff. But we also give to work outside our congregation as an expression of gospel partnership. So I’m up front about our expectations about money.
Those are the nine key elements of our new members session – but I’m aware I promised you ten. The tenth is in the first sentence of this post – I shall be leading it. I think it’s critical that new people have early access to the senior pastor if at all possible, and as long as I can I intend this to be something I don’t delegate.
We give some stuff away too – a nice mug, a book (How to Walk Into Church, by Tony Payne), some chocolates.
I’d love know what others put in their classes too, so pile in!
If you want to know more about new members groups, see Why minus four is greater than plus twenty: the curious maths of a growing church and Never, Ever, Delegate This.
I wrote a ton of stuff about being an intentional church in ‘The Message of the Church’ for the Bible Speaks Today series.
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Aussie? Koorong has it here.