We live in a consumerism-based culture, one in which we are constantly filtering messages about various goods and services that will supposedly add tremendous value to our lives. In response to this culture, local churches are continually trying to articulate what makes them unique and valuable.
Having changed jobs and relocated my family to a new city, I recently found myself looking for a new church, paying close attention to church marketing for the first time in years. As I filtered through these marketing messages, I noticed a trend. Most of the churches we visited didn’t want to come across as too “churchy.” Churches emphasized a relaxed dress code, lively music, and a welcoming environment. They wanted us to know that they weren’t stodgy, legalistic, or uptight. I appreciated this sentiment, as there is a lot of unnecessary baggage that needs to be shed in our understanding of the church. But I wondered—in articulating what the church isn’t, are we losing sight of what the church is?
There is a lot of talk today about the decline of church attendance in America. While some of that decline is certainly rooted in damage caused by legalistic and hypocritical churches, the primary reason church attendance is down is because of the decreasing frequency with which the average church’s members attend. In other words, it’s not just that Americans have been burned by churches, it’s that the people who already attend our churches are less committed. Our first instinct in response to a decline of church attendance is to reach out, but research suggests that it is just as important that we reach in. If we hope to see our churches grow, we must help those attending understand what the church is, what makes it valuable, and why it’s worth committing our lives to.
We must do more than make our churches welcome and comfortable for newcomers—we must make clear why our church should be an indelible part of their lives. A great place to start is with a new members class. New members classes give churches an opportunity to help new members understand the Gospel, catch the vision of the church, understand and embrace the expectations of church membership, and connect to community.
New Members Classes Help Prospective Members:
Understand the Gospel
Church membership classes help pastors and church leaders minister personally to those who are interested in being a part of the church. It’s all too easy to assume that anyone interested in church membership is a Christian. Membership classes, however, provide opportunities for participants to share their testimony, and for church leaders to clearly articulate the Gospel. There is nothing more important for our church members to understand than the Gospel, and new members meetings give church leaders the opportunity to clearly lay that foundation.
Catch the vision of the church
We need to stop seeing membership as a means of merely growing our churches numerically, and instead embrace membership as an opportunity to enlist women and men in the mission of the church. The work of ministry does not belong merely to pastors and teachers—it belongs to the church (Eph. 4:11-13). In other words, churches will not grow unless their members embrace the church’s mission, values, and measures. New members meetings give church leaders the opportunity not only to articulate the church’s vision, but also to help prospective members see how they might actively participate in living that vision out.
Embrace expectations of church membership
Sometimes it feels like there are greater expectations for being a member of the public library than there are for being a member of a local church. While no church leader would claim that they don’t have any expectations of their members, that is essentially what they communicate when they fail to set expectations for church membership upfront. New members classes give us the opportunity to challenge people to see church less as an event they attend and more as a body and a mission to which they are called to commit themselves.
Connect to community
While Sunday morning worship is important and sets the tone for the rest of the church’s ministries, its not enough. Scripture calls church members to encourage one another, pray for one another, and consider how to stir one another up to love and good works (James 5:16; 1 Thess. 4:18; Hebrews 10:24). It is impossible for our churches to be the kinds of communities that produce mission-minded followers of Christ if our members don’t see the value of community. New members classes give church leaders the opportunity to stress the importance of small groups and connect people to groups to foster their spiritual growth and encourage them in mission.
Creating or restructuring a new members class can be a daunting task. Thankfully, Lifeway has many resources that can help you get started. For instance, Smallgroup.com provides church leaders with plenty of studies on the Gospel, the church’s mission, and the importance of community. These studies can all be edited to match your church’s unique vision, community and ministry goals that could be used to create a new members class or even to start a small group series on your church’s mission and values. As we seek to build churches that reach the world for Christ, let’s not forget to reach in and help those the Lord has brought to us to see and embrace the mission God has given us.