“What’s In It For Me?”
The following is an excerpt from our One-Day Workshop: After the First Visit, covering the moments and the months after a guest shows up at your church for the first time. Want to know more? Join us on October 15 or sign up for future training updates.
Church membership can be a hot-button topic. Some churches embrace it while others shun it. Some make it the center of their ministry while others hold it on the periphery. And some churchgoers hold it it high esteem – a mark that they’ve arrived or at least checked off a box – while others don’t see the point.
But when you start down the path of covenant membership, you’ll find that it’s pitted with potholes of confusion. Some of these potholes are not – as Andy Stanley is fond of saying – a problem to be solved, but rather a tension to be managed.
At our church, we’ve identified six of those tensions. And tension #5 may be the most “felt” tension to those we’re asking to submit to the process:
Tension #5: “What does scripture say?” vs. “What’s in it for me?”
All cards on the table: I believe that church membership is biblical. You won’t see those words anywhere in scripture, but you’ll see the fingerprints of membership throughout the New Testament. The Bible doesn’t allow for Lone Ranger Christianity. We’re parts of a body, and parts of the body ought to be joined to the body (I never went to medical school, but that one just seems obvious).
But not everyone is far enough along in their spiritual maturity to do something just because the Bible says so. And when something like church membership isn’t specifically spelled out but rather alluded to in scripture, “the Bible says so” can be a tricky path to take with a brand-new or not-yet believer.
This is a problem we haven’t yet solved. But it’s a tension we constantly manage. Yes, we appeal to scripture and encourage obedience to God’s word. But we also have to talk about the practical benefits of church membership.
We have to put some teeth to it.
For us, our “teeth” are fairly simple. You can’t hold the title of leader without being a covenant member. You can’t vote on issues before the body if you don’t belong to the body. You may be prevented from receiving assistance with mission trip scholarships or participating in certain ministry areas.
Most importantly, you may not receive targeted, ongoing care from a pastor or elder. Because our elders’ span of care is tied to our membership rolls, if you’re not on the roll, it will be more difficult to connect to the shepherding that the church offers.
This is certainly not a neat-and-tidy solution to the question of membership. We wouldn’t withhold care from someone who needed it just because they haven’t completed a series of classes. We wouldn’t discourage discipleship just because they haven’t signed a covenant. And of course there are those who scoff at the notion of “you can’t be a leader” or “you can’t vote”…if those things aren’t on their radar, they don’t feel them as a loss.
We may never solve this problem. But we have to continually manage this tension.
How do you tackle the “What’s in it for me?” problem in your church?